Building Efficiencies Into Your Farm

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I love to farm, but I am also happy when the day is over and I can have some time for other pursuits.  I try really hard to keep a schedule, and quit for the day at a certain time.  Granted, it has to bend some days.  Spring is tough.  There’s always too much to do.  But I think there are some ways to make the time spent each day go farther.  It’s that whole work smarter—not harder—kind of thing.  Kate and I had worked on a few different farms before we started ours.  They varied from small, intensive market gardens where the bulk of the work was done by hand, to a larger wholesale truck farm that was fairly mechanized.  When we started to develop our farm, we knew that we would be on the smaller size, but still wanted to incorporate some of the efficiency of scale into our operation.  (We had seen how running full-force all the time was a recipe for burn-out and we wanted to figure out a way to keep our lives at least sort of balanced as farmers.)

The winter is a great time to think through processes on your farm and see where improvements in efficiency can be made.  We have three main areas of work on the farm; the greenhouse, the field, and the barn.  I am always thinking of how the work flows in each one of these areas and trying to improve how the work gets done.  Winter is also the time of year to make tools; I find that waiting until the spring is too late for me.  As soon as the season hits, there’s little time to make big changes.

I am always looking for ways of improving efficiencies on our farm.  These are a few of the things that I have done at my place that have really made a difference:

 

Efficiencies in the Greenhouse

Customize to Fit Your Needs.  We grow a lot of transplants for sale in the spring.  I love being in the greenhouse, surrounded by young plants knowing that they will go to people’s gardens to grow food.  Filling all the trays of six packs with potting soil is not something that I particularly love, however.  Our previous method involved shoveling potting soil into the trays out of a bulk bin.  While visiting a larger greenhouse operation, I coveted his automated pot filler.  It was too big for me though, and at $4,000.00, it was out of my budget.  It occurred to me that the real job the filler did was the lifting.  I built a bin out of pallets that holds a yard of soil and has slats as the front-facing side.  The bin sits on top of a stack of pallets.  I built a tray mounted on 2x4s that is held in place by sliding the 2x4s into a pallet below the bin at any height.  I pull the slats out as I need more soil, and let gravity do a lot of the work for me as I rake the soil into the flats.  It saves both time and our backs.

Water Hose in the GreenhouseSmall Improvements to Save Time.  We have a hose trolley that allows us to move the hose over the plants.  It saves tripping over the hose, as well as the time untangling it when it invariably gets tangled on the floor.  It’s also a lot cleaner, because the hose isn’t being dragged around on the floor.  They are available as kits from greenhouse supply companies, but are also easily fabricated from hardware store parts.  My greenhouse is 22’ wide, and one run allows me to get to all the corners of the greenhouse.  Super handy, and I can’t imagine not having it.

Always Look for Ways to Improve.  These days our weakest point of efficiency in the greenhouse is how we move plants.  Right now we carry flats from inside to out and around, and then back into the cold frame to harden off.  My project this winter is to build a trolley system that will move as many as 12 flats at a time.  My hope is to put it together with some spare parts that I have accumulated over the years of having greenhouses.  I am really excited about this; I’ll update later this year.

 

Efficiencies in the Field & Barn

Rolling DibblerDo-It-Yourself: Simple and Cheap Tools.  One of my favorite tools is our dibbler.  You can find the story here (http://www.highmowingseeds.com/The-Rolling-Dibbler.html).  Every farm that transplants by hand should have one of these tools.  They are easy to make, and the time they save both in planting and ultimately in cultivating, especially when done by hand, is profound.  Having consistent and accurate spacing allows for better planning, quick strokes with a hoe, promotes good airflow, and results in less culls.  It’s one of my favorite tools.

A Stitch in Time.  We grow all of our onions in cells rather than bulk trays.  I start them in 128′s with two seeds per cell and transplant them out at 8” spacing in the row.  I get the same amount of onions transplanted as if I had planted one plant every 4”, but the cells make getting the plants into the ground incredibly fast.  It’s true that it takes a little extra time to do the seeding, but it saves more time when I am transplanting, and my extra effort happens at the time of year when I am not slammed with lots of other work.  With one person pulling and dropping plants and two people putting them in the ground, we can get 5000 onions in the ground in a morning.

Re-Purpose For a Quick Solution.  A few years ago I got a nail pouch at a yard sale, and we quickly turned it into a harvest pouch.  Kate made a few more so each person on the crew can have one.  They are made out of heavy canvas.  There are two pockets for the different sizes of rubber bands, another pouch for a pair of scissors, and one for a small harvest knife.  Being able to just grab the harvest pouch in the morning and have everything I need makes getting out to the field in the morning fast—and I know that I haven’t forgotten anything.

Using Labor Efficiently.  I am also a big fan of the front-mounted forks for my tractor. (http://www.highmowingseeds.com/front-mounted-forks.html) They’re a huge labor saver.  We harvest winter squash into bins and load them right into the greenhouse, unload potting soil in bins, move the rototiller, carry plants, etc.  If it’s heavy, it’s on a pallet which saves on potential injury as well as lots of time.

It’s Good to be Organized.  The biggest way to save some time in the barn is to get it organized.  By means of full disclosure, I am not, unfortunately, that guy.  But I am trying.  The time I spend looking for things is probably my weakest point.  I have had a full plate the past few years, but I am hoping to lay some groundwork this spring getting things put away and organized in a system that works for our farm.

 

Resources for Ideas and Inspiration

There are lots of resources on the internet that are helpful for tinkerers; here are two to get you started:

  • Healthy FamersHealthy Farmers, Healthy Profits Project (http://bse.wisc.edu/HFHP/tipveggy.htm), a site from the University of Wisconsin, is where I first saw the dibbler.  My design works better for me, but their example was a great place to start.  They have some other technical sheets on pack-house design and the like.  It has a lot of good stuff that can be adapted to your situation.
  • Farm Hack (http://www.youngfarmers.org/practical/farm-hack) is part of the National Young Farmers’ Coalition and has lots of good information written by people smarter than me, who are into making things and then sharing them with other growers.  This is one of my new favorite sites.

 

Your Own Community of Growers.  Above all, the best place to learn about ways to save time and be a better grower is with your local community of growers.  Go to farm walks, workshops, and conferences and get together with other growers to share ideas and experiences.

 

I don’t pretend to have all the answers; I only want to encourage you to look at your operation with a critical eye.  There is a lot of talk these days about sustainable agriculture, but it feels like often times the concept of sustainability isn’t applied to how we treat ourselves.  It may be that a few simple changes to your farm will allow you to get some extrDone Weedin'a time.  What you do with that time is up to you.  Perhaps you will be able to get one more thing done each day.

I’ll be on my boat, the Done Weedin’.

Have a great winter.

Paul

 

 

 

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105 Responses to Building Efficiencies Into Your Farm

  1. Thanks for the thinking and sharing about self care. I agree!
    When you set out your onions, do you plant the two seedlings together or do you separate them?
    Laura
    Sweet Morning Farm

  2. Lora says:

    My husband turned an old lawnmower and trashcan into a tool caddy for me. He also painted the handles of all my tools pink so I can find them in the grass since I have a bad habit of putting them down and losing them!

  3. Briana says:

    Children. They don’t care if they get muddy, they like getting squirt with water, they think worms and bugs are cool.

    You do have to keep them out of the peas.

  4. charly says:

    I have premade boxes for seeds to be deposited as they are harvested all labeled. As the season progresses since many seeds don’t ripen at the same time even in one particular crop I can just add to the labeled boxes in my cool shady shed as they are harvested and dried. They can be packaged for real storage later when i have time

  5. kelly says:

    well, I confess….We cover our garden space with black weed canvas. It helps warm the soil in our interesting micro climate property. Then I can concentrate on planting and keeping the plants properly trellised instead of spending all my time weeding. I also make a scarecrow each year, he holds an upside down clay pot ( bottom is duck taped) to hold twine for staking tomatos and cukes. He wears an apron of garden tools so I can grab from his pockets or just take the apron myself. He holds an umbrella that keeps the rain off him…

  6. Wendy Besett says:

    For seeds that are slower to germinate, torch weeding has been a huge time saver and has even got us growing our own carrots again- while at he same time satisfying my husband’s pyrotechnic needs. :)

    • B says:

      There is nothing a teenage boy likes more than to be handed a blow torch. My teens use it to kill the weeds growing in the pathways surrounding the garden beds, so we don’t have to spend time weeding an area that doesn’t produce food. They must just be careful not to torch the wooden sides of the raised beds while they are at it. We keep a hose handy just in case.

  7. Ang says:

    We set aside time as a family and tbe chore or task gets done with ease!

  8. angie says:

    Team work, buddy up with a neighbor and help each other out!

  9. Nikki says:

    Since I mix my food plants in with my decorative plants, weeding can be a chore (no real room to hoe or use other equipment). But my best idea is carrying a bucket with me so that as I weed and prune I can put the results in the bucket and not have to rake the mess up later.

  10. Angie says:

    My best time saving approach is to see my time in the garden as therapy. It’s my time to slow down, forget my every day worries, be mindful & present and feel the earth in my hands and underfoot. When I see gardening in this way, it feels less like a chore that I need to get thru and instead time to really savor.

  11. Derek says:

    I’m “not that guy” either.
    One of the simplest but best tips I know: Carry something in each hand.

  12. Diana kio says:

    We have built raised beds using trees that came down in our yard after Hurricane Sandy. There was so much loss that it feels good to reuse these trees I once sat under. We used the “kill mulch” method so that tilling does not need to be done and weeding will be a minimum. I am all about saving time and getting the most for my buck. We also have several angora rabbits who are great about providing us with a bit of compost, although a little does go a long way. The extra nitrogen in their droppings keeps the garden happy.

  13. The top time saving tip I think is how to avoid any weeds in the vegetable garden or any garden. We had terrible weeds and could not keep up last year! Well I have found it….never pull a weed again…and save your back! This year we are using weed-fabric, check out our YouTube video of it here…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eNjirlkb3R0

  14. Nicole says:

    What a great article! We garden in raised beds on our small 1/2acre lot. The raised beds help with water conservation as well as ease in harvest/weeding! We also later in uncomposted compost so that we don’t have to side-dress as often.

  15. Jeannie says:

    I stash newspapers and lay them between my rows, cover with soil to hide. This keeps out most of the weeds and disappears by season end.

  16. Ann says:

    I plant in with the decoratve plant, but use newspaper under the mulch. It keeps the weed down and is cheap.

  17. Tricia Miller says:

    Hmmm….getting and staying organized is not my strong suit in the garden shed but by mucking heavily in the fall with shredded and composted yard clippings reand leaves we have really
    saved time weeding. We have a rainbarrel right in the corner of the garden.

  18. Gina Mangra says:

    I use 5×7 flexible photo albums for storing seed packets.

  19. Ross Ferkett says:

    Many small growers like to use bulb crates for harvesting their crops. I find them particularly helpful in simplifying the multi-step process of harvesting sweet potatoes. When picked into the crates in a single layer, they can be cleaned and cured without removing them from the crates. The whole crate can be dunked and/or sprayed to remove soil. They don’t want to be scrubbed anyway. Then the crates can be stacked or spread out for curing depending on your space, and the tubers don’t have to be handled one by one. Crates with larger holes in the bottom work best to allow soil to drop out and air to flow freely.

  20. Connie Covey says:

    This year I am using paper towel and toilet paper tubes to plant my starts into so that when I transplant I don’t have to remove each plant from those annoying plastic containers. The paper is biodegradable! You just flatten the roll both ways to form a squarish tube, cut up each crease about 1/4 inch and fold in for bottoms. Fill with seed starter and sit in the tray butted up to the next one. They absorb and help hold water that the seedlings need and take up less space! Love this idea! Recycling and Time saving. You can fold all of your little plant starter rolls all winter long! :-)

  21. Keith Naas says:

    I installed white panda plastic on my grow shelves. I attached scrap foam board to the sides and bottom of the plastic to give it some lightweight rigidity and structure. I was able to provide complete reflective cover while making it super easy to remove the plastic for access to the starts. The plastic helped me get the healthiest starts I’ve had over four years of growing. The plants were sturdier, healthier, and taller because of the extra light they received.

  22. I like to garden with soil-building, sun-loving mushroom varieties like the king stropharia and elm oyster. These fungi can easily be inoculated into woodchip or bark mulch, and can be grown alongside vegetables, shrubs, or fruit trees without taking up additional space. The end product is fertile soil, delicious mushrooms and vegetables or fruit.

    • chris says:

      would love more info on this, my customers would love mushrooms alongside their veggies. It would also be kinda cool to see mushrooms growing out of a log in the garden,

    • Sage says:

      I would love to grow mushrooms. Can you tell me more or refer me to a web site that has good info. about mushroom growing? Do you have to reinoculate the sperm every 3-6 months or they self inoculating? What about moisture? Do you spray or do you live in a humid part of the country?

  23. Great article, thanks for all the helpful advice.

    During the season I keep my seed in a small plastic bin with all of the different varieties organized by crop. When I’m heading to the greenhouse I grab the bin knowing all my seed is there. That way when I’m in the greenhouse starting seed I don’t have to go back and forth to the house for different seed that I need.

  24. Eliza says:

    Chickens, ducks, and rabbits! We let the girls and the bunnies play in the garden in late Fall. They eat any stubs of plants remaining. Snack on the bugs. AND they leave behind some great compost ;-)

  25. Marci says:

    We make our own potting soil in a concrete mixer. While there are decent mixes out there, nothing beats mixing coir, nutrients, vermiculite, and compost in a small concrete mixer and viola! beautiful & fertile potting mix. With this mix we don’t need to foliar feed for weeks.

  26. Lora says:

    Pre-sprouting spinach seeds a few days before planting allows for a more consistent germination rate in the field. As well as using a torch to burn holes in black plastic for planting to prevent weedy crops can save a lot of time and at the end of the season the plastic can be taken up, it can even be reused if it is thick landscaping fabric.

  27. Jennifer Wall says:

    I always try to minimize trips back and forth from the coop and garden by bring baskets out with me to help carry weeds, eggs, harvested veg, etc.

  28. Rami says:

    I am a neophyte gardener, so I don’t have any tips really…but I’m very interested in what others might be able to impart in terms of practical wisdom.

  29. Connie Covey says:

    Using a backpack basket from a friend of mine at wayfarer baskets helps keep my hands free while I work (weeding or harvesting) and also keeps me from having to go back and forth to pick up the piles of whatever I want to take with me. http://www.commongoodproducts.com/Wayfarer-Baskets/

  30. Helen says:

    I’m still on a learning curve in the garden, so I don’t have any tried and true time-saving strategies yet. I really enjoy my time gardening as a way to escape the hustle and bustle. I will add that I used plastic coated outdoor Christmas lights under my seedlings last year to help give them a warm start.

  31. carol dudek says:

    Hi everyone, I keep a note book of my garden with photo’s, so on cold winter days I can look back enjoy and make plans for the new spring garden.

  32. Margo Clayton says:

    This year we are improving our raised beds, we ‘recycle’ weeds and garden plant leftovers through our chickens and use their composted litter for a nuclear garden. Don’t you love to daydream big in the cold of winter?

  33. Suzi says:

    For planting row crops close together like Peas, I connect two Earthway seeders together. I can then plant the two rows with one pass.

  34. Morgen LaCroix says:

    The 2 biggest time savers for me are mulch and soil blocks.
    All of my paths are first lined with newspaper and then a layer of hay to eliminate weeds. All of my raised beds are covered with a thick mat of hay around the sides, no wood at all. I had virtually no weeding to do after June last year and the soil stayed loose and moist despite the drought because of the hay.
    I made my own soil block makers from recycled house hold items (empty vitamin bottle, charlie’s soap jar, Rx bottle) and my plants absolutely took off as soon as I put them in the ground. It seems to me that plants in soil blocks don’t get root bound like container plants do. When I was pulling the pepper plants this fall I saw the HUGE difference in the root ball between the plants I started myself in soil blocks and the plants from a local organic farm grown in peat pots.

    • Gigi W says:

      Can you offer more details about home made soil blockers. Do you just put your mix in an empty vitamin bottle and then flip it over, for ex?

  35. Jada Edwards says:

    I keep a one gallon bucket under my sick for compost, and pull it out when cooking for quick and easy discarding of scraps. At the end of the day, I run it out to the compost tumbler…no multiple trips during the busy day!

  36. Jamie Casolari says:

    I use old windows over my raised beds to create mini greenhouses/coldframes. this helps keep me in cool weather crops for a much longer time or makes for an earlier harvest. Last winter I harvest spinach from Dec 24 through to Thanksgiving of this year.

  37. Jennifer Dienst says:

    I make a game out of harvesting with my children. The one that collects the most wins! This works well when doing green beans, raspberries/strawberries, and walnuts under the tree! It’s always fun watching them try to out-do the other and it gives me more time to work on something else while they are harvesting goodies!

  38. Ali Dermond says:

    I am a selective weeder. If it’s low-growing, in a pathway, and isn’t flowering, it stays. They help keep the soil cool and moist, and they become biomass at the end of the season. Instead of weeding, I go around removing flower heads, and I have a little booklet of invasive weeds that I carry around with me, so I know which ones to definitely pull and which ones are just innocent native plants.

    • Allan says:

      I guess there is some benefit to this method, but I can’t help but think the weed competition would reduce crop yields.

  39. TIffany Bowers says:

    I use xeroscaping techniques to save time, energy, water, and money. These concepts are great additions to the average veggie gardener’s know how.

  40. chris says:

    I transplant carrots. Every book you will read will say that direct sow is the only method to plant carrots. Well, I have found that if you use a loose enough medium they are transplantable. I plant 15or so seeds in numerous smaller size peat pots. I keep them in the greenhouse until they are about an three inches tall. Then I soak the peat pots in water until they are breakable. I remove the pot, and set the medium and seedlings in about 3 inches of water until they separate.They will fully separate, at this time, pull one out by the green top, not the root, then drop it in and VOILA. You could literally save more than two weeks by going this route. Make sure you pre tap all your holes for the carrots before doing all of this. If your lazy, use boiling hot water on your carrot seeds when you plant them, sow like you normally would, then put boiling hot water (be careful), in your watering can. Water your newly planted carrots, they will be up in 3-4 days as opposed to two weeks.

  41. Jane says:

    I like to use the old Compost Tumbler which we outgrew for mixing up soil block mix. We just shovel in the ingredients, turn it to mix, and dump into the cart below. This year I even remembered to make it before the compost was frozen!

  42. florence chamberlin says:

    Raised beds vs and acre or two at our neighbors on our hill. Efficiency options are many.
    For us some days, efficiency is going down the path and raiding the prolific fields of generous neighbors.
    Just bring a basket and voila. Dinner. Thanks.

  43. Paul says:

    Efficiency? I used to have a hard time getting 1 thing done in the garden, because of so much to do. Then I applied the rules of my baking to the gardening. Line things up and start with those that require breaks and set obtainable goals for the day. THings like shoveling or turning compost require ME to take a back break. while I am “resting” from that, I weed an area, mix some soil amendments or trim something. nothing strenuous. Or if the family is out there, we rotate. Pre planning has helped me out instead of just going out there and wondering what to do first. And – most importantly – involve the whole family when possible! If you wanna reap (eat), you gotta sow….
    Happy gardening!

  44. Michelle S. says:

    Our whole family weeds the garden weekly. This way, we don’t get overgrown weeds and have to spend days getting rid of them. Thanks for the chance!

  45. Jenn S. says:

    I painted the handles to all my tools a very nice shade of fuschia. This saves me time every day because it’s so easy to find where I left them. Though, because they’re now pink they wander off, with my husband & boys, much less frequently. :)

  46. Kelly says:

    Newspaper in between rows, covered with mulch. No cost, no weeds, it’s fantastic!

  47. Rudy Reyes says:

    If you have a small to medium sized garden, one of the best ways to save time is to invest in a garden irrigation system with a timer attachment. You can set up waterlines to the exact spot you need to water and with the timer, you can water more accurately and efficiently.

  48. Cynthia Thompson says:

    After our 60′x75′ garden got washed out by the 100 year flood in my area, we went to raised beds. What a huge time and space saver. We don’t have as much produce, but we can grow what we really need and like with almost no weeds. Love it!

  49. Jen DeWolf says:

    I found an old mailbox and attached it to a post at the edge of the garden to put my tools in. Everything in one place! Saw it in a book once!

    • B says:

      I use an old metal watering can hung on the garden fence as a place to store extra garden gloves, scissors, plastic bags, and small tools that I frequently use. They are always there, dry and ready when I need them. My friends also know that they can come and help themselves to our garden produce. Many of them will don the extra garden gloves and weed a little to say “thank you” for being allowed free access to organic veggies. I even have a friend who LIKES to weed! She has a high stress job and says it calms her spirit to focus on such a simple task.

  50. Tony Kasowski says:

    I live in Phoenix Arizona and do vegetable garden installations with quite a bit of hard compacted clay and granite soil. When planting in ground a pick axe is going to save you a lot of time over trying to use a hand tiller or a shovel. Very versatile tool in the garden!

  51. Brenda Beaumier says:

    We are still very new at things, but one thing that has helped us keep the tomato plants erect in addition to the cages is having several old , washed panty hose or nylons cut and ready to use. The first 2 or 3 times we use a bow, then having to snug up the vines as they get heavier is just a simple matter of re-tying the bows. They are also very gentle to use for this purpose.

  52. shari fill says:

    Learn how to identify common edible weeds, turn weeding into harvesting! Many common weeds are delicious and nutritious, and if you don’t want to eat them yourself you can feed many of them to the chickens or bunnies, We like to eat dandelions, purslane, daisies, lambs quarters, dock, sheep sorrel, clover and many other wild edibles that come up in the gardens.

  53. Kelly Winters says:

    I live near the ocean and I collect salt hay and seaweed every spring when storms pile it up on the beach. I use it to lay a very thick mulch on all my gardens. Weeds can’t grow through it, and any that try to get started in it are easy to pull out. Also, the seaweed adds nutrients to the soil.

    With this mulch, I have cut my weeding time to almost zero, greatly reduced the need to water, and have increased yields of all my vegetables. It really works!

    Not everyone lives near the ocean, but most areas have some free or very cheap resource that can be used like this. Chopped leaves, straw, or local agricultural byproducts make great mulches. Even if you live in the suburbs, you can collect your neighbors’ raked leaves, shred them, and use them as free mulch. In the city, try thick layers of newspaper or cardboard to block weeds and retain moisture.

  54. rosesmama says:

    At the Radnor-Winston Community Garden, we used to water our 27 raised beds by hand, usually three times a week for an hour. Last year, one very innovative soul perched sprinklers on poles at two corners of the garden and one in the middle, put them on a timer, and saved us thousands of hours of work. We still have to hand water the fruits and trees that are not reached by the sprinklers, but we have so much more time for weeding and harlequin bug killing now! If this is chosen, the prize will go to the garden.

  55. Mike L says:

    Best overall time saving tip I can think of is to start with a plan. If you can think ahead it helps greatly. Kind of wright down a timeline. Example: What are you going to plant after the short lived lettuces and spinach are harvested? I keep a binder and drawings of all my beds and what I am going to plant. when I planted and where I planted……Helps down the road trust me. It pays to stay orginized and not just plant things willynilly….

  56. Hannah says:

    I live in Albuquerque, New Mexico where the difference between the highs and lows are significant, winter and summer and we are at 5000 ft. To save time, in winter I create a waterproof booklet of each vegetable and fruit growing requirements, water, soil, beneficial and enemy insects, and shade requirements. This saves trips inside to research and allows visitors easy access to information to help in the garden. I also learned that if we planted our fruit trees in late December and our grapes in early March the trees, canes and grapes had time to establish their roots systems before they had to work to flower and leaf. The difference has been startling.

  57. We grew sweet potatoes for the first time last year. When it came time to cure them we hung an old comforter from the ceiling to close off an unused shower stall, heated with an oil-filled space heater, monitored with an indoor-outdoor thermometer, and stacked the crates of potatoes inside. So far the potatoes are keeping well.

  58. S.K. says:

    Weeds and weeding takes up more of our time than anything else. To keep that under control we use old newspaper (black and white only), brown paper grocery bags and any other large suitable paper. It’s tedious work to put down the paper but worth it for the time it saves during the remainder of the growing season. In a very large garden or on a farm putting down paper may not be practical. We have plus or minus 3/4 of an acre in vegetables during the summer growing season and it takes time to put down all the paper.

    Another: Save old undershirts and rip into strips to use for staking plants. They are a bit stretchy and work well.

  59. James Keith says:

    My son loves to help me I let him pull the weeds since he likes getting dirty, plus he helps move the ducks around to keep them active, at three he even started his own cilantro plants lol and avacado tree

  60. Jeannette Olton says:

    I built a lattice house that is 8 feet square. I use it in the spring to harden off the seedlings before putting them in the garden. It works really well. It allows filtered light through and it also protects the young plants from strong wind, letting enough breeze through to strengthen their roots. I have room in it for lots of flats but you could make it any size by cutting down the lattice panels.

  61. We keep our whole garden covered in leaves, save for lettuce beds, and pull back just enough leaves for each plant to have it’s space. Although this helps with weeding, (less of them and easier to pull) the main reason for this covering is worm propagation. It might help on walkway compaction

  62. dubwak says:

    On my farm and garden I utilize the integration of livestock as a way to fertilize, break down residues, and trample in cover crob seeds.

  63. Judi says:

    The most time saving thing on our farm is to keep a list of all the seeds we have, under different categories, ie: greens, beans, herbs, medicinals etc.
    Whenever a seed pack is used up it gets crossed off, and we don’t reorder seeds we don’t need.
    Also, we get endrolls of newsprint from the local newspaper for mulch, it’s a lot quicker to unroll down the side of the garden than to use smaller pieces, just don’t do it on a windy day.

  64. After the fall/winter veggies are “done” for the season, we turn our chicken flock loose into the garden area. They pick out any nutritious vegetable remains, work the soil, and fertilize all at the same time. It is a win-win for us and them.

  65. Lu Anne Copeland says:

    My husband and I gather up pinestraw and leaves in bags on the street in our neighborhood. We take the trailer and fill it up with over a 100 bags. I use this material for mulch and to enrich the soil in all of my gardens. I only have about 1/3 of an acre but I use it well. We get strange looks from the trash pickup pople!

  66. Autumn Holmes says:

    Our garden is on the far side of our property and our water hose isn’t able to reach it. So, we put several rain water barrels near the garden so we don’t have to haul water across the entire yard. It saves us money, time, and the water is better for the garden.

  67. Holly Rider-Milkovich says:

    Like the High Mowing folks, I keep my “harvesting” kit right at the backdoor (I have a community garden down the block) so that I only have to remember to grab the trug as I head out the door. it has plastic bags, net bags, scissors, a utility knife in a flat-bottomed basket. After a number of disastrous “tomatoes in my pocket” scenarios, I have found that this saves clothes and tomatoes, etc.

  68. Erika Marczak says:

    I second the have a plan comment. I layout all my fields and have a seeding calendar before I even order seeds. Here are a few things that help me save time.

    A frame of angle iron can be welded together to fit any number of 20×10 seedling flats. 80″ x 20″ with a brace in the middle will carry 8 flats and is easy for 2 people to handle. I have 40″ x 20″ frames that I use when I want to move plants myself, they carry 4 flats and are useful for moving plants inside or outside.

    If I have a weedy field that I just finished working I will wash the tillage or cultivating equipment before working in a less weedy field, this way I am not transferring weeds seeds to a place that I don’t want them.

    At a farm that I worked on in the past, we used an old walk behind tractor sickle bar mower to cut garlic stems off. The mower was attached upside down to a pallet and run by an old 1/2 Hp motor and belt. It saved our hands from all the soreness of running a pair of hand pruners for thousands of heads of garlic, but we had to watch out fingers, this is not an OSHA approved device :)

  69. Erikka says:

    Hi! I think my gardening notes have helped me be more efficient and effective in my garden. I have a spreadsheet of how and when things happen, my seed orders, and one of my garden plots. By tracking this from year to year, I get to see my real data and how my efforts are working out. Cheers.

  70. chad wasserman says:

    I run a very small csa (15 families) on Hawaii island and I also take care of three young children that are very high maintenance, so I know about limited time and I am always looking for ways to increase efficiency. One method that I use is after a crop is spent, I cover the entire area with a black 6 mil plastic mulch and keep it covered for about a month until all the weeds are dead and brown. I remove the plastic and then lightly till with a BCS tiller. The soil is turned with all the dead weeds and grass and any crop debris and all of that organic matter is recycled for worm food and I find that unless it’s a very heavy feeder like broccoli or cucumbers I need very little chicken manure and my plants thrive and then I transplant or direct seed and my crops thrive that my customers love!

  71. ZC says:

    I save on time and resources by not doing isolation practices while trialing new fruits then saving the seed from hybrids formed in my garden. This way I can evaluate plants yet get something of value from the use of space and nutrients used during the season. For example I am trialing heirloom watermelons for one that will produce in my region. I take notes on which plants flower to give me an idea of what will be pollinated then keep the seed from those plants that grew the most vigorously.

  72. mombo says:

    When I want to start a new garden bed, I place flattened cardboard boxes down and place my compost soil on top. The cardboard kills the weeds or grass that may be growing and will decompose over a short period of time. It also gives you the opportunity to garden even if you have bad soil.
    I try use the brown boxes without alot of ink. I have been making my garden beds like this for years and it saves alot of work tilling and clearing the area.

  73. Mark Freeman says:

    I garden using raised beds. I have built the frames(from scrap lumber) for two more beds and have started compost piles within the frames. This way there is no need to transfer composted materials.

  74. Christine says:

    I agree with the newspaper to help keep the weeds down, weeding is I think the most time consuming part of gardening, but I would also love to hear nmore about natural, safe bug control! The biggest issue I have had is the squash bugs!

  75. Connie Lemley says:

    I also plant onions in multi-blocks- 4 onions seeds per 2″ soil block planted out at 12″ spacing work well for me. I also use row cover on newly planted beds to slow evaporation and reduce teh amount of time I need to spend irrigating.

  76. Gigi W says:

    Several years ago I discovered the grub hoe. It is so versatile and indestructible, I can no longer use a standard size hoe. I use my grub to shape beds, weed and break up soil. One tool to clean and lug around, and a nice tool for muscle strengthening too!

  77. Aurora says:

    Due to sacroiliatis and osteoarthritis in both knees, all of my gardening is container or raised bed gardening. I’ve gotten more creative as time goes on and utilize a multitude of items for containers. At the end of spring planting this year, I will have all of the containers linked with a micro-sprinkler and/or drip irrigation system. Being able to turn on 1 hose, and move on to other things, will save a lot of time and energy in my gardening efforts.

    In addition, I garden intensively, layer my crops, and grow anything that will climb UP rather than having it take up ground space. If mini-melons get too heavy I have plenty of clean, worn out panty hose that can be used to tie up and support the melons. Next week I will start winter-sowing of several perennial flowers and cool weather crops. Once they are planted they will be moved outdoors where they will sprout and grow when the weather is warm enough for them.

    My raised beds are reserved for perennial crops: asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, rhubarb, horseradish. The containers range from old blue jeans customized so they grow potatoes in seats, strawberries in the thighs and pot herbs in the lower legs, to a 5′ x 10′ x 14″ packing crate that will hold perennial herbs; from 40 gallon horse troughs which will hold pole beans, melons and cucumbers in rewire cages, to plastic pots bought at Lowe’s, from old pots and pans to an old percolator.

  78. I have a huge weed bank and simply do not have the time or back stamina for in-row weeding. For small and delicate items (carrots, lettuces, etc) I spread about a 1/4 inch deep and 6 inch wide swath of organic seedling mix in my planting row. Add t-tape watering strip and then plant my seeds. The seedling mix is just deep enough to act as a mulch, and the controlled watering helps quickly germinate my seeds to get a head start on any persistent weeds. I don’t make my own seedling mix, I purchase it, but it is well worth the investment. At the end of the season there is no clean up or debris as there is with paper or plastic mulch.

  79. Melissa says:

    We have 3 acres of property, 1/4 acre of that dedicated to garden. I let my chickens out all winter long in the garden area, and they pull at the weeds that grew after the season, scratch at the dirt looking for bugs (double benefit tilling and debugging) and poop as they wander, fertilizing as they go! Come March, they will be removed from the garden area…so that the fertilizer can get in the ground. No work for me!

  80. Karyn Zaremba says:

    Two simple tips…no empty handed trips…whether you pull a wagon or use your hands, carry something both directions when treking to the gardens. And, a little teeny hint….if you see a bucket out of place, or a weed right where you walk every day, take 5 seconds to pick it, pull it, whatever…your farm will look so much better and it won’t be a case of “everything is out of control and I don’t know where to start.” Even one relocation or elimination a day does make a difference. (You do have to make a self imposed limit on this as it can get carried away)

  81. RobG says:

    I recycled a metal cabinet, placed it next to the garden and it holds tools (hoe, shovel, rake) in the bottom, and small things on the shelf (shears, string, and a copy of Territorial Seed catalog because it describes the plant culture for all the plants so I can get a quick refresher). Now everything is at hand. I also keep a change of clothes in my car, so when I pull up from work, I change in the car and dive right into gardening – all done and ready for the evening in a half hour.

  82. JC says:

    I reuse food containers like yogurt and cottage cheese to start seeds in. I also scavenge containers, stakes and other items from businesses that throw things out. Once I took four wire mesh doors out of the trash to use as a trellis.

  83. ZC says:

    The use of drip irrigation is a great idea. An old saying is that your profit is determined by who holds the watering hose. Drip irrigation is automatic, can be incorporated with fertilizer injectors and reduces fungal diseases since the plants do not get their leaves wet.

  84. MC says:

    I like to use heating pads to accelerate the germination of my seedlings.

  85. Jess says:

    When I get all my seeds (usually at a slow time in winter), I go through, make a note of when they need to be started or planted, and sort them into plastic baggies marked for planting dates. I do the same for anything I want to succession plant. Then I make a note on the calendar that something should be planted that date. It keeps us from losing track of what needs to be planted when, and forgetting to plant things on the appropriate date in the spring rush.

  86. Jen Zucco Love says:

    I keep a small bucket of sand in to store and clean my small garden tools after use. Just wipe off the big chunks of soil, then stick in the bucket. The sand seems to sharpen them as well as clean them, plus the handles face up so they are easy to grab.

  87. Teri Klick says:

    Mulch by any method: newspaper, straw, wood chips, landscaping fabric, you name it, is a huge timesaver by reducing the amount of weeds, and helps to contain moisture thereby reducing the amount of necessary watering.

    • ZC says:

      The kind of mulch is actually very important. Wood products actually put the Carbon ( aka brown) : Nitrogen (aka green) ratio out of balance. The worst thing to use for mulch is sawdust since it has a large surface area it rapidly depletes the nitrogen in the soil due to high demand by bacteria and fungus, sometimes it is taken directly from nearby plants.

      Green manure crops and cover crops are probably the best mulch because they add nitrogen and other nutrients to the soil.

  88. tash says:

    I just bought a water timer. It will save me time by watering my garden for me after I spend some initial time hooking it up to my soaker hoses and programing it.

  89. Debbie says:

    Time savers for me are my garden cart (it is well worth every penny I spent to get a sturdy one)to lug my stuff around and mulching which I guess is a no brainer for everyone. When it comes to seed starting, it is just having my seeds categorized/ organized and ready when the time comes, keeping good records (which is so counter to the way I work but it sure is helpful in the long run) especially for things I want to save seed from.

  90. Vivian says:

    Thank you for the great tips, everyone. I love your website–thanks for being part of the change we are all working for ! Together we might all make it. Here’s a tip for working your T-tape drip irrigation fittings in the cold–if you are not blessed with huge super strong hands. Take a thermos (I have an old small one that is perfect) filled with super hot water (but be careful you don’t spill it on you). Dip the ends of tape into the thermos, they will slip on super easily and you can tighten the fittings with no leaks. Close the lid after each use to save the heat. This is magic for me.

  91. Deborah says:

    I take a cutting from my basil plant and root it late summer and after the roots form plant it. I bring it in and have fresh basil in the winter.

  92. Richard Lee says:

    We always try to make as few trips as possible and carry as much as we can each trip to minimize extra walking. We also are setup so that we can fertilize plants with dry fertilizer or foliar feed while cultivating so that we save an extra pass with horse/tractor.

  93. carol dudek says:

    Starting my first ‘real’ garden at 70, feeling like a new mom.

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