Gardening is old. How old? Super old. To be more precise, gardening was “invented” around 12,000 years ago and because of it, we underwent the Neolithic Revolution. Since then, the skills and tools associated with the craft of gardening have evolved constantly. In fact, the traditional approach to gardening is to always update how it’s done. Below, we’ll cover a myriad of ways that modern techniques and tools can be used to improve your gardening game.
I distinctly remember poring over graph paper and colored pencils as a little kid with my parents as we planned new garden beds. While coloring was fun for me, my folks got tired of having to erase a million times or start over with more paper. Online tools like Garden Planner Online can help you lay out your garden without needing a degree in architectural drafting. Apps like Garden Plan Pro or iScape allow you to do the same on your phone or tablet. Now if only you could drag and drop your weeds into the compost pile, am I right? (For more advice on finding and deciding on an app, please see “A Word on Apps” below.)
Plant Guides and Databases
Need advice on how deep to plant cilantro or whether to plant your dill in full sun? There are a ton of online guides and apps out there that can help you determine what’s best for thousands of plant varieties. Some of the for-pay guides are fairly powerful, such as Landscaper’s Companion, which pulls in garden planning functionalities as well. When picking a guide, make sure it covers the zone in which you live. If you're like me and love huge, hardcover tomes full of ancient herbal knowledge and beautiful pictures, I advocate downloading these books to your favorite reading app, or even photographing key pages to refer to on the fly. You'll be able to access your vast plant library wherever you are without having to tote it around!
Gardening can be a lot like programming – you see an idea you like and you recreate it. The problem comes in when you don’t know the name of the plant you’ve found.
There are many sources that can help you identify a mystery plant. Some of the guides and databases above work well and there are also stand alone apps to help. Plantifier crowdsources answers for your plant quandaries and Garden Compass relies on experts to answer. Some apps, like Leafsnap, use image recognition software to help ID your mystery plant. Speaking of which, Google Image Search can work pretty well too. This technology is getting better every day.
Garden Care and Reminders
There is nothing worse than leaving for work and realizing you forgot to water the one pesky pot that wilts all the time. Luckily there are tons of plant-specific reminder apps that schedule tasks like watering, feeding or dead heading. Some garden planning apps include these functions while there are a few that focus just on reminders, like Koubachi. If you'd rather steer clear of one more app, just set reminders up in your calendar and make sure to add alarms!
For those of you who want to minimize dragging hoses and toting watering cans, there are some cool ideas that give plants water when they need it. A great DIY and scalable solution for the garden is to spread out a drip irrigation or soaker hose systems and use a timer valve on your water supply. Just make sure to tweak the timer often to not over/under water. If done right, these systems are a great way to save water and cut down on some weeding. To really take water saving to the next level, set up a rainwater catchment system and use that to give the garden a drink. Pro Tip: if you want to see how much water you use and learn great ways to conserve, check out our Water Footprint Calculator.
For container gardeners, there are tons of both high tech and DIY options you can use that take the difficulty out of watering by effectively storing water for the plants to use when they need it. These are called sub-irrigated planters and make for an easy-to-maintain container bed that – among other benefits - cuts down on water use and keeps nutrients in the soil. We recommend making your own, but if you’d like to purchase one, make sure to read the reviews first as some of these work much better than others. Also, pay attention to the type of plant as it makes a big difference if they are susceptible to over watering. Of course, you can always use clay pot irrigation or ollas which is a very, very old technique. Regardless, just make sure to cover the reservoir opening to cut down on evaporation and make sure nothing gets trapped inside!
Greening Your Tools and Techniques
For the vast majority of us, living sustainably is a constant exercise in compromises and tradeoffs. While we’re always happy for whatever people do to help Mother Nature, we’re also committed to continually upping the ante when it comes to living a more sustainable life!
Take for instance solar powered tools. It’s amazing what solar will power these days, like this solar tiller.
Speaking of DIY tools, if you’ve never spent time browsing FarmHack.org, I highly recommend it. The Farm Hack community designs open source tools and machines we can all use to replace the crazy expensive, highly specialized tools used on larger farms. One of the really popular designs is the amazing bike-powered cultivator that can replace a tractor!
A Word on Apps
There are so many apps out there that it can be seriously overwhelming. Don’t freak out when there are 50 pages of apps. Here are 5 steps to help you decide on the right one:
- Ask yourself if you really, really, need the app or if a combination of other tools on your phone or tablet can actually handle your needs.
- Find the apps with the top number of reviews (don’t read them yet - just look for the number). These will be the most popular apps and more often than not they will also be the best apps.
- If the apps are free, download the top 3 and test.
- If the apps aren’t free, read reviews. I typically start with lists of “the best (insert your use) apps” and then work my way to a few candidates. Once I’ve narrowed down the field, I will search “x app vs. y app.” That’ll tend to make up my mind. If you can’t find anything that granular, then look at the reviews.
- Remember, if you bought an app that you don’t like, you can try and get a refund. A lot of times this will work out for either Mac or Android products.
One final note: if you have any suggestions for additions or ways you use technology to grow sustainable food, please let us know and we’ll include it in the above list!