Sustainable Living

The Part Time Homesteader: How To Grow Your Own Vegetables With Limited Time

Watering PotsIf we won the lottery many of us would retire to “live the good life”; spending our days in the sunshine, producing our own food and living sustainably.

Unfortunately the reality is that most of us have other commitments such as children to raise and full time jobs that can make this dream very difficult to reach.

However I’m here today to tell you about some useful tips that I use to successfully produce almost all of my own vegetable requirements while working a 55+ hour week *and* indulging in a variety of other hobbies that use up my time.

Sharing The Workload

Possibly the most useful tip of all is to band together with other vegetable growers to help each other out on a regular basis.

By doing this I know that my own little plot will get checked on, watered and weeded on a daily basis if necessary – even if I myself can’t spare the time.

Master gardener Joe Lamp'l, (cq) who designed ...

At other times I return the favour, carrying out basic routine care of my “partners” vegetables on the days when they are busy.

Certainly one needs a degree of trust here that your partners *will* turn up and check on your vegetables when they say they will, but in doing so I have cut my weekly work down to just two sessions where I do any necessary basic tasks on the other two plots before spending a good few hours on my own.

In contrast my two partners check in for a few minutes on my plot the other 5 days a week.

Plan Ahead And Use Available Time Wisely

There are going to be situations in which you have more time than others. Perhaps you wake on your day off to a beautiful sunny day without any responsibilities and you know that you can dedicate your entire day to your beloved vegetable plot if you so choose.

Equally there may be weeks where you can barely scrape together a few hours for the most basic weeding and watering.

However by planning ahead and using your time wisely it’s possible to fit a surprising amount into even short periods of time. For example when I know I have a good deal of time coming up I will plan ahead what jobs I want to achieve and get together any resources necessary.

Some examples of this might include the way I measured up the greenhouse frame that I inherited with my land and ordered replacement glazing for it so that it all arrived just in time for the long Easter weekend. In this way I was able to spend a day getting my greenhouse operational without trying to find all the equipment I needed over the busy holiday weekend.

Another example might be today, which I knew was wide open. As I write this I have only just finished planting out a batch of pea seedlings which I sprouted at home a few weeks ago in readiness for today.

I have also used “spare” time for heavy jobs like digging over my soil, adding fertilizer, measuring my plot to be able to make concrete plans for what will go where and so on.

By considering the next few weeks and the necessary tasks that you want to achieve you will awake on those glorious days with a plan in hand and all the resources necessary to achieve what you set out for.

Weed Control In An Hour A Week

Ah, the age old problem of weeds, which seem to appear from nowhere no matter what you try. Luckily there are all sorts of weed control techniques that work very well and take up minimal time to implement.

From my own perspective I worked hard over winter to clear my plot of the grass and weeds it had growing on it while I had the time available.

Now that spring has arrived my land requires only minimal consistent weeding because I have already got rid of most of the weeds.

I find that by planting vegetables that offer a lot of ground cover – such as pumpkins, squashes, courgettes and rhubarb these plants create so much shade beneath them that weeds are almost unable to get a foothold.

When I add to this a gentle hoeing once a week, a task that takes no longer than an hour on my plot, then I am able to keep it under control very quickly and easily – and without the need to resort to harmful weedkillers and pesticides.

Reducing Your Watering Time

Another real drain on your time as the season hots up is the amount of time one can spend watering plants. Without it your vegetables will wither and die but it can take up a lot of time – and needs doing pretty-much daily in the summer. What to do?

Firstly, of course, I have my partners who help with regular watering so that takes some of the pressure off. But in addition I have found three other techniques for success.

Firstly, the less earth there is, the sooner it dries out and it’s for this reason that I try not to plant anything in pots when the summer arrives. My seedlings may start off in pots but they are swiftly transplanted into the ground when the frosts pass because the earth holds water much better.

Secondly the age-old trick of mulch really does work a treat. Covering the soil with grass clippings or bark chips as available from many garden centres can not only look neat but also helps to hold the water in the soil rather than letting it evaporate into the atmosphere.

One final tip I am using successfully is to attach a gravity-fed drip system to water my greenhouse. Due to the heat in a greenhouse in summer the crops really need watering several times a day so I have fitted a small irrigation system (which I bought second-hand for next to nothing) to my water butt.

Greenhouse

In this way when it rains the water is channelled into my water butt, which then gently drips out the water into my greenhouse.

Once every week or so I check the water level in the butt if there hasn’t been much rain and top it up manually as necessary.

So far my melons, cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers are thriving with this regime!

Plant Seeds On Your Windowsill

It’s tempting to plant your vegetable seeds either directly into the ground or to put them in a greenhouse. And while this does work to a degree I have personally found it far easier to keep an eye on my seedlings when they’re kept on a windowsill in my home.

Radish seedling in pure coffee groundsAfter all, young seedlings can be very fragile so in this way I can keep a constant eye on them, moving them into or out of the sun and watering them as necessary in a few minutes a day.

As the seedlings establish themselves and gain a degree of hardiness I then transfer them to my greenhouse – and the drip-feed system.

Lastly as decent-sized plants they are planted outside.

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