By Sommer Cartier.
As San Diegans, we enjoy the luxuries of living in a beautiful coastal city with almost ideal weather conditions year-round. However, for many of us, this also means hustling on a daily basis in order to afford the costs associated with living in such a desirable place. Many San Diegans work extended hours or multiple jobs, making it difficult to find the time to enjoy simple pleasures such as gardening. If this is all too familiar to you, I have good news. Several gardening strategies can simultaneously save you time and reward you with fresh homegrown veggies. Below are just a few.
Keep it small and manageable:
Growing veggies in containers or small raised beds is a great time-saving approach to gardening. If you are growing veggies in a raised bed, consider the “no-dig” “no-till" method. In this process, gardeners forgo turning the soil and instead, preserve soil structure and living microbes by mulching the beds with layers of organic material. These layers of organic material help maintain soil moisture, smother weeds, deposits nutrients and maintains soil structure—all without needing to till. Not only will this method save you time, it will allow your soil to build up dark, rich, healthy, nutrient dense humus, on which plants will thrive. This practice will also helps to minimize harm to beneficial microbes, roots, and other living organisms beneath earth when soil is disturbed.
Grow only what you plan to eat:
Put your energy towards cultivating crops you frequently eat. This will save you time in the garden, and it will save you time shopping for fresh produce.
Select low maintenance crops:
Grow high yield, easy to maintain, veggies that require little attention apart from watering. Peppers, pole beans, zucchini and bush tomatoes are all great options this time of year. Herbs are a wonderful choice as well. Many herbs are perennials, which means they come back year after year. In our temperate San Diego climate, they may actually grow year-round, continuously providing an abundance of flavor for home-cooked meals, while requiring very little attention in return.
Select varieties of plants that are resistant to common diseases and pests.
Some seed companies offer a wide variety of plants bred to resist the effects of pathogens such as powdery mildew, rust, blight, nematodes and more. If you’ve struggled with a particular disease on a plant in the past, opt for a variety that is more tolerant or resistant this summer.
Encourage natural predators such as ladybugs, lacewings and hoverflies to take up residence in your garden. Grow fernleaf yarrow, dill, cilantro, sweet alyssum and other plants that will attract them. These carnivorous insects are your allies in the battle against aphids, spider mites and other pests that can make gardening so laborious.
Invest time at the start of the season
Regardless of how many time-saving strategies you practice, you will not experience a fruitful garden unless you invest time on the front end. Carefully plan and prepare your garden at the start of each season. Make sure you take the time to properly mend and mulch the soil, install a drip system, identify appropriate crops, and provide shade trellises if needed.
Install soaker hoses. Setting up a soaker hose is extremely easy and requires very little maintenance. Soaker hoses provide a nice, slow, deep watering, which your plants will thank you for. They also concentrate water at the soil level, keeping the foliage dry.
Invest in an irrigation timer. Irrigation timers connect directly to your water source and allow timed release of water through a drip system, soaker hose or regular garden hose. All you need to do is set the time of day, preferably in the morning or late afternoon, and the number of minutes for watering.
Be sure to adjust the frequency and duration as the temperature changes throughout the season.
Follow these helpful time saving tips in the garden and you will surely enjoy a wonderful bounty of homegrown food this summer, while reducing the stress that comes from trying to maintain a work-life balance in a busy world.
Sommer Cartier is a certified Master Gardener with an MA in International Development and Social Change. Her specialty is working with local food systems and using gardens as a tool for community engagement.