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URBAN GARDENING: Five useful tips to save time growing food

Like emails, dusting and dishes, it often feels like the moment you’ve completed your tasks, they start to pile up all over again.

It can be challenging to find the time to grow food in a busy urban life. Here a
Gardening can make your life very busy. Photo by Rebecca Cuttler.

Can you really grow your own food with a full-time job and a normal urban lifestyle? The answer is yes. The key is efficiency, organization, and perseverance.

The work of gardening can be intense. Like emails, dusting and dishes, it often feels like the moment you’ve completed your tasks, they start to pile up all over again. Weeds start growing back. There are always more seeds to plant. More crops to harvest. Pests to trouble-shoot. It’s never truly “done." And with the average city-dweller’s life being full of work, errands, exercise and social obligations, growing food requires a high level of commitment.

I don’t live near my garden. It’s on the other side of town in my family’s backyard, a 40-minute bike ride away. My average week looks like this: Monday to Friday, I’m away from the garden at my full-time job. During this time, I get watering support from my parents. On Saturday mornings, I hop on my bike and spend the next six to eight hours harvesting, sowing seeds, taking photos and doing garden maintenance projects in our backyard farm, which consists of six four-by-eight-foot raised beds and a few side areas. Then, we celebrate with a family meal.

Commuting to my garden has forced me to be very efficient with my time. I can’t just step out and grab lettuce for tonight’s dinner. Instead, I have to harvest large amounts once per week, almost like running a CSA (community-supported agriculture) program for just me and my loved ones. While I wish I lived at my garden, in many ways I’m grateful for the constraints. They’ve taught me that the more focused and organized I am, the more easily I can enter a flow-state of pure relaxation and really enjoy being in the garden.

It can be challenging to find the time to grow food in a busy urban life. Here a

Harvesting tiny blueberries can make for time-consuming but rewarding work. Photo by Rebecca Cuttler.

I rely on the five habits below. While your garden may be smaller than ours, or located closer to home, these principles can still be extremely helpful when it comes to fitting the work of growing food into your life.


Five ways to save time in your garden

1. Designate one day per week as your “gardening day."
Many tasks, like sowing seeds, pruning tomatoes and weeding, are well-suited to batching together in a weekly schedule. Once you’re in ‘garden mode’, it’s easier to get everything done.

2. Have a garden plan.
By knowing when to plant seeds and where you’re putting them, you can maximize space and make quick decisions. Even a rough sketch of where each crop is going can really take your garden to the next level.

3. Enlist the help of friends and family.
My parents are my gardening partners, watering, gathering supplies and handling various tasks between my visits. Friends often come by to help in exchange for a share of produce. With big garden projects, it’s very efficient to get help in exchange for part of the harvest.

4. Multitask… but not in the way you’re thinking.
Gardening is so much more than just gardening. It’s good exercise and a wonderful way to de-stress. It saves money and cuts down on time spent grocery shopping. If you invite people over to help, it’s a great way to socialize. I count my gardening hours against exercise, grocery shopping and chill-out time.

5. Use a checklist.
My biggest game-changer has been to create a garden checklist with my main recurring tasks, in a specific order that maximizes efficiency. This essentially ‘automates’ my garden days so that I don’t have to worry about forgetting anything. Each week, I print out a blank copy of the checklist on recycled paper, put it in a binder, and fill it out in the field. It doubles as my garden diary and includes a rough log of what I planted and harvested. The checklist has proven so helpful that I’ve made it available for free to anyone who signs up for the Abundant City newsletter.

One last thing: even when you’re highly efficient, the work of gardening can be exhausting during the spring and summer months. Stay with it. The slow time of winter will be here before you know it, and you’ll be wishing for the return of long sunny days outside, away from your computer, working with your hands.

Rebecca Cuttler is an urban gardening teacher, member of the Vancouver Food Policy Council and board member of the Environmental Youth Alliance. She blogs about urban food gardening at

It can be challenging to find the time to grow food in a busy urban life. Here a

Gardening is better with friends. Photos by Jason Margolis.

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