The Benefit Of Working Less

Are the best gardens the result of minimum time and labor?

January 15, 2015

Originally published in Organic Gardening and Farming magazine, July 1954
Republished in Organic Gardening magazine's Special Collector's Issue, February/March 2015
Photography by Arthur Mokin and Mitch Mandel

When my husband and I moved from the city to a farm, I could hardly wait to plant a garden. We had a much-too-large plot plowed up, and that first summer I struggled with stones and fresh sod. And I of course hoed, weeded, and cultivated. The only garden jobs I didn’t do were the plowing and harrowing. One year, I was as usual trying to be patient until someone could do some plowing for me, when finally I used my head. No, not for plowing—for reasoning. My asparagus was doing beautifully, and I said to myself: That ground hasn’t been plowed for over 10 years. What has asparagus got that peas haven’t? To heck with plowing; I’m going to plant!


So, a little fearfully, I started to put in peas and spinach, intending to dig a minor trench first to loosen the earth. But I found that the mulch of leaves and hay I had dumped on the garden in the fal

l had kept the earth soft and moist; I merely needed to clear a spot with the rake and drop the seeds. And having once started to take things into my own hands, I kept on. Our milkman, a farmer, was glad to give me what he called “spoiled hay” and I called wonderful mulch. I spread it 6 to 8 inches deep over the entire garden, except on top of the seeds I had just planted. In a couple of years, I abandoned all commercial fertilizers.

After putting the hay around, I soon found that the only jobs left were planting, thinning, and picking. Whenever I wanted to put in some seeds, I raked the mulch back and planted, and later, when the seeds had sprouted, I pulled the mulch close around the little plants, thus keeping the ground around them moist and outwitting the weeds.

My plot has become so rich that I can plant very closely, and I don’t even use manure now. The garden is now one-eighth its original size and so luxuriant that in the fall we call it the jungle. I haven’t used any kind of poison for bugs for 10 years, and I never see a bean beetle, corn borer, aphis, or cutworm.

If you have to garden and are not very enthusiastic about it, it seems to me my method is your answer; you can do the job with a minimum of time and labor. And if, as I do, you love such work, it is also the answer; you can keep at it indefinitely. So get rid of your hoes and spades and cultivator; the largest digging tool you will need is a trowel. And when, although you’re really getting along in years, you have a wonderful garden, and people marvel and ask who does the heavy work, you can truthfully reply: “There is no heavy work.”