Simple and Smart Tips for a Productive Garden

We all look forward to savoring the deliciousness of our garden harvest. Nothing seems to taste better than a fresh tomato – still warm from the sun – that we have grown ourselves. Use these smart and simple tips for a productive garden to make your garden even better this year.

a bowl of snap beans surrounded by okra, bell peppers, tomatoes and red potatoes to represent tips for a productive garden

Plants are Like People

Plants are like people – all you have to do is look at them to know how they feel. A happy, thriving plant will have a healthy appearance. Their leaves are green, stems are straight, and will look strong and vibrant. If your plant is dropping leaves, looks a bit limp, or the color is beginning to fade, it’s time for a check-up.

Make sure there is sufficient drainage. Most plants love water, but don’t like their ‘feet’ (roots) to always remain wet. You may also want to test the dirt. If it is too dry or crusty, it may just need a good drink.

Like people, plants need to be fed a healthy diet. Start them off right by providing a healthy soil filled with nutrients, minerals, and a thriving ‘community’ of micro-organisms, such as earthworms, good bacteria, nematodes, and fungi.

Know what your plants like to eat. For heavy feeders, such as peppers, squash, and tomatoes, it is best to plant them in fertilized soil and feed them during the growing season with additional nutrients such as a manure tea. Light feeders, such as herbs, can be grown in soil that has yet to be fertilized, and need to be fed only once or twice per growing season.

a pink and green pot with 'basil' and 'mint' printed on the rim

Smart and Simple Gardening Tips for Small Spaces

If you have indoor plants, look to see if your plant appears to be leaning towards the window. If so, it isn’t getting an even supply of sunlight. Always give your pots a 1/4 turn each day. This allows for the plant to get even sunlight and will begin to grow straight again. The same applies for container gardens on balconies or patios.

Do you live in an apartment, condominium, or townhouse, with only minimal space for a garden? Consider planting a Theme Garden. This is a way to grow more plants in a small space using a larger container that is filled with different things. For instance, a Spaghetti Garden can be planted in a large half- whisky barrel. Plant a paste-type tomato in the center and surround it with oregano and basil.

Another way to add ‘space’ is to use hanging baskets. You can grow vining plants, such as snap beans in an elevated basket. You can also use one of the new ‘upside down’ tomato pots.

a terracotta strawberry planter, a pvc watering pipe and a bucket of soil

Do you love strawberries and want to grow them, but don’t have enough space in your garden? Whether you plant in the ground or only have a balcony or patio, you can still grow them by using a Strawberry Planter.

To help get the water all the way through to the roots, consider using a ‘watering pipe’. This is a piece of 2” – 3” PVC pipe. Measure the interior depth of your pot and cut your pipe approximately 2” – 3” longer. Drill 1/4” holes randomly along the sides of the pipe. Place it in the center of the pot, then fill in around it with soil, keeping any loose soil from entering the pipe.

Plant your strawberries in the holes (and maybe even a couple at the top).  When you water, pour it into the pipe. The holes will allow the water to get to the center of the pot and better reach the roots of your plants.

a goldfinch eating purple berries

Gardening is for the Birds

Birds can be a blessing and a curse for our gardens. As a blessing, they love to feast on small insects, which helps to keep the ones that destroy our gardens off our plants.

They can be a curse when they decide to also feast on our newly ripening vegetables or make a meal of those beautiful berries we had earmarked for dessert.

To keep birds off your plants, drape netting across the plants or vines when the first small fruits appear. You can also use aluminum pie plates tied to posts or build a scarecrow to help keep them away.  

a mock television with a birdhouse on the screen; graphic tomato plant, blue bird and sun

Time for a Commercial Break!

We may still enjoy watching the birds and prefer they don’t completely disappear. To help encourage birds to our yards, be sure to provide them with food, water, and housing. Have at least one birdbath, housing, and one feeding station that is placed as far from your garden as possible.

Disclaimer! Recently, I received a free birdhouse from Emerging Green in exchange for an honest review of their product. (As an affiliate for Amazon, if you do make a purchase I may make a small commission, but it will not affect the price you pay!)

One of my favorite pastimes is sitting outside on the swing for an afternoon tea. While just relaxing, I love watching all the bluebirds flitting about. Because they are so beautiful and fun to watch, I try to encourage them to stick around.

a wooden Emerging Green birdhouse hanging on a tree

One of the best ways to do that is to provide housing. The Emerging Green birdhouse is a perfect way to keep them close! It is durable, well-made, and comes with screws to anchor it securely on a tree or post.

The hatch opens easily to allow for yearly clean out. There is ample ventilation, and it comes with a separate gasket to allow for the different size birds.

Quite frankly, what I love most about it is the beauty and craftsmanship of the birdhouse. The roof has an appearance of shingles, the wood is sanded smooth, and promises a beautiful, weathered finish as the years go by.

And I truly loved the fact that just days after it was hung, there were several ‘home shoppers’ checking it out! I know that come spring I will not only get to enjoy the adult bluebirds, but also the sound of the babies chirping away for Mama to bring them even more food!

a tilled garden space with a row of trees for a windbreak

Back to the Regularly Scheduled Smart and Simple Tips for a Productive Garden!

Do it Right!

Gardens need plenty of sunlight, easy access to water, and plenty of TLC. Before you get down to digging up your plot, take the time to study the layout.

The first step you want to take is to look at your space. Which area receives the most sunlight? Where is a water spigot located? Is it convenient to the back door?

Be aware that as the seasons change, so does the sun. If possible, keep a daily record of the light in your yard based on the season and time of day. When you are absolutely certain of the best location for your garden, then you can start digging!

When you dig your first garden, stake it out first. Keep in mind everything you want to plant, and the spacing it will need. For instance, carrots and beets need approximately 6” between plants, tomatoes need at least 24”, but a healthy squash plant needs at least 36”.

Give yourself a generous boundary for your garden. This will allow for the maximum number of plants your garden will allow, with plenty of spacing between the plants.

green clover

Make sure your soil is loose, easy to work, and can hold its water, yet still have proper drainage and aeration. If necessary, improve your soil with compost, leaves, and thoroughly dried manure. You may also consider planting a ‘green crop’ every other year.

A green crop would be barley, clover, mustard greens, or any other type of gardening cover that will help improve the soil. Since corn is a heavy feeder, we usually follow succession planting guidelines in that garden. We start with corn. When it is finished, we add purple hull peas. Once they are through for the year, we till the green plants in and follow up with either clover or wheat, and then till it in again in the spring.

Use a mulch. It may be time consuming, but I add a layer of newspaper in each of my rows and around my plants. Once it is down, I soak it thoroughly. From there, I add a deep layer of wheat straw, and tuck it around the base of each plant.

Keep in mind – I also use a soaker hose watering system, which is laid down prior to the newspaper. This allows water to get to the root of the plant, and the newspaper and straw mulch prevents water from splashing up on the leaves of the plants or stirring up and splashing dirt.

a squash blossom surrounded by greens squash leaves

Spend Time in your Garden

Take a daily walk through of your garden. Weeds can sprout overnight, and within three days can become an unwanted jungle. Even container plants can sprout weeds. By removing the unwanted growth daily, you will spend less time working and more time enjoying.

Watch your plant’s growth – especially those tomatoes and their ‘suckers’. There are two sides to ‘suckering’ your tomatoes. Some feel it is necessary for a healthy plant – others just let nature take its course. Me? I am a suckering fool. I don’t like the untidy way a tomato plant looks with suckers coming out everywhere.

A tomato sucker is a small growth that starts between the stem and a branch of the plant. Although these are not particularly harmful, they can decrease your garden yield by draining energy, food, and water away from the main plant.

To remove a sucker, simply pinch it off close to the ‘V’ where the stem and branch meet. These can be tossed in the compost bin or fed to the chickens.

a tomato hornworm on a green leaf

Inspect all of your plants daily. Tomato hornworms can decimate an entire tomato plant in just one night. These are green puffy worms that have a ‘horn’ on their forehead. They are squishy, and very hard to find.

But if you have them, you will know it. Most of your leaves will be eaten and left in shreds. If you see signs of tomato hornworms, get down to eye level with your plant. Inspect every inch – stems, branches, leaves. If you see small black droppings, then it is a sure sign the worm is close by.

These slimy little buggers can be hard to find, but when you do, pluck them off. If you still can’t find them, consider using a black light. This makes them glow even greener, and you can just reach in and pluck them off.

I place mine in a bucket and feed them to the chickens, but you can smush them if you don’t have hungry birds to feed.

two white garden stakes with a blue and yellow ceramic bird on the top

Tie It Up! – Staking your Tall Plants

Tall-growing plants usually need staking. The best way to do this is think ahead. If you are growing tall plants, such as tomatoes – or even plants that produce heavy fruits, such as bell peppers, add a garden stake when you put your plant in the garden.

This prevents you from disturbing or harming the roots once it has been established. When the plant grows to 6” in height, tie it up. Continue with this method until the plant has stopped growing.

The best ties for the delicate plant stems are strips of an old sheet or clean panty hose. You can also use plant ties that are rubber-coated wire.

For vining plants, use trellises. These can be commercially purchased, or you can use tee-posts and field fence. I like making my own garden trellises in order to add a bit of whimsy to my garden.

 a group of container plants on a brick pad next to a wellhouse

Plant a Row for the Hungry

When you think ‘hungry’, there are two groups that will love the benefit of your garden. First, plant host’ plants for the beneficial bugs.

To do this, it is recommended to plant additional plants that are of interest to beneficial insects near your garden. This can be a smaller garden or even a row or border around the outside of your main planting beds and consist of flowers and herbs that are particularly ‘delicious’ to bees, butterflies, lacewings, and hoverflies.

Think of your garden in terms of a protected environment, the flowers as a military base, and the beneficial insects as soldiers. When your main garden plants are being attacked by harmful insects, they produce a chemical that can be detected by the soldiers, who fly into action.

As a secondary benefit, many of your harvest producing plants require pollination to provide fruit. The border planting helps to provide an additional source of food, water, and shelter that encourage the beneficial insects to remain in the area.

Some of the best attractors of beneficial insects are things such as Queen Anne’s Lace, which has tiny flower clusters, Cosmos, and Yarrow. Herbs in bloom, such as Dill, Lemon Balm, Oregano, and spearmint are a great food source for beneficials, and can also be harvested to use in baking and for tea.

a red and white speckled bowl filled with fresh snapped green beans

Secondly, consider the ‘hungry’ folks who live around you. With the pandemic onset, soaring food and gas prices, and food shortages at the grocery store, it can be cost prohibitive for our elderly on fixed incomes and neighbors who have lost their jobs to feed themselves and their families.

Do your best to plant extras to share with others. Take a basket of fresh produce to a struggling neighbor. You can also use the harvest to prepare soups, stews, and other meals to take to them. And don’t forget to toss in a loaf of homemade bread and maybe a few fresh-baked cookies. All of this bounty will be appreciated more than you know!

Time to Enjoy the Harvest!

Growing a garden can be one of the most enjoyable pastimes and is one of the most delicious ways to feed your family. By using these smart and simple garden tips, preparing your garden ahead of time, and visiting your plants on a daily basis, you may find your garden is one of your most favorite places to be!

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One of the basic elements of Living a Simple Life is learning how to grow at least a small portion of food to feed your family. But growing a garden is more than just the harvest. It is a way of expressing who we are, our values, and even our creative nature.

Most of us know the basics of gardening. The Simple Life Garden eWorkbook isn’t a beginner’s guide. Instead, it helps you move to the next step of gardening. Are you ready to make your garden work for you? Just click the banner or link and get started!

Julie Murphree is a blogger, newspaper columnist, and speaker on all things ‘Living a Simple Life on the Farm’. She is the author of \\\'The Farm Wife – Living a Simple Life on the Farm. She and her husband have 60 acres in NW Louisiana where they actively work on living as sustainable as possible.

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