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Building a Cost-efficient, Low-Maintenance Garden

When people tell me they want to start a garden I always second that idea. I think anyone can grow produce. Then they tell me they don’t even know where to start. To which I usually say, “I can totally help you with that!” Starting a garden is not a simple process, but it can be done in an easier way. Planning is always key, and especially if you want to create a garden that takes very little work but produces a lot. My first suggestion to anyone starting a veggie garden is to come to one of our gardening classes or, at the very least, visit Diamond House for some tips and inspiration.

For those of you who can’t make the trip, I’ve come up with a list of things to consider when building your garden. Keep in mind that we try to stick with the rules of permaculture in our yard.

Choose a space.

Anyone can grow something edible. No, you do not have a brown thumb. Seeds want to grow, they just need a place to start. Decide where you want your garden to be. You can start small and add to it each season as you gain experience. Keep in mind the direction of the sun, wind, and any sloping. You’re going to want to choose an area that has preferably 6 hours or so of sunlight. If you don’t have much sunlight, you can still grow veggies, just look for more shade tolerant veggies to grow.

Consider your water source.

Will you hand water, or would you prefer to set a timer to water for you instead? Permaculture watering is always a great option, just keep in mind it may be a lot of up-front work to setup, plan accordingly. That being said, permaculture practices also suggest having backup systems in place, so consider having multiple sources for watering your garden. Also, water low to the ground, on the ground, or even just below ground level wherever possible.

Decide what you want to plant.

This one is hard to stick to for so many new gardeners. It’s crazy fun to pick out packet after packet from seed catalogs, but the reality is that after you grow it you need to know what to do with it. Grow plants that you would actually eat. To save money start from seed whenever possible. Try to choose seeds that are heirloom and/or open pollinated, and organic whenever possible. Also, try to buy local seeds, you’ll feel good about supporting local businesses and your veggies may even grow better.

Seriously, most any planter will do.

Straight into the ground is just fine in most places. We use raised beds for a lot of our annual produce because we have a major gopher and vole problem and an acre to play with, so this works for our needs. There are so many options! Pots, bins, coffee cans, I have even seen a guy use cardboard boxes. As long as you aren’t using anything with chemicals or pressure treated wood, you’ll be just fine. You don’t spend a lot of money to start a garden. Just remember what your garden needs:

  • The bottom of the bed should have rocks, gravel, or other mediums for drainage, (when using a planter or container).

  • Over the rocks put loads of compost for nutrients the plants need.

  • Over compost you’ll need dirt. Most any dirt will do. You don’t need special topsoil. If your dirt is a little heavy you may need to add a bit of coco coir or perlite to start.

  • Worms! Unless the area you’re using has lots of worms in it, you will need to add them. These little guys are powerhouses when it comes to breaking down nutrients in the soil for plants to use. Or even better, consider getting a worm composter. They are very efficient, don’t stink when well balanced and all you have to do is feed them food waste and paper scraps, for the most part.

  • Mulch that is natural and free of paint. One of the biggest mistakes a gardener can make is to leave their soil uncovered. This will cause it to dry out faster, which will in turn cause it to become nutrient deficient. Soil needs to stay moist to build and maintain proper bacteria. This bacteria helps maintain the nutrients, plants need to thrive. Keep your soil covered always.

  • Stay away from commercial herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers. These chemicals are not only unhealthy for us, but will deplete your garden of nutrients faster. Besides, there are so many much cheaper options!


Your garden is growing and gorgeous, now what? Garden maintenance at this point will be the make it or break it point in your garden. You’ve planned and built this lovely place that will nourish you for years to come, but not without a little bit of care.

Compost, at least in the fall to add nutrients into your soil.

Spring too if you can. Make your own compost, it’s free! Consider using cover crops to protect your soil when not actively growing something.

Mulch regularly to help your soil retain nutrients and moisture.

Consider making your own mulch from leaves and yard waste. Some cities offer free mulch a couple times a year to whoever wants it. Ask your neighbors if you can have their tree trimmings and rent a mulcher to create your own. Look into garden waste recycling centers. There are so many cheap and free options!


Just remember when it comes to healthy gardens we want to regenerate, not degenerate. It doesn’t take a fortune or a lot of time to have a beautiful veggie garden of your own. With a little planning and creativity, you can grow your own veggies for years to come. What tips do you have for building a low-cost, low--maintenance garden? Share below!



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