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With spring springing into the air, many of us are turning our thoughts to the garden. It’s an exciting time. A winter of less-than-fresh veggies and preserves is giving way to what could be another great year of (or a first annual) bountiful harvest from the home garden. At least, that’s the way we all like to imagine it, so why wouldn’t we?

Small-scale gardens can be pleasant, relaxing things, not too labor-intensive, not too stressful if we allow them to be. We can set our gardens up to be low-maintenance. We can plant wisely to give our crops the best shot at being productive. And, we can do this without doling out loads of money.

Instead, we can take from what we have, use our waste to make our gardens bloom with food, and spend as much time enjoying the natural beauty and flavor as we do toiling over its success. It’ll only take a few tips to get us going and growing.

1. Plant Early and Plant Often.

When planting from seed, it makes sense to start early so that, when the last frost is for sure behind us, the plants are big enough to be in the garden, which generally takes around a month. Also, a common mistake is to plant everything at once, but that will mean that everything is coming to fruition at once, possibly creating an overabundance of produce. Planting in two-week intervals is a better idea.

2. Mulch Everything Like it Matters.

One of the biggest tragedies of the modern farming system is that we have the tendency to clean the soil of all debris. Doing so is horrible for sustainable growth. The sun will dry it out when the days are sunny; the rain will pound it to death when things get stormy. Uncovered earth is also open to wind and water erosion, encourages weed growth (hence all of the weed killers), and struggles to Support the life necessary for healthy soil. Mulching helps with all of this, as well as adds nutrients to the soil as it breaks down.

3. No Tilling Means Fewer Weeds.

The other big blunder of how we farm versus how nature does it is that we constantly till the land, turning over the earth so that dormant seeds are freed to grow and microorganisms meet their demise. This method works for a while, but eventually, tilling leaves the soil depleted. That’s why fertilizers are such a necessity these days. Rather than till, it’s better to layer atop the existing place, such as with sheet mulching. It creates richer soil as well as preserves what soil life is already around.

4. Encourage Biodiversity.

Pests are often the result of an unbalanced ecosystem. When everything is stripped away and replaced with one type of plant (mono-cropping), the bugs that eat that plant are likely to set up shop. However, when plants are mixed, garden pests are less drawn to an area, and should one crop fail, there’s still something to eat. Also, encouraging beneficial insects with an insect hotel, lizards with some stones, birds with a bath, and other wild animals to hang around balances out the pest problem. Pests might get some veggies, but predators will get some pests. We all eat.

5. Keep Your Garden Close.

While the back corner of the lawn may feel like the perfect spot, in actuality, only the most attentive gardeners can work that way. Knowing this, it’s much wiser to plant the garden beds (or just make a container garden) near to the house, along well-trodden paths, around the patio, and amongst other frequented places. For one, we are more likely to see the plants and care for them, and more importantly, grabbing a handful of arugula for tonight’s salad or some fresh herbs for the pasta is much easier when it doesn’t require walking to the far corner of the yard.

6. Include Perennial Plants in the Mix.

Annual plants complete their life cycle in one season, while perennials return each year. It’s always a good idea to include perennials in garden beds because they are less energy-intensive than annuals, which soak up everything they can in their short lifespan, not to mention the fact that they must be raised from seed each time. Perennials also mean that the bed (or plant pot) always has something on the go as well, so some sort of fresh veggies, herbs, or fruit can always be at the ready.

After that, it’s important to remember that gardening is something most of us are doing for fun. Producing some of our own food is a great service to our bank account and to the environment, but it’s a process and one that doesn’t always work perfectly. The beauty of plants is that we can try again. Seeds are at the ready, and now our garden beds are too.

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