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laureth's avatar

What is the best way to set up a minimal-maintenance vegetable garden?

Asked by laureth (27128points) January 11th, 2013

Hi! I recently bought a run-down crappy foreclosure home that Mr. Laureth and I are fixing up with the intent to live in it someday, probably midsummer 2013 or somewhat later. I don’t have land where we live now, but I want very much to garden and since I have plenty of space at the new place, it seems like the obvious decision to set it up there.

Here’s the trouble. I will only be accessing that property on the weekends, and vegetable gardens typically need more attention than that. I realize the garden will not thrive as much as if I were there giving daily care. However, can you share garden tips (or resources such as books or websites) about how to set the garden up so it is less likely to shrivel up and die or get eaten by deer in my absence?

Data that might be helpful: I don’t particularly want to lean on the neighbors to come water the garden every day; they may be nice but we barely know them on one side, and don’t know the other side at all. Agricultural zone 5b or 6a, depending where you look. There won’t be water access unless we truck it in; the plumbing is not set up, so I already know I’ll have to mulch it deeply. (Luckily we have a very high water table.) Permaculture-related information is especially welcome; can you do that for annuals?


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21 Answers

Tropical_Willie's avatar

Get a timer for the the hoses and use a drip system.

Bellatrix's avatar

Use raised gardens to cut down on the weeds and as @Tropical_Willie said a timer system so your garden is watered regularly. You might want to put some sort of structure, covered with netting, over your beds to keep the possums (or local critters) out too. We have lost so much produce to our furry neighbours (and some to human neighbours too).

I don’t know what the climate is like where you are but for tender plants, you could need a green house if you get frost. If it is very hot, you could use a light shade cloth rather than netting to help protect very tender plants like lettuce.

And use mulch. That will help keep the soil moist. Start a compost heap as well and look for manure to add to your heap.

bossob's avatar

Raised beds and heavy mulch for starters. No water supply makes it though. I would suggest catching rain water into barrels, but it sounds as though there are no roofs to collect from.

You might look into ‘Earth Boxes’. It will give you a basic idea about self-watering containers that can be filled and forgotten after the initial fill. They can be made on a much larger scale ie. the ‘container’ holding the water can be a hole in the ground that is lined with heavy plastic.

I made a 4×4 foot box on top of a water reservoir, just to experiment. It worked great, but I really had no real use for it here in the Pacific North Wet. I’ll see if I can find pictures.

Definitely a fence for above ground animals. Only experience will tell if you need hardware cloth below ground for moles, voles, groundhogs, mice, etc.

Here are two different concepts for ‘wicking’ boxes.
Hole in the ground wicking box
TableTop wicking box

Both are using the Square Foot Gardening method, but the concept is adaptable.

Coloma's avatar

You can plant a lot of things in containers to make it easier.
Tomatoes do great in containers and can grow huge in a 10 gallon pot.
You can grow squash & cucumbers and even melons and pumpkins in a halved wine barrel very well too. If you want to keep it really easy, have easy watering chores and not risk gophers and other things from tearing up your garden go for containers.

CWOTUS's avatar

I’m with the raised bed and water timer crowd. A timer for the watering is a nominal expense and fairly easy to set up.

The raised bed will take some work to set up, but I hear (having never built one myself) that they’re relatively easy to maintain.

gailcalled's avatar

There is no water access unless she trucks it in. Wouldn’t that affect a timer and drip system?

Bellatrix's avatar

We can buy water tanks here. @laureth would need to do that at least to some level unless you can connect into a regular supply of water (town water). You can attach timer systems to the tank containing the water. I would check Ebay for water tanks. Even a small one will be better than nothing. You might only need to use it during seasons that are particularly dry. If you use some form of irrigation system, it minimises the amount of water you need. You can drip feed it directly to the plant rather than spraying.

You would need some roof space to run water off as @bossob suggested. I noticed you mentioned the high water table. What about sinking a bore? That’s what we are investigating at the moment because it can be so dry here.

laureth's avatar

I understand containers are simpler for some situations; I garden in containers on my current patio. I usually have to water them once or twice a day because they are small (even big containers are small compared to the earth). In other words, I’m not sure that confining the garden to a container will increase its supply of water in a way that will last for a whole week, when I can’t make it last a day on my patio.

Raised beds – since they’re more exposed, don’t they dry out sooner than flat earth under deep mulch?

If we had a water source, I’d totally install a timer though. I’ve done that for the patio garden when on vacation, and it worked well. Hopefully there are some dry gardening ideas out there! :)

There is a roof, but I’ve heard that asphalt shingle-water is not the best for a garden. I could possibly set this up, though, if we don’t have water by then. (We do have city water, but like I said, the house is in a shambles and there isn’t plumbing yet.)

laureth's avatar

Bellatrix – what do you mean by “What about sinking a bore?” Dig a well?

laureth's avatar

Thanks @gailcalled! That’s ideal!

Our water table is pretty much at the surface, so I hope it works out.

Bellatrix's avatar

@laureth yes. If you have a good and high water table, it might not be so expensive. I don’t know if it’s legal where you are. We can certainly still do it here although there was talk about stopping us sinking any more during the drought. We have a good water table here too. It would solve a lot of the water problems we have. We have town water but pay for use over a certain level and have a big garden.

We have a metal roof but if we buy big tanks (which is what we would need to do) the comparison to sinking a bore is not so different.

Another thing we are doing these days is using water crystals. Not a great idea for a veggie patch but if you put some in the soil around your plants they do hold the water there and so reduce the amount of watering required. A tip though, soak the crystals in a bucket of water before you use them. Don’t just sprinkle them in as you plant. They expand a lot.

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rooeytoo's avatar

Raised gardens are nice but if you are planning a large garden, I wouldn’t bother. I think one answer to your situation is heavy mulch. I have used cardboard boxes or layers of newspaper both covered with grass cuttings or any organic mulch you choose. The ground must be throughly wetted (is that a word???) then put down your paper or cardboard and water that as well, cut holes and insert your seedlings, lay down the organic mulch (actually the organic is optional I just do it because I have grass clippings and because I like to hide the card board. If you are using it newspaper, it helps to keep it in place when it dries and it is windy). This cuts down dramatically on the need to water because it keeps the ground wet much longer because it is not directly affected by the drying quality of the sun and wind. Black plastic is also an option but I try to stay cheap and organic. There is a magazine in USA called Organic Gardening, has great ideas. Rodale press is the publisher I believe and they have many books on the subject. Have a look here

gailcalled's avatar

@rooeytoo; I just vetted wetted. Good word.

I love Rodale. He once hand-dug a large pond for his wife. My kind of guy.

laureth's avatar

Thanks for the ideas, folks! I do appreciate every single one of them.

Arewethereyet's avatar

No dig, no weed plus permaculture – a magic combination

laureth's avatar

Right! Hopefully we can make that work, but it takes a while to set up.

Bellatrix's avatar

I hope you will let us know how it goes @laureth. I would love to see some pics and have a report on what you’ve grown successfully.

laureth's avatar

As it turns out, I’m not planting much. I scattered a few not-too-valuable seeds in the back yard there, and now they’re on their own. Maybe I’ll get feral squash!

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