The 10-minute Gardener
Lots of people are amazed by how two young’uns like Scott and myself are able to carve out time in our busy millennial lives to tend to plants. (Scott regularly rolls his eyes at millennials, with their millennial problems, doing millennial things, insisting he’s not a millennial, but he so is — 1988, yea baby!) Little do they know that only one of us is currently gainfully employed. (Guess who??) Jokes aside, maintaining a garden does not require a huge amount of time in reality. Sure, there are some weekends where we devote entire mornings to turning over the ground or transplanting seedlings, but those weekends are few and far between — especially for a garden as tiny as ours.
When it comes to jobs around the garden, we like to take the ‘little and often’ approach. Usually you’ll spot us out on our veggie patch in the mornings before Scott leaves for the office — coffee in one hand, secateurs in the other. And then again in the evenings if it is still light when he gets back from the office. All it takes is 10 minutes everyday to keep on top of the garden through little jobs.
Here are some ideas for 10-minute gardening jobs you can tackle to keep your garden looking fabulous:
Slug & Snail Control
Poor old slugs and snails, they really don’t get much sugar or loving from us gardeners, do they?! Just a couple of them can destroy a batch of seedlings overnight, and it can be really difficult to keep them at bay. There are lots of ways to control slugs and snails in the garden; broken eggshells, beer traps, copper barriers, slug pellets to name but a few. But we’ve found one of the best ways is to mulch the garden with leaves from our neem tree or torch ginger — an accidental but groundbreaking discovery we made. We knew neem oil as an organic pesticide and happened to have a neem tree that was constantly shedding its leaves, so we tried connecting the dots and voila! It seems to put slugs and snails off visiting our garden. (We are guessing the torch ginger leaves also release a similar oil which deters them.)
No neem tree, no problem. The next best thing to do is to regularly check pots and vulnerable plants (especially under big shady leaves growing close to the ground), and move any culprits you find far, far away. Like, to the patch of grass across the road kind of far, far away. Or, if you’re feeling merciless, place them out in an open space for the birds to snack on — I can never bring myself to do this though!
Because our veggie patch is located on the corner of a street junction, we have to keep our plants low (read: properly pruned) so as to avoid obstructing drivers’ view of oncoming traffic. We trim our plants regularly and often, letting the cuttings fall seemingly carelessly to the ground as a layer of mulch.
I used to find the act of pruning difficult to swallow; like cutting off an arm! Having spent precious time and energy coaxing our plants to thrive, cutting them — at times, taking off more than half their height — seemed counterproductive! But I have since learnt that consistent pruning keeps plants healthy and encourages lots of fresh, new growth — which make for more flavourful and tender salads.
When it comes to pruning flowering shrubs/vines — the most painful kind of haircut — I usually wait until flowers start to droop or form seed heads before I cut them off. Deadheading, as this is called, prevents the plant from setting seed which encourages it to produce as many flowers as possible.
To be honest, when exactly to prune and where exactly to prune is still something that confuses me. (I can never remember which plants are perennials and which are annuals, which also kinda plays a part in how you prune them.) Luckily, pruning at the wrong time and/or place is rarely fatal and usually doesn’t harm the plant in the long run.
This is the sort of gardening job you can potter away at whenever you have a spare minute, and it’s a great one to get the kids involved with too. Unless the kids are like my sister’s kids in which case they can’t be trusted with sharp objects.
We typically get rained on every couple of days so watering the garden isn’t something we usually have to bother with. However, when we do get the occasional dry spell that lasts weeks on end, we like to water the soil around our plants really thoroughly twice a week, making little ponds around them so the water can really soak in. Watering this way supports plants for much longer, so you need not water often. Watering is one instance I would advise against taking the ‘little and often’ approach as it encourages weeds and can also cause plants to spread their roots near the surface, making them vulnerable.
Hang out with your plants
Say hello, ask them how they are. JK. (Not really.) Gardening is like being audience to conversations in a language not our own — kinda like a trip to Japan. (Unless you speak Japanese, then this doesn't apply.) Growing plants is mostly just talking and listening to your plants. Plants can't verbally respond to these changes but they are very eloquent in their physical responses and behaviours. Growing happy plants is not so much about having the most knowledge. It is about listening to your plants and interpreting what they are trying to say.
But more than that, time spent outdoors in the sunshine, hanging out with your plants is also good for you. Did you know that our affinity towards nature is genetic and deeply rooted in our evolution? Exposure to nature improves our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being on a CELLULAR LEVEL!!!! It stimulates the production of healing proteins and chemicals that are imperative to our health and quality of life.
Humans have walked this planet for over 200,000 years and it's only in the last 200 years that mass urbanisation and rapid technological advances have made it trickier to feel that symbiosis with the natural world. Being out on our veggie patch is something Scott looks forward to after a long day spent cooped up in an air-conditioned office.
Go out into the garden, go out!
Don’t you hate it when you spend $25 on 5 packets of seeds (each containing about 10 seeds) and then experience 0% germination? So you write them an email (what? You’re not gainfully employed and have the time to write complaint emails, ok?!?!?!) asking about the possibility of an exchange or refund but of course they tell you that your seeds failed to germinate because you didn’t use their soil, and maybe you didn’t sow your seeds exactly 0.5cm deep, and maybe you also forgot to water them?? DON’T YOU JUST HATE IT WHEN THIS HAPPENS? No? Just me?
Until only a few generations ago, saving seeds was something almost everyone knew how to do. It was as much a part of life as eating and raising children. A vast diversity of agricultural seeds were grown and saved again and again, passed from mother to daughter and all around the community, carried in the pockets of travellers and traded for other species, different varieties, new kinds of food for next year's table.
In the past two centuries seeds have become another form of capital — to be owned, manipulated, and profited from, rather than stewarded and shared for the benefit of all. Much like why we started growing our own food in the first place, an attempt to reclaim our food system from big globalised powers and put it back into the hands of our communities (we still buy most of what we eat so the attempt is WEAK! Lol. But we are getting a bit better when it comes to who we buy from), saving seeds just felt like the most logical and natural next step for us.
To be completely frank, none of the seeds we saved in the beginning were viable because we tended to harvest them too early. (Lesson: when in doubt, Google.) Now we keep the seed heads/fruit on the plant for as long as possible, until flowers look proper charred and fruit look like they’re ready to burst. Then we snip them off and dry the seeds in the sun for a couple more days before storing the seeds in ziplock bags placed in a cool and dry cupboard. I’m not big on keeping non-food stuff in our refrigerator so we try to use our seeds within a few months of saving them.
OK. That's all I got now, but I hope I managed to break the sacred act of gardening down into quick, doable tasks for you! (And me!) (More for me, because I always get overwhelmed — and then paralysed — whenever I think about ALL the garden jobs that need to get done.)