Gardening for People with No Time

This post was written by guest blogger Sean Carolan (Sudama das) from Austin, Texas. Sean is an avid square foot gardener and, as you can see from all the good links he provided, an excellent blogger. This article definitely establishes Sean as an expert on square foot gardening and garden gnome placement. Hope you enjoy this informative post. Thanks, Sean. And if you have a good source for garden gnomes, do share!

The most common excuse we hear from people who don’t have a vegetable garden is “I have no time.” I’d like to show you how to create a victory garden that requires little or no maintenance, other than you picking the vegetables and herbs. But before we get started, say guten tag to Gunther and Olga in the kale forest:

The small bed you see above produced 2-3 bunches of kale every week, along with beets, carrots, tomatos, peas, peppers, eggplant, herbs, bok choy and much more. You can also have an abundant supply of vegetables for your kitchen with just a few hours of preparation. Below is a typical day’s harvest from a 4′ x 8′ bed during the summertime. My wife Cristina, also known by her superhero alias Chef Veggie, cooked these up in a very tasty pasta primavera. Buon appetito!

Project Summary
Cost: $95 to $350 depending on how much labor you want to put in.
Time required: 4 – 12 hours setup, less than 1 hour per week thereafter
Results: Fresh herbs and vegetables most of the year, saving you hundreds of dollars at the grocery store.

Building Your First Raised Bed
Before we go any further you’ll need to decide whether you are going to build your own raised bed or buy a kit. If you have an electric drill and a hand saw you can build a 4′ x 8′ raised bed in one afternoon, with about $35 worth of materials from Home Depot or Lowes. Don’t fret if you’re not a Bob Vila type, you can purchase a raised bed kit that just requires only a screwdriver, hammer and tape measure. Here are some options to choose from:

Kit #1
4′ x 8′ x 12″ – no digging required, $208

Kit #2
4′ x 8′ x 6″ – some digging required, $117

4′ x 8′ x 6″ – some digging required, $35

If you decide to build your own, email me for the shopping list and plans. Otherwise follow the instructions included with your kit to set up the raised bed. Once the bed is built make sure that you have at least 12″ from the top to the bottom. If you build your own beds or use the 6″ high single-story kit then you’ll need to dig out soil until you have a 12″ deep bed.

Make sure that the location you choose for your raised bed gets at least 6 hours of direct sunlight each day. If you put it next to a fence, be sure it is facing south so it’s not in the shade all day.

Tip: To prevent weeds, you can lay newspaper or paper grocery bags along the bottom and sides of your raised bed before filling it up with soil. The paper will naturally decompose into the soil over time.

The Soil
You will require about 32 cubic feet of soil for your raised bed. I can’t emphasize this enough: You need to have rich, well-drained soil for your garden to flourish. Don’t try to get by with cheap topsoil. I have made this mistake before and regretted it. The best thing is if you can get some organic garden soil. If you’re lucky you might live nearby an organic garden supply place like Austin’s Natural Gardener:

This place is staffed by hippies and has an awesome garden with a labyrinth! While you’re there you can pick up a gallon of compost tea at the Microb Brewery. Typically you’ll hear reggae music when you come into the store. This place is a lot of fun. Anyway the idea is to find a local garden supply place like this and ask them if they have organic soil. At the Natural Gardener, bag-it-yourself soil is only $41.50 per cubic yard, which works out to 27 cubic feet, just 5 shy of what is needed to fill the bed. So if you shop around you might find organic soil for around $50-60 plus delivery. Moving the soil will be a lot easier if you have a truck-owning friend. Bribe them with some gas money, they’ll be grateful.

If you can’t find a local supplier for organic garden soil, then I recommend getting 16 bags of Miracle Gro Potting Mix (2 cubic feet each) at your neighborhood Lowe’s or Home Depot. Don’t fret if you can’t find organic garden soil in your area. At least all your veggies will be GMO and pesticide-free. Once the bed is established you can use organic fertilizer and compost to maintain it.

Your choice of plants and growing season will depend on which plant hardiness zone you live in. The Burpee website has a helpful zone finder for those in the USA. Here’s the Canada zone map, with it’s 3 zones: cold, colder and freezing. I kid, Canada is awesome!

Once you’ve figured out what zone you are in you can begin to choose what to plant. Look at the planting dates for your zone. Burpee’s site is an excellent resource for growing instructions, and they sell both seeds and plants. Since it’s the middle of September now you’ll probably want to choose cold-hardy plants for a late fall/winter garden, or simply wait until the spring. In Texas we can grow almost year-round.

The idea with square-foot or other intensive gardening methods is to pack your plants in tight, but not so tight that they have no room to breathe and spread their roots a bit. A general guideline is to plant twice as close as the recommended distance on the seed packet. If you plant tomatoes, be sure to use container-friendly smaller varieties like the most excellent Patio Princess hybrid. Isn’t she lovely?

For other suggestions about what to plant, how close to space the plants, when to plant, etc. check out the GardenWeb forums. The green-thumbed denizens of those parts will be glad to help with all your gardening questions.

You can always hand-water your garden with a hose but I recommend using a drip system with a timer. It will use less water and you won’t have to worry about forgetting to water your garden. Here is a drip system and timer that you can use together to automate your watering schedule.

A programmable timer

Basic Drip Irrigation Kit for Row Crops

You might also want to get some of these elbow fittings in case you have to turn any corners with the 1/2″ poly tubing. With this kit you can run the 1/2″ poly tubing straight from your faucet to the raised bed. Run the 1/2″ tubing right down one of the short sides of the bed. You can then extend four 8 foot pieces of drip tape across the bed, in four parallel rows. These can easily be pulled back when you are turning your bed in the spring. All that is required to set up the drip irrigation system is a sharp pair of scissors. Easy!

Tip: Put a Y-adapter on your water faucet so you can still use a garden hose while the irrigation system is hooked up.

Every garden needs at least one gnome. Gnomes will help watch the garden at night while you are sleeping:

Hope you enjoyed reading this, if you have any questions feel free to email me at

Sean Carolan
aka Sudama das


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