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The Cultured Garden

Long-term, benign neglect in the garden leads to more than just an untidy space. It can evolve into pest and disease problems that destroy your plants fast. Here are a few suggestions to help you avoid that kind of heartburn.

Pretty Flowers for Attracting Bugs; Photo by Cecilia Nasti

Cecilia Nasti is an organic food gardener and enthusiastic home cook. She produces and hosts the weekly radio feature Field & Feast broadcast on public radio in Austin, Texas. A nature lover, she also produces and hosts Passport to Texas, a daily statewide radio series about the outdoors for Texas Parks and Wildlife.This might be true for you as it is for me: As family, school, work and social schedules expand, time spent planning and managing otherwise simple maintenance tasks in the garden shrinks. But there's no substitute for good cultural practices, like keeping the area free of weeds and inviting beneficial bugs into the garden to help manage pests.

Long-term, benign neglect in the garden leads to more than just an untidy space. It can evolve into pest and disease problems that destroy your plants faster than a competitive eater can demolish a fruit pie at a county fair. Seeing your garden in decline can be stressful and a little overwhelming, which may actually make you want to avoid spending time in it altogether.

Bug Attracting Flowers; Photo by Cecilia Nasti

Five a Day

Current dietary guidelines recommend eating five to 13 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables a day for good health. What if you spent five to 13 minutes in the vegetable garden daily for maintenance? Do this before or after work and school. In five to 13 minutes you can cultivate around your plants, remove emerging weeds, and side dress with compost; you can add to, turn and water the compost pile; you can pick pesky insects from your crops; you can plant and water a row of seeds; and, you can harvest whatever is ready to realize its destiny.

Flowers and Weeds; Photo by Cecilia Nasti

Whack a Weed

It's been said a weed is a plant for which we've yet to discover a use. I say weeds are perfectly useful – as compost! If you don't compost (you really ought to consider it), then dispatch them to the curb on your brush pick up day. Left in your garden beds, weeds and grass compete for water and soil nutrients, harbor pests and possibly disease, and detract from that bucolic ambiance we all love. Having said that, an organic farmer friend of mine suggests allowing a two to three foot band of weeds and grasses to grow around your fence line. This natural patch of growth attracts pest insects away from your garden.

Black Swallowtail on a Fence; Photo by Cecilia Nasti

The Good, The Bad and the Bug-ly

Insects are part of every garden landscape, and not all bugs want to munch on your plants; some insects are actually after the pesky hoards that ravage your crops. Insects that work on your behalf are called beneficial, and include lady beetles, green lacewings, minute pirate bugs, and praying mantis to name a few. Buy them online or from your local nursery. You can also attract them to your garden when you cultivate a variety of plants that act as good bug "bait." Speaking of bait, you'll need to have faith and allow some of the plant-munchers to remain in the garden as food for your helpers. Beneficial insects will work for you 24/7, which takes "pest management" off your to-do list.

It only takes a few stress-free minutes before or after work or school to keep your food garden (and your peace of mind) thriving.

What are some of your time-saving tips to make time spent in the garden less stressful and more productive? Share them in the comments section below.

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