6 Weird But Brilliant Tricks We Can Learn From Gardeners Around The World

It's time to bring your saltshaker to the yard...

November 27, 2017
Rebecca Kurson

It’s time to start planning for 2018, and you’re probably spending time this holiday season snuggled in with a few seed catalogs and a fantastical vision of garden delights. When reality inevitably fails to meet these standards, insights from experienced gardeners can help. Here are 6 brilliant tips from gardeners all over the United States, and in Canada and Australia as well.

(Brag your love of gardening with the Organic Life 2018 Wall Calendar, featuring gorgeous photographs, cooking tips and recipes, plus how to eat more—and waste less—of what's in season.)

A cooler can double as tool storage and a garden seat

Don’t know what to do with your garden tools? Bury a large cooler halfway in the soil, according to Carlos Charriez, science teacher and manager of the organic garden at Wilmington Friends School. Store the garden tools inside the cooler, and the top doubles as a dry seat to use while you plan your next gardening adventure.

Related: 6 Easy Ways To Keep Your Garden Tools In Great Shape


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Distribute seeds evenly with help from a saltshaker

There’s often no relationship between the size of a seed and the fruit or vegetable it produces. A watermelon seed is just the right size to admire, or even use in a spitting contest on a hot summer night. But carrot seeds are infinitesimal. They’re difficult to plant, difficult to sow—but there are a few clever carrot hacks that will make the process much easier.

Plant the seeds using a saltshaker. I heard about this tip a few years back from Charriez, and tried it out with great success in my school's garden. The students often dropped the seeds or tended to clump them together. But the kids—and adults—had no problem at using a saltshaker to distribute the seeds evenly.

Watch more weird tricks from organic gardeners:

Additionally, you should protect those tiny seeds from the wind. Kurt Mitschke farms in a well-regarded urban community garden plot in Austin, TX. He shares photos and wisdom with over 10,000 followers on Instagram at @kurtsdirt. His expert advice to “cover your tiny surface-sown seeds, like carrots and lettuce, with a layer of burlap to prevent them from drying out and to keep them in place during hard rains.”


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Defend your crops

How many times have you rushed outside in the morning to check on a particularly exciting development—like a tomato plant just about bursting with ripe fruit, or a flower just about to open its lovely petals—and found all of it eaten? It’s incredibly frustrating.

If squirrels are the problem, try using red pepper flakes all around the soil. Squirrels absolutely hate spicy pepper, and sprinkling the flakes all around a freshly planted bulb or an especially squirrel-prone plant will keep them away. (Here are 8 ways to keep the squirrels away from your bird feeder.)

If your issue is with birds eating those delicious tomatoes, follow Mitschke’s genius suggestion. “One challenge I’m faced with each spring and summer season is how to keep birds from completely destroying my tomato crop,” he notes, “like my prized Cherokee Purple.”

So how does he protect his plants from a hungry flock? “I’ve started resorting to my own version of “fruit bagging” which is an organic technique I’ve seen used in orchards to protect fruit such as apples and mangoes. Even better, the nylon mesh bags with built-in drawstrings like I use are very affordable, water-resistant, and can be reused for multiple years—plus, you can order them in green to match the foliage. In my garden, this has been a much better solution than wrapping bird netting over entire plants, which I find to be a total pain and an ugly mess.”

Related: 9 Veggies That Can Survive The Winter—And How To Protect Them From Snow


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Think vertical

If space or soil quality is an issue, think vertical. To maximize yield, think vertical. If you have a tiny space, if you have any space, think vertical.

Khaled Majouji is the founder of In.Genius Farms, headquartered in Laval, Quebec. His farm produced acres of strawberries and about 150 varieties of fruits and vegetables—but all of it is grown in rain gutters. His phenomenal method utilizes a converted and extended series of gutters filled with rich, organic soil. As plants decompose, the soil just gets richer. The gutters are sturdy and can be adapted in a small space or extended to sustain a tremendous crop. Majouji builds special wooden supports for the rows of gutters and each row is filled with plants that get optimal amounts of sunshine and water. Imagine the advantages of sowing crops in a single unending row, which could go on as long as you want.

Related: 3 Ways To Build An Epic Vertical Garden Anywhere

Follow Majouji @theplantcharmer on Instagram to see the incredible photos of his farm, along with his progress on creating a pre-fab gutter system package.

plant and stomp
Rebecca Kurson
Plant and stomp

If you live in a colder climate, late fall is the time to direct sow seeds for a wildflower spring garden. By November, you'll likely have experienced a hard first frost. This is the optimal time to direct sow seeds directly in the soil, optimally an ugly bare brown patch without mulch or other amendments. Even more fun—the seeds should be lightly stomped into the soil so birds and squirrels can’t eat them.

Related: Annual Flower Seeds That You Should Plant During Fall

I used this method in 2014 to begin a wildflower garden along an unattractive fence dividing our school from the street. Students added five pounds of a perennial mix to some very barren soil, and then took great delight in walking all over the seeds like they were walking on a red carpet. Within a few months, the results were obvious, and the “wildflower fence” is now a real carpet of glorious blooms from April through August. (Here are 15 native wildflowers to try.)

squash blossoms
Plant the three sisters

Always plant your three sisters, the perfect trip of corn, beans, and squash—you can plant them at separate times for maximum efficiency and garden health. Nick Ritar is a organic farmer in Australia and founder of Milkwood Permaculture. Ritar planted corn, and after the corn was harvested, he let the stalks remain in the ground. Then he planted beans at the base of the stalks, so the heavy bean plants would use the sturdy corn stalks as a natural support. He points out that not only is the cornstalk a cheap and easy way to stake the plants, but that beans return nitrogen to the soil that the corn depleted. It’s a perfect, elegant solution just right for Thanksgiving every day in the garden.

Related: 14 Plants You Should Never Grow Side-By-Side