What Does a Low Input Garden Look Like?

The idea of a low input garden fits well into my gardening philosophy called ‘Self Provision Gardening’ which means you grow fruit and vegetables with a view of providing for some of your needs, helping the environment, and reconnecting with the land. 

What is Low Input Gardening?
Gardening with minimal inputs is a foundation concept of self provision gardening. If you need to rely on a whole range of expensive and factory produced chemicals, treatments and pesticides just to make food grow, you’re kinda missing the point.

Gardening with minimal inputs may take work and improvisation but it’s so much more satisfying eating produce that you know came primarily from hard work, sweat and a fair dollop of ingenuity.

It’s also a more sustainable way to live. I am tuned into the fact that we only have limited resources on this planet and we need to be thinking about using less wherever we can. It might not matter to you, but it will to your children or their children.

Low Output Garden
A low input garden is all good, but it should also be a low output garden in terms of generating waste. All of your garden wastes and harvesting residues should go back into the garden (as much as is possible). Anything you can’t compost can be burned or used as mulch.

How Can you Incorporate ‘Low Input’ into Your Garden?
So how do you actually do low input gardening. I’m not going to lie to you and say it’s the easiest way or that it will give you the most vegetables per square foot. What I will say though is that it is satisfyingly sustainable, giving you scrumptious sundries for all.

Here’s how you can do it:

1. Make Your Own Compost
This is easily the easiest way to practice low input gardening. If you’re on the path to self-provision then a big part of that is composting. Think about it this way – you are making new soil. It doesn’t get more ‘self providing’ than that.

Compost doesn’t have to be complicated – nature does it all the time. I’m pretty lazy when it comes to compost. I just pile everything in a big heap and let nature do its thing: pretty much anything that isn’t going to be a biohazard when it rots and will give me rich, high organic matter-based compost. My small garden creates around a cubic metre of compost in a year.

2. Work with Nature, Not Against It
Think about it this way – nature is pretty much self-sustaining when we’re not interfering.

Here’s something that’s really easy to do: make your garden a bit messy (I have three kids so it does this all on its own). Don’t manicure everything or clear up every last dead leaf and twig. Beneficial animals and bugs love this stuff. I’ve seen toads, hedgehogs and more ladybirds than I can count – all of which are a vegetable gardener’s friend.

3. Be Prepared to Experiment
I was speaking to a gardening friend of mine who was complaining about eelworm in their potatoes and carrot flies in their carrots. I haven’t had problems with this in ages. Why?

Because I buy varieties of eelworm resistant potato and carrot fly resistant carrot seeds – self explanatory I hope.

Sure I could have nuked the soil with additives and put up barriers to stop carrot fly but it’s easier to grow crops that aren’t affected. 

4. Give the Birds a Third
Another technique I learned from Aussie self sufficiency guru Steve Solomon is what I call ‘Give the Birds a Third’. This means that you mentally write off a third of your crops to pests like birds and other thieves. That way you’ll avoid the sense of loss when they eat your stuff.

Give Low Input Gardening a Go
This isn’t an exhaustive list of ideas or things you can do to lower the inputs into your garden. But I want to challenge you to think more about what goes in to your plot – and the wastes that come out. Are there ways you could minimise both, compost more and develop a low input garden?

Neil M. White lives in Perthshire with his wife and three children. He has worked in horticulture as a landscape gardener and in a tree nursery. Now a ‘hobby’ gardener, he spends most of his time growing fruit or veg. Juggling gardening, family life and a day job, Neil also finds time to write – his latest book on gardening ‘The Self Provisioner’ was published in April 2020. Catch up with Neil on his Twitter feed.

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