10 Fantastic Low Effort Crops for Busy Gardeners

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This year I did something a little bit crazy; I went travelling for the entire summer and left my beloved vegetable plot in the hands of my mother-in-law.

There were two impacts of this travel; firstly, I still wanted to produce fruits and vegetables if at all possible, and secondly I wanted to make the upkeep of my plot as simple as possible. No long days out in the sun for my trusted “garden sitter” – I wanted maximum food production with minimum ongoing management.

With this in mind, I went through my many tins of carefully saved seeds in early spring, and made sure that I selected only the most hassle-free options. What follows is my chosen list of ten fruits and vegetables that required almost no care once they had been planted out…

Zucchini

Zucchini plants are, in my experience, so hardy and crop so heavily that I actually don’t normally grow them. If I’m honest I get sick of the sight of them by July, and my heart sinks every time a family member proudly brings in a few more zucchinis ready for cooking. This year was different, however.

Zucchinis have an awful lot going for them in terms of hassle-free food production. Once the seedlings have got their first few “adult” leaves I find they’re almost indestructible. Slugs and snails ignore them, whilst with a little warmth and sunshine they grow into large, beautiful plants that cover the earth and so prevent weeds.

All you really need to do is water them if it’s been really dry, and to keep cutting off all those juicy zucchinis ready for the pot.  

Squashes

Squashes are of course closely related to zucchinis, but with a couple of critical differences. Firstly, if you choose the right variety such as butternut squash then the plants grow to enormous dimensions. This helps to keep the soil covered even more than your more controlled zucchinis, and covered soil means less moisture evaporating and less opportunities for weeds to get established.

Even better, they don’t fruit as prolifically; you don’t even need to worry about harvesting till the plants start dying off in the fall. For this reason, a large chunk of my vegetable plot was dedicated to pumpkins and butternut squash, and we still haven’t had to harvest. Indeed, the only maintenance task to worry about was occasionally redirecting the growing stems to ensure they didn’t take over the lawn too!  

Garlic

Garlic is the ultimate hands-off crop as far as I’m concerned. After digging a trench, laying your garlic cloves in the bottom and them covering them over they will be fine for months on end. After the first few weeks you’ll likely see the green sprouts of the baby plants poking through the earth. Leave them to their own devices and you’ll soon have study, bug-resistant stems of 30cm of so in height. In late summer, as the leaves start to die, dig the delicious new garlic cloves up and enjoy!

After planting, the only critical maintenance is keeping them weed-free – something that is pretty easy either with a hoe or by manually plucking weeds from the earth. Kept ontop of, weeding a row of garlic need only take minutes each week.  

Onions

Onions have a lot in common with garlic, in that the pungent chemicals they contain seem to render them of little interest to slugs, snails and caterpillars. Once your starts are planted (which can be done in fall or spring, depending on the variety) then you just need to keep them weed-free.

Just be a little careful when weeding, as onions tend to have quite shallow roots, which can be damaged by over-vigorous digging. A better bet is to weed lightly with a hoe, disturbing only the top few millimetres of soil.

Strawberries

Strawberries can get tatty in the fall, when their runners make off in all directions, and some less productive older plants may need to be replaced. But for a single growing season, strawberries can be very easy to manage indeed.

Personally, I plant my strawberries in neat rows, then use weed control matting between the rows to help keep weeds at bay. For the summer growing season strawberry plants can largely be left to themselves, unless you decide to net your fruit and protect them from birds. Otherwise, just grab a basket and look forward to a fresh crop of sweet, juicy fruit in early summer.  

Grapes

I have been growing grapes for the last few years, and the ease of care never ceases to amaze me. My vine is growing against a shed wall, slowly scrambling across horizontal wires that I am training it along. In the fall the leaves drop off and the plant sits in suspending animation all winter, looking like it has died.

In the spring those fresh, juicy vine leaves break through their buds, and gather energy all summer long. By August the grapes are swelling, and by September I have multiple bunches of sugary red grapes to enjoy.

The best thing is the lack of work. I don’t feed my vine and I don’t protect it. I barely even weed around it, as I scatter a mixture of annual flower seeds at its base, and these marigolds, cosmos and California poppies act as a natural weed barrier. All I really do, apart from training those vine tendrils every few weeks, is eat the fruit at the end of the summer.

Leeks

Leeks like a long growing season and can be tremendously hardy crops. This means you can plant them in the spring and largely leave them to their own devices – even late into the winter.

While some gardeners like to earth up their leeks, I have found that I still get a decent crop without, especially if you choose one of the larger varieties like Bulgarian Giant. Apart from an occasion hoe, your leeks can be left largely to their own devices, and harvested when you’re good and ready – from tiny ones as baby veg right up to the adults in colder months.

Beets

Beets grow fantastically well from seed, even when planted directly into your vegetable bed. Dig a thin trench just a few centimetres deep, lightly sprinkle in the seeds, cover them up and water. Within a few weeks you’ll see those leaves starting to appear. As they grow, the foliage is thick and dense, so does a good job of suppressing weeds.

All you really need to do is thin the seedlings out over time and water them in particularly dry weather. You’ll see the fantastic red tubers swelling during the summer months; just harvest them on time to prevent a woody center.

Radishes

Radishes are the ultimate easy crop to my mind. Sow the seeds directly into the earth and largely forget about them. Radishes grow so quickly that within a matter of weeks they can be harvested, which barely gives weeds a chance to grow.

Radishes seem to avoid many of the common pests and diseases that plague other crops, and a lack of watering simply makes their flavor all the more intense.

Capsicums

Capsicums might not seem like a low-effort crop at first glance, but they can be when they’re grown right. I start off by planting my seeds into modules under glass. This speeds up germination, and makes re-potting the seedlings easy. S

imply push them out of the modules – compost and all – and then place them into a grow bag or pot of compost measuring some 20cm or more in diameter. The top quality soil helps to provide plenty of nutrients, and you’ll normally get much better crops than growing in your normal soil.

When the plants reach a height of around six inches in height, add some support to the pot. I like to use garden canes, and gently tie the plants up with green garden twine. This ensures that your plant has the support necessary as the fruits start to swell.

Keep an eye on weeds, watering and support – a matter of moments each week – and before long you should be rewarded for your “efforts” with a host of juicy red fruit.