I’ve tried my fair share of garden tips, tricks, strategies, and gardening techniques. Anyone who has been a member of a community garden knows that most everyone who gardens has a collection of tips and techniques that they use or that they want to try.
Many of the ideas I heard back then worked well, some others sounded good but just didn’t work out for one reason or another. These days lots of information is available on the internet in many formats, but how do we separate the wheat from the chaff? What really works and what sounds good but doesn’t work as promised?
There are a few ways you might verify your information. You could try to find out if anyone online is saying that the idea or technique you are considering is rubbish and why. Or you can cross-verify new information you encounter with sources that you have found to be trustworthy. Or you could try the technique yourself, or communicate with someone who has tried it.
This last option is what I want to do here. I’ve brainstormed some of the more interesting and (in some cases) useful gardening techniques I have personally tried over the years.
As an aside, I should say that there is no guarantee that if something worked for me that it will work for you in your circumstances. The same can be said for what hasn’t worked, I’m not saying these technique has never worked for anyone anywhere. These things often depend on your particular gardening situation. I’m just sharing what has worked for me ( general gardening tips in the words) and my thoughts on these techniques.
1. It works! – Fall Leaves Mixed With Coffee Grinds For Compost
The basic idea is to empty out the bags of leaves on the lawn, run a lawnmower over them to mulch them up into small pieces, then pile them up in a composter, mixed with a source of nitrogen.
I used coffee grounds as my nitrogen source and chicken wire to make big, crude containers for the compost. I mixed the leaves and coffee grounds together. When the first snow fell I remember being fascinated to see that snow on the compost melted. Steam was coming off the pile and when I put my hand in it was smoking hot. By the time springtime rolled around the interior of the pile looked like black soil. I mixed it once, left if for a few more weeks and the whole batch was completely composted and ready to use.
I use this compost extensively in my garden and around my fruit trees with excellent results. I have been able to transform my garden area from rock-hard clay to dark, black crumbly soil by adding this compost to it over the years.
I have found that this is a practical, effective, virtually free way of making substantial quantities of high-quality, uncontaminated compost.
2. It doesn’t work – Composting Kitchen Scraps
Piling kitchen scraps tends to make a cold compost that takes a long time to break down. A very long time. And unfortunately, after the long wait, there is basically nothing left to be used in the garden. Kitchen scraps tend to make either a soupy mess, or if you wait long enough, they will compost down to basically nothing.
So in one limited sense, this does kind of work, because your kitchen scraps will eventually compost down and you don’t throw them in the garbage, but if your goal is to make some useable compost, in my experience composting kitchen scraps does not work.
3. It works! – Grinding Up Eggshells and Throwing Them into Planting Holes
Two of the first three years gardening in my present location I was plagued with problems of blossom-end rot in my peppers and tomatoes. I tried grinding up eggshells into a fine powder and throwing a handful into each planting hole when I set the plants out in the spring. Since then I have never had blossom-end rot.
This will not always solve the problem because there are other factors such as uneven watering and soil ph that can also create a situation where plants are not getting enough calcium, but if your problem is a lack of calcium in the soil, pulverized eggshells work.
4. It doesn’t work – Using Organic Material to Block Weeds
I’ve tried hay, leaves, mulched leaves, and wood chips as weed blockers. Invariably weeds bust through the ground cover as if it wasn’t there. Then hoeing is not an available strategy unless you move the mulch aside in some way. The bottom line here is that I’ve found that a light hoeing once a week is by far my preferred weed control strategy.
5. It works! – Zai Pits
This is a traditional African technique for rehabilitating barren land. The technique is simply to dig holes, about 18 inches deep, and a little more than a foot in diameter. The dirt from the hole is placed on the downslope side of the hole. That’s it.
This simple technique gives the land a little texture. The movement of water across the landscape is affected by the holes. It is slowed down and concentrated in the holes. Organic matter tends to collect on the bottom also, enriching the soil.
An African farmer in Burkina Faso, Yacouba Sawadogo, reintroduced this technique in the 1980s. He made the simple change of adding manure or compost to the pits as well as placing stones on the contour lines of the land to slow the movement of water across the landscape.
This ultra-simple yet very effective technique can be used anywhere where you might want to plant something. It allows you to concentrate on rainwater and fertility exactly where you need it.
In my climate here in Quebec, it is very effective for growing plants that like cooler, moist conditions. I have had great success growing lettuce in these kinds of holes here, and these holes concentrate rainwater, greatly reducing irrigation needs.
6. It doesn’t work – Lazy Gardener Techniques
Any kind of technique that involves domesticated garden plants fending for themselves against pests and tough-as-nails wild plants will not work.
Garden vegetables have been carefully selected by humans for certain traits like their taste, size, texture, and storage qualities. Since these are domesticated plants that are cared for in gardens, traits like toughness and drought resistance are secondary considerations.
When this kind of selection continues over hundreds and thousands of years the end results are the vegetables we have today, which are delicious and high-yielding, but not very tough. On the other hand, wild plants have been selected by nature for their ability to survive over millions of years.
So there is no real choice here, garden vegetables have been bred to grow in pristine conditions with humans tilting the scales heavily in their favor. They need weed-free, luscious, fertile soil to flourish.
7. It works! – Tarping
Tarping is placing an opaque tarp on the ground. This is the method par excellence for weed control for small-scale organic farmers, and it works brilliantly in backyard garden situations also.
Tarps can be used in a few ways so here’s the rundown:
You can do a stale seedbed with tarps by preparing your garden area early, then watering it thoroughly before covering the area with an opaque tarp. The tarp will maintain moist soil conditions and warmth to encourage seed germination. Weed seeds will germinate but with no light for them to grow, they die within a few days to a week. Once this process is complete you take the tarp off and your weed-free garden bed is ready for planting.
Tarps can also be used to cover any unused garden areas, especially early in the year. This can be handy if you want to plant some ground cover, but you don’t want it to go to seed before winter sets in. The area can be tarped and kept weed-free until you are ready to plant.
Tarps will also reduce work after you harvest an area. If an area is tarped for a month or more, you can leave some plant stubble and any weed growth in place because the warm, moist conditions under the tarp accelerate the composting process. The longer you plan on leaving the tarpon for, the more plant material you can leave in place.
Lastly, you can make holes in a tarp and plant your plants through them. Most market gardeners will use drip irrigation in this situation, but home gardeners can simply water through the planting hole in the tarp. This is a great technique for long-season crops.
There it is! Feel free to comment on techniques that you have personal experience with.