I don’t think we’ve ever been as excited for a garden season as Mary and I are for this summer’s version. Not only is it our chance to build and finally move to the farm full-time – but also the year we get to try out 2 great garden experiments to grow vegetables!

garden experiments
Our potato crates were one of our prior year’s big successes. Now we grow all of our potatoes in crates!

Each year, we love to try out a few new growing methods in the garden. For us, it’s a way to always be learning and growing as a gardener – and to have a little fun while doing it. Those experiments have also led to a couple of incredible methods we still use today, like the Stake a Cage tomato and pepper supports, and the Potato Crates for easily growing our potatoes. See: The DIY Stake-A-Cage and Growing Potatoes Easily in Homemade Crates.

This year, our 2 big experiments are entirely focused on simplifying the overall gardening process – from less maintenance, fewer weeds, and less time needed to maintain.

Hopefully, it will show ever more clearly that gardening doesn’t have to take up all of your free time, nor does it have to break your back or your wallet!

More importantly – we hope it conveys the message that gardening can and should be fun, rewarding, and lead to a much healthier and simple lifestyle. So with that said – here they are!

2 Big Garden Experiments For 2016

The No Till – No Touch – No Work – Raised Garden Row

Our raised growing rows have been nothing short of a miracle – allowing us to grow three-quarters  of our family’s food in a simple, low maintenance, sustainable and organic way. (See: Raised Row Gardening Basics)  Well, we are about to see if we can make it even easier!  

We use annual rye as a great cover crop in the growing rows
We use annual rye as a great cover crop in the growing rows

Two concerns that are sometimes raised about the raised row method are: (1), it can be hard to turn over the cover crop each spring; and (2), weeding the growing rows in can still be time-consuming.  That is where the garden experiments come in!

Cover crops really are the backbone of an organic and self-sustaining garden. They keep out weeds through the winter, and replenish the soil with nutrients each spring. But for many – they can be hard to turn back over.  So this year – we’re going to eliminate turning them over completely!

We will be planting our entire tomato and pepper crop without ever turning over the annual rye row sown last fall. Cover crops like annual rye die off after the 2nd or 3rd cutting each spring – so this year – we mulched in the cuttings – and left the soil undisturbed. We will simply use our post hole digger method to dig holes out of the rye, and plant, still mulching like normal with compost and straw on top.

garden experiments
Our annual rye rows dying off and ready for no touch planting. The stake-a-cages are in place.

First, the annual rye that has died off will be an incredible barrier against weed seeds blowing in to any open soil. In addition – over the course of the summer – the rye will continue to decompose under the mulch. By late fall, it should be extremely easy to rake the rows, add a super thin layer of compost to the top, and plant another cover crop to repeat the process. 

I really don’t think you can beat it – it still builds great nutrients into the soil and saves tons of time by eliminating weeds even better.

So far this year, to prepare the rows for those crops, we have spent a grand total of 45 minutes of overall maintenance.  3 times we have mowed off the grass in the rows at about 5 minutes each (15 minutes total); and it took about 30 minutes to drive in all of the Stake a-Cages.  I figure with the post hole digger and planting it will take another 30 minutes. The heavy coat of bark mulch in the walking rows has completely eliminated weeds there (another experiment from a few years back), so we get to concentrate on simply planting.  We will keep you updated on this one!

Any Age/ Anywhere Growing Containers

Our second experiment is just as exciting for us, and we think it will be the answer for those that may not have the space or ability for the raised row method.

garden experiments
Last year’s tomato bucket trial was a big success.

We have called the Any Age, Anywhere Garden, and as the name implies, it is a way for anyone, of any age, living almost anywhere, to grow their own vegetables. See: Creating An Any Age Container Garden

As much as we talk about the beauty, simplicity and ease of raised row gardening – we realize that for some it is impossible to implement. There are many that are limited by small yards, or may only have patios or open rooftop areas as their only means of a growing space.  There are also some who may have physical limitations that makes the raised row method more difficult. That is where the Any Age Anywhere Garden comes in to play.

It is simply DIY container gardening taken to a new level – and can be done nearly for free!

We trialed a version of it last year when we built wooden frames with scrap lumber – making them so that they fit easily over 5 gallon buckets or nursery containers. We then attached a 4’ high x 16” wide wire frame to the inside of the wooden frame for a built-in, heavy-duty trellis. The bucket provided more than enough room to establish a deep and complete root system – and the cover not only made the planter attractive, but helped to insulate the plant’s base from harsh winds and helped to conserve water. It also made harvesting a breeze.

The Any Age Containers That Weaver Barns made for us to showcase at the Cleveland Home and Garden Show. They make a great looking garden anywhere!
The Any Age Containers That Weaver Barns made for us to showcase at the Cleveland Home and Garden Show. They make a great looking garden anywhere!

They can be set up anywhere, and can grow nearly any vegetable – but best of all – it all but eliminated weeding and ground pests like slugs. It also stopped potential damage from voles, moles and rabbits – a problem many of you write to us about each year!  And with its compact space – it even made it easy to protect from raccoon and deer.  This year, we built 16 units to sample a complete mini garden and see how much we can grow in them! The entire set up would easily fit in a 16 x 16 space – perfect for those with small spaces to still grow their own vegetables!

garden experiementsSo here’s to trying new things! No matter what – at the very least it is always fun to try.  If you haven’t had a chance yet – head over to Amazon and check out our new book Growing Simple, A huge Thank You to everyone for all of the support with the book, including the reviews, orders and sharing with friends. It is now on it’s 7th straight day at #1 on the Amazon Hot New Release list for Gardening/Sustainability… Thank You So Much!

Happy Gardening – Jim and Mary!

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