Lazy gardening through permaculture is a way to grow your own fresh, organic food without spending so much time in the garden! Nicky Schauder shares 8 practical tips to grow your own food, even in an urban environment (read more on container gardening and really maximizing your space!).
Let’s face it. You have hardly enough time to cook dinner let alone actually grow the fresh and organic food you want to make for your family. But maybe, just maybe, there was a way you could get something fresh from your yard without a lot of work.
In fact, how about the least effort possible? I’m going to smash the myth that gardening takes hours out of your day and teaches you all about lazy gardening.
Have you decided that it’s time to take the reigns back from the food industry and feed your family wholesome, fresh foods that you grew yourself? It’s a fantastic way to save money on groceries, but did you know it also reduces stress and increases mental clarity, improves flexibility/dexterity, and can also be a great way to connect with your family? (source 1, 2)
Basic gardening advice, however, will probably set you up for failure!
Weeds can easily take over (especially when you go on vacation or have a busy week) making it a lot less fun to spend time out there and the cost of buying common gardening tools and fertilizers can become cost-prohibitive. So many people give up the idea before they even get started.
The real problem is that you simply don’t know how easy (and cheap!) gardening can be!
8 Easy Tips for Lazy Gardening
I know these tips by heart because I AM a lazy gardener and permaculture designer.
My favorite principle of permaculture is: “Minimum input for maximum gain” or “less work for more food!”
Throughout history, we humans have devised better and easier ways of getting our work done. Drive-thru banks save us the hassle of getting our kids out of the car, washing machines save us both time and effort, and online shopping can give us extra hours to spend with our family.
We all live busy lives, so let’s take a look at my favorite easy gardening hacks to help you grow food without the added stress of trying to find the time to do it.
1. No-till Gardening Will Save Your Soil
Tilling actually kills the soil life that is so crucial in maintaining a productive and healthy ecosystem. Repeat after me, “The soil is like my gut.” You would never dream of exposing your gut to the elements if you didn’t need to. And yet, we do just that, every time we till the soil.
There are billions of microbes in the underground soil that support the life above and send necessary minerals to your plants. While tilling the soil might initially bring a surge of oxygen to your garden, when done every year, tilling kills off essential fungal networks and beneficial life forms that we are only beginning to discover now.
Since healthy soil is the most important aspect of your garden you need to stop tilling it! The added bonus is that you can save money by not buying a tiller, don’t have to store it in the garage/barn to use only once a year, and won’t need to wrestle it around trying to break up the weeds.
So, how do I deal with weeds and get my soil ready to plant?
2. Lasagna Gardening will Create Rich Soil with Little Effort.
This method of gardening consists of layering different types of organic material to mimic the different horizons of the soil.
- Base layer – The first thing I always put on top of the existing soil is my weed barrier (often using one of my many flattened Amazon boxes). Just lay cardboard, or multiple layers of newspaper, on top of the grass or wherever it is you will soon be calling your “garden bed.”
- Second layer – Here is where you’ll place a layer of sand or rock debris.
- Middle layer – This layer always contains some form of compost like manure (NOT from your dog or cat, but properly aged manure) or composted kitchen scraps.
- Fourth layer – Cover the manure or compost layer with grass clippings, leaves, kitchen scraps, and coffee grounds.
- Top layer – Time to cover the compost so that the flies don’t get to it! Straw mulch or natural wood chips make a great cover.
Once all of the layers of your lasagna garden are in place, weeding is almost non-existant and your plants will be well fertilized without any more effort!
3. Plant as Many Perennials as You Can!
Most vegetables most of us like to eat tend to be annuals, which need to be planted every year, but growing perennials can save you time every spring since they’ll come back with no effort from you.
My favorite perennials to plant:
Berries are also perennials, so adding a strawberry patch and a few blueberry bushes make a great addition to your garden. If you have space, think about growing fruit trees!
Once you plant these, you won’t need to replant them every year.
4. Regrow the Food in Your Pantry Instead of Throwing it Away!
If you peek in your pantry and find these following food staples to have sprouted, do not throw them out.
- sweet potatoes
Put them in a pot or in the ground (season permitting) and keep them growing! Instead of wasting money on food you didn’t eat you’ll multiply it. Free food for the win.
I also like to “plant my pantry” by sprouting some of the seeds I often have on hand (or the veggie seeds I would normally throw away). You can do this easily with sprouting lids on your quart size mason jars.
- quinoa seeds
- chia seeds
- sunflower seeds
- tomato seeds
- seeds from pumpkins or squash
I toss these sprouts into my stir-fries, salads, and casseroles. Delicious and nutritious! Not only is this lazy gardening but cheap gardening as well!
RELATED: How to Sprout Legumes and Grains (for cooking or salads)
5. Use What You Have to Fertilize the Garden
Kitchen scraps make the best fertilizers! No more tossing your fruit and veggie waste. Instant fertilizers you can easily find are:
- crushed eggshells
- banana peels
- shredded paper (from your kids’ school work!)
- nitrogen-rich water from the fish tank
- coffee grounds (my all-time favorite!)
Since our coffee machine broke, I stop at the local coffee shop and I ask the barista for the grounds that he would have otherwise had to throw into the dumpster. His life is easier, my soil is richer. Win-win!
RELATED: 8 Things I Plant with my Tomatoes
6. Minimize (or Better Yet Eliminate) Lawns
What do you currently use your lawn for? If the answer is: for the kids (and pets) to run around in, that’s great! Let’s reconsider how much running around space might be put to productive use. Just imagine all those hours of mowing… Gone!
Gardening author and permaculture proponent Toby Hemenway calls lawn-mowing “crazy.” Why? In a typical lawn, we nurture the plant (in this case, grass) and yet we hold its full-potential growth back intentionally. As soon as grass grows, we mow it down!
Instead of grass, that does nothing to feed us, get a few more lasagna garden beds planted!
7. Mulch with Fallen Leaves (and Your Neighbor’s Too!)
Fallen leaves make excellent mulch for any garden. They biodegrade over the winter and infuse your soil with rich carbon and minerals.
My neighbors never have to rake their leaves because my kids rake them into our yard. Win-Win!
8. Easy Water Irrigation
Let the garden water itself (even in times of drought)!
This gardening hack comes in handy during dry spells and especially when you leave for vacation (or simply have an extra busy week). As an added bonus it’s great for overall water conservation.
Here are three ways I let the garden water itself:
I live in a 1600 sq. ft. townhouse and whenever it rains just one inch we can capture up to 996.8 gallons of water from our roof! To do this, we simply divert some of the rainwater down the spout and into our rain barrel. It’s great for water conservation but also saves money if you have to pay a monthly water bill.
Want to know how much rain is captured on your roof? Check out this rainwater harvesting calculator?
Drip-irrigation for no-fuss watering
If you plan to use drip-irrigation:
- Put the drip hose down before you plant! (this makes it so much easier than digging up your beds again)
- Do not scrimp on the drip hoses, the cheap ones burst quite often.
- Consider connecting it to your rain-barrel and you’ll have a super-easy way to water with practically no effort from you once it’s set up!
Dig an irrigation channel
You can dig a shallow trench in the ground that leads into your garden bed to bring water where it’s needed all while reducing erosion. In permaculture, we call these “swales” and they are not as complicated as they sound.
I dug a mini-swale from the downspout on my roof to my front lawn in 4 days. But I never have to worry about my strawberries or lettuces having enough water now! Now that’s what I call pretty lazy.
They live on 1/27th of an acre in the suburbs of DC with their 4 children, fish, red wriggler worms and mason bees.
With help from school staff, friends and a grant from The Whole Kids Foundation, they installed a permaculture garden in their kids’ Title 1 Public School, where they also run an after-school garden program.
Every month, they teach lazy gardening through their “Grow Your Own Food” webinars, you can Sign-up and learn how to “Grow Your Own Food!”