People garden for a variety of reasons: for improving their health, as a pastime, or to provide clean food to their community. We are looking at a revival of organic gardening and health awareness. Growing vegetables isn’t just for retired people anymore, and it never really was. But if you’re an active student, an overwhelmed parent, or a busy professional, how do you find the time to garden? Well, it’s all about priorities.
Finding the time and motivation to garden is all about creating the right mindset. These are the best strategies to make gardening time-efficient: start with a small patch, set it up so it’s weed-free, and in a place where you can see it. Create a routine, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
As with anything in life, we can never “find” the right time, we can only make it by giving up other low-priority activities. If the thought of starting a garden has been persisting for a while, listen to it – it’s nagging you for a reason. Perfectionism is at the core of all our doubts when it comes to starting a new project because we’re afraid of the unknown and scared that we might fail.
But there’s no such thing as failure in gardening, only learning experiences. Once you start, it’s so rewarding and addicting, that “not finding the time” becomes a non-issue. Here are a few ideas about how you can integrate gardening in your schedule:
1. Start with a small patch, then extend it.
If you’re passionate about plants, you can start with something as small as one single raised bed, or a small container garden on your patio or your balcony. This will take very little time compared to a regular plot, but you will still benefit from learning about how plants develop and growing some fresh herbs and greens for your family.
By starting small, you’ll be able to control the micro-environment of your tiny patch – weeds won’t stand a chance, and you’ll quickly notice pests or diseases forming on your vegetables. If gardening on a smaller scale at first sounds appealing to you, check out the Square Foot Gardening method, or the many resources on container gardening.
If you’re gardening in containers, you’ll need to keep a close eye on watering, as the soil can dry up quite fast. Never use garden soil in your containers, because it won’t have the necessary texture or nutrients – use a special soil mix instead.
Square foot gardening is a great method to become familiar with vegetable spacing. Plants with shallow roots will have no problem growing densely, while large plants like tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, sunflowers, etc, will require more room for growth and air circulation.
I began my gardening adventure with a simple, square, raised bed, where I grew lettuce, parsley, kale, and even peppers. After a couple of years, when we finally moved to our own home, I created a full-size backyard garden that provides us with 80% of the vegetables we eat.
Starting small gave me a better idea about how much time commitment this new hobby required, while the small wins of getting fast-maturing crops motivated me to keep going. Here’s a picture of my very first raised bed:
2. Get your garden on auto-pilot.
The most labor-intensive parts of gardening are: digging, weeding, and watering. If you get these three out of the way, you’ll have a lot more time to enjoy a relaxed atmosphere in your garden. When your garden looks nice, you can’t help but want to spend more time there.
I suggest you create your garden following the no-dig method. This will save you time because all you have to do every year to maintain your garden beds is amend them with compost and mulch on top. This method not only recreates nature’s way of layering soil, but it also promotes a bustling microorganism activity and provides lots of organic matter for earthworms to feast on.
Weeds can easily overwhelm us and quickly get out of hand in a normal garden, but there’s a way around them. I wrote more about how to keep on top of weeds here. Spread a few layers of cardboard on the weediest parts of your garden. If those areas are meant to be garden paths, lay woodchips or gravel on top of that cardboard. If you wish to create a raised bed instead, add soil and compost.
All these methods may be time-consuming and even expensive right when you set them up, but you’ll be glad you made the investment. The maintenance work will be very low compared to a traditional tilling garden.
3. Set up your garden close to the house.
It’s easy to let things get out of hand when your garden is far away from your home. Out of sight – out of mind. But if you create your vegetable garden right outside your window, you will look at it every day, and won’t allow it to become an eye-sore.
Think about how much time and money people put into taking care of their lawns and front yard, often only to impress people that pass by. Gardening is so much more than impressing your neighbor, but we can use our vanity as a “trick” to keep our gardens tidy and weed-free.
Placing your new garden in a visible area is very motivating as the season unfolds. From spring to autumn, you will see the plants grow and thrive, while in winter, your garden will act as a gentle reminder to order seeds and work on upgrades and design.
If you turn your vegetable patch into an oasis, making time for gardening won’t even be an issue.
4. Find the time of day that matches your energy.
For many of us, time alone isn’t the issue. Time doesn’t equal energy. We may have plenty of time but we may be too tired or ill to do anything. This is where baby-steps and knowing your body come in handy.
I’ve heard countless stories of gardeners with disabilities or autoimmune disorders that overcame their conditions through perseverance and purpose, with the help of gardening, myself included. But don’t just believe me, check out fabulous Liz Zhorab, who started her amazing garden while still on crutches.
Even thirty minutes per day of work can make a huge difference. In spring, I either spend one hour every day or batch multiple hours over the weekend to plant seedlings, water, and do some weeding. I rotate my beds when I weed and try not to get distracted by all the things that need to get done.
If you plan on working on your garden every day, but have a full-time job or a busy lifestyle, many gardeners have found that early in the morning and right after coming back from work (before sitting down), works best for them.
Your weekends shouldn’t be consumed by gardening, but you will probably want to spend a full weekend, here and there, to complete a more ambitious gardening project.
5. Get help with harvesting
Beginner gardeners may not be aware that harvesting can sometimes become the most time-consuming aspect of gardening. We’ve become so used to prepackaged salad mixes and how convenient they are that we’ve forgotten what it’s like to pick the salad, wash the dirt off, chop it and turn it into a beautiful meal.
If you want food that’s truly fresh – that you picked minutes ago from your garden – you need to be aware that this whole process can take a lot of time. It can take you an hour to harvest, prep, assemble, and then wash the dishes after making a salad – and that’s just one meal!
Regular harvesting can also be a time-consuming part of gardening. Ripe vegetables don’t wait for you, they go bad! In the summertime, you’ll spend a lot of time on your heavy producers. Zucchinis, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and beans will start growing seemingly overnight. Picking all the vegetables, cooking, and storing them can quickly become overwhelming.
You have two options here: either grow less food – only the amount you would eat fresh – or get your family involved.
Ask your husband or kids to help you with regular harvesting, cooking, and storing. Call friends over to help you with processing vegetables for storage: making jams, pickling, canning, and freezing veggies can be quite time-consuming if you do it all alone. In exchange, you can either offer eternal gratitude, or a share of your clean, organic harvest.
6. Is gardening your hobby or is it survival?
We may never find enough time in the day for the things we love, but what if gardening isn’t something you do out of love, but out of necessity? Some people garden to feed their families and live frugally, others do it for health reasons.
I garden because my body can’t handle all the chemically treated produce I find in the supermarkets. I also garden because I get more variety into my meals this way – many plants are too fragile to find in the produce section. And the third reason is my mental health. My garden forces me to spend time outside, even when I don’t feel like it, which greatly improves my mood.
If you only see gardening as a hobby and you have other priorities right now, don’t feel guilty for letting your garden go every once in a while. After all, you can always start over.
But if gardening involves higher stakes – like health issues, sustainability and responsibility towards your family or community, then you just need to find new ways to make it fun and refresh your motivation.
Gardening is a great tool for feeding your body and your mind. It’s a place for relaxation and self-discovery. I learned a lot from gardening these past years. I learned that I love things neat and tidy and that I get easily overwhelmed when things get out of hand. I learned that a little bit of work here and there goes a long way.
I also learned that whenever I say that I “don’t have time” for gardening, I, in fact, have plenty of time for Netflix and procrastination.
In the end, it’s all about priorities, and if you decide to prioritize gardening, your life will become so much richer – I guarantee it!