A Garden That Does the Work For You

My twins were born in winter.

I don’t think you’ll ever hear anyone use the word “easy” to describe life with twins, especially the first couple years.  (Well, except maybe my husband‘s grandmother, but I suspect she either  has a selective memory or was way better at life than I am).

Either way, I suppose most of the smart people in my life figured I would take the spring and summer off from gardening that year. Maybe I should have.  But gardening is like a breath of fresh air to me, something that turned out to be invaluable when it felt like we were barely keeping our heads above water. 

I suppose it still feels that way sometimes. But suffice it to say I never seriously considered giving up my garden while my babies were young. I just had to find a way to make it work for me, instead of making me work for it.

Fortunately I’d already been working on figuring out the perfect method for a few years, so that by this time, all I ended up doing was freshening up my beds and connecting some hoses, putting the plants in the ground with a hand spade, waiting, and harvesting (both veggies, and that refreshing joy that comes from watching things grow)!

Here’s the basic, time-saving method I love, from the ground up. (Be sure to read steps 4 and 5, since they’re what really make this setup unique, foolproof, and super time-saving!) This post contains affiliate links for your convenience and to help support this website.

Think you don't have time to grow vegetables? Learn how to start a vegetable garden for beginners that does the work for you... all you have to do is watch and harvest!

Note: due to current events, seeds and gardening supplies are a little harder to find and many online stores are low or out of stock. Click here for an updated list of some online stores that still have stock of seeds or other garden supplies.

1. a good spot

Make sure it gets enough sun (at least 6-8 hours for most veggies, leafy greens and herbs can handle less). You should also try to protect it from any critters you may have (including toddlers). It’s a good idea to keep it close enough to the house to easily access for watering, picking, and viewing.

2. A good foundation

Get a flat spot and decide how big your raised bed will be.  I may be biased, but raised beds are really the best option when it comes to foolproof gardening for beginners, for so many reasons. If you’re not convinced, read ten of those reasons here.

I recommend not much wider than 2-3 feet (so you and the sun can reach everything).  If you have underground pests like gophers, a roll of  wire (1/2” squares, not chicken wire) will work well to keep them out (and is usually about 2-3 feet wide also). Some gardeners prefer small square beds. You can make it just about as long as you’d like, as long as you can reach everything.

Lay the wire out flat and pin it down. In my case  I’ve used cinderblocks for the walls of the planter, so this makes it easy to pin the wire down.  But you can also build a bed of wood, or really anything that will last and fits your dimensions… I suggest at least 6” tall (deep).   You can even buy them premade or in kits.  Whatever works for you.

My newest raised beds are made from cheap cedar fence planks with wire stapled to the bottom. Find that tutorial here. Below are some other popular types of raised bed kits, from wood to vinyl to metal and even fabric.

At the bottom of the raised beds, lay some cardboard or a few layers of newspaper for weed prevention.

The wire and the cardboard are the only bottom of the raised bed.  If you think you might have drainage issues you could add gravel on the bottom, but the important thing is that excess water can escape out the bottom.

Lately I’m thinking about adding some sort of cover to my raised beds to make my season longer, maybe something like the one in the link below! If you have ideas (that won’t blow away) I’d love to hear them. My in-laws actually made a framed wire cover to keep critters out of their garden!

3. A good mix of soil

The soil really does make the garden!  And one of my favorite things about raised beds is that I can completely control what soil goes into my garden.  Find more info about choosing soil here.

I recommend a mix of bagged garden soil and/or compost (at least half) and potting soil. You can also find “raised bed soil” which is essentially a mix of the two already, but mixing your own may work out better and cheaper anyway. Potting soil helps with keeping even moisture and improved drainage so the roots don’t get too dry or too soggy. For a cheaper alternative to potting soil/raised bed soil, use a mix of peat moss, compost, and perlite or vermiculite.

This year I also plan to add some azomite rock dust to my soil mix to provide some extra minerals to make healthier veggies!

I have had good luck with miracle gro brand garden soil (including their organic options), and have NOT liked Kellogg’s brand.  If you’re going organic, buy the stuff that’s labeled organic (again, Kellogg’s organic didn’t work well for me but some like it).  Just don’t get anything TOO cheap.

Feel like you’re wasting money buying all that soil?  Well, buy it on sale if you can, but remember a few things too:

  • The better the soil, the better the garden, and the more produce you’ll get from it!
  • having great soil means you can space your plants closer together than traditional suggestions, therefore using less soil than you’d think (especially if the bed is only 6-8” deep).
  • You can reuse most of that soil next year, and just add fresh soil or compost on top.

You may also save money if you call around to local nurseries or landscaping companies to see if they sell bulk compost by the truckload. If you’re still too cheap to consider buying dirt, I’m working on a post of next-best options for you coming soon. Subscribe to new posts so you don’t miss it.

4. Even watering

Soaker hoses go so great with raised beds! I definitely won’t be going back to regular watering after trying them. They are great at keeping the soil evenly moist, instead of flooded or parched. This will keep your plants happy and prevent many common problems in your veggies.

Above is a link to the soaker hose I have been using lately, which I actually like much better than the black rubber type you can see in the photo above (which generally only lasted one or two seasons).  This hose is easier to work with and seems much more durable, but covering it with a little dirt or mulch to protect from heat & sun will help.

Hook up the soaker hose to a regular garden hose and lay it out. DO NOT turn it on too high and bust your soaker hose—just enough so that it weeps evenly along the whole length.  Make sure your soaker hose is long enough and spread well enough for the water to reach the whole bed—I loop my hose.

If you want more help creating the perfect beginner garden, the Very Easy Veggie Garden eBook is coming out this month! Subscribe by email to be notified when it’s available!

Some people also use mulch like wood chips or straw on top of the dirt to help hold in moisture. Personally, I don’t prefer to use wood mulch since I feel it attracts and houses earwigs. (To those who say they’re beneficial, I don’t buy it–at least here in dry California, they’re more of a pest!)

5. Make your garden smart!

Using a hose timer may have been the single best gardening decision I ever made! I felt a little silly using it when my mom first got me one  If it did the watering for me, what was left for me to do?? But the truth was, I was already wasting water and making weeds (and cracking tomatoes) from getting distracted and forgetting to turn off the hose.  That doesn’t happen with my timer!

It saves me SO much time, allows me to go on vacation without a worry, and I can dial my garden’s water needs down to a perfect science. All I have to do is adjust occasionally as I watch how things look. If there is water running out the bottom of the bed, I dial down the watering time. If the plants look a little too wilty (some wilting is normal during heat or after transplanting) or the soil looks too dry when I poke beneath the surface a bit, I increase the time or frequency.   

You can find a timer at many garden stores for about $20-25 in my experience (of course the Amazon links above are often cheaper!). There are many, many types and brands of garden timers, some more basic and some with lots of fancy (expensive) features. You can see a few examples in the affiliate links above and below.  Most are fully programmable (like the first two) but if you want to go cheaper, some are manual (like the third one) and work much like a kitchen timer would, turning off after whatever time you set.  I have not personally tried and compared the exact items shown, so be sure to check reviews.

Continue on to planning your beginner garden here or start to figure out your garden layout here. Find a list of my favorite quick-harvest beginner-friendly veggies here.

I’m always on the lookout for ways to save time and make gardening easier. Subscribe by email so you don’t miss any tips!

What are your favorite tips and tricks? Share in the comments below!

Learn how to set up a super easy beginner vegetable garden with these time-saving tips

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