‘Too much work’

I recently ran a twitter poll asking folks why they’re not growing their own food (provided they have a bit of grass to do that on. ‘Don’t know how’ was a popular choice, but so was ‘too much work’. I’ve been thinking about this ‘too much work’ thing, and what it might mean. I, too, used to think it’s so much work, and, in fact, when we bought our cottage most friends and family despaired at the size of the garden, because it’s ‘so much work’ and we’d never ‘get it done’. And we somehow internalised this, and it took us years to get over that notion. So, come with me while I try to unpick that a bit.

Our pumpkin patch on top of the compost bays. Can you spot the three large ripening pumpkins? There’s more, hidden away, too.

For us, ‘too much work’ was about a number of things: our inexperience; not knowing how to turn our shrub-and-lawn garden into a space that we would enjoy; not knowing what that space was going to be; having a notion that weeding is hard and horrible; being put off by the thought of digging; having preconceptions about what a garden should look like, and how neat it would need to be; worries about being able to commit enough time to it; worries about being out there in bad weather; not knowing when/how to cut things back/prune things; the need to buy plants and prepare space for them and tend them and protect them from the beasties. Probably more, too, that I’m not remembering. I think these notions are probably quite common for folks who didn’t grow up gardening (or those who grew up with traditional neat gardens and parents/grandparents who spend their days pottering about in them). We were also overwhelmed (still are!) by the size of our space, and not knowing where to start, or what to do. I wish I’d found out about ‘no dig’ gardening then!

One of our artichokes (in the herb bed) overlooking the carrot tyres and the three main veg beds.

Are those maybe things you’re worried about too? Well, for us ‘no dig’ really was the key to it all, for several reasons:

  • no digging required. Like, literally. Some shovelling (of manure/compost/woodchips), but no digging up the ground
  • very easy to tame ground. We put cardboard on grass, and manure on top, and in twenty minutes or so we have a new veg bed. If we don’t like the location at some point in the future we can simply turn that bed into a path, or back into grassland, or whatever, because we haven’t actually put in any structures
  • our woodchip path systems gives structure to everything, but as it’s just cardboard and woodchips and it can easily be turned into a bed at some point if we change our mind about what’s going where
  • very easy to keep relatively weed free as the weeds that settle (or come with the manure/compost) are easy to pull out
  • no need to tread carefully – the beds are very happy to be walked/sat on
  • no need to water here in the Highlands. Even when it was really sunny and hot earlier in the summer we didn’t need to water
The chickens enjoying themselves on the site of the old rabbit enclosure.

Now we don’t actually garden every day. I mean, some things need to be done every day, like feeding the chickens and ducks and changing the duck water, and watering the seedlings. Seamus does this: he tops up food and water when he lets the birds out in the morning (while the dogs get to run around the garden), and in the evening he changes the water in the duckpond and waters the seedlings (again, while the dogs run around). But that’s it for our day-to-day stuff, so if you don’t have outdoor pets and you don’t grow your own seedlings then there are no daily tasks that need to get done. None. None at all. At least if you live in a climate similar to ours, because having this kind of no dig beds means not having to water outside. We’ve not watered our beds even once this year. I try to get into the garden every day but don’t always manage, and when I do I spend 10-20 minutes doing stuff, sometimes a bit more, sometimes a bit less, but I think that’s what it evens out as. Here are some of the things I do regularly:

  • sow seeds
  • pot up seedlings
  • plant out seedlings
  • check on the plants – walk around and have a good look at them, and see what’s ripe, what’s about to ripen, and what’s not doing well
  • weed – I’ll sit down with a plastic bucket and weed until the bucket is full. There aren’t too many weeds in our no dig beds and what’s there tends to come out easily
  • sit in the hammock and look at the garden and think about improvements we’re going to make: where do the next beds go? do any of the current beds need to be a different shape? do any perennials need moving? where is the pond going to go? is the chicken house needing to move? do we need more compost bays? what would I like to grow more of? That sort of thing

Of course, if you grow your own food and it goes well you start to enjoy the process more, too, and the more you learn about how to grow well the more it doesn’t feel like a chore. For me that was a key part, actually – it felt like work because I didn’t know what I was doing, and because I didn’t think I was any good at it. It’s worth acknowledging that to yourself, I think: it feels like hard work because you’ve not done it before. It’s no different from taking up a new instrument or learning a new language or taking up running: it’s really hard at first, but it soon gets easier, and the more you do it the more you enjoy it because you don’t have to think about every little thing.

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