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For The Garden

No-Fuss Gardening

Author: Cathy Cromell
Issue: May, 2009, Page 61
Photography by Richard Maack

Gardening is an enjoyable activity for the Sauer family. Both youngsters like to take turns digging in raised vegetable beds in the backyard. Justin (second from left) pokes through the compost-enriched soil, searching for worms.

I like to plant and harvest, but I don’t like to weed or water regularly like my husband Ryan does,” admits April Sauer of Tempe, Arizona. “When we bought this home in 2002, I asked him to design gardens to be as simple and maintenance-free as possible so that when he gets busy with other projects, the plants and I won’t suffer.”

To create low-maintenance gardens, Ryan installed drip irrigation; spread leaf mulch to suppress weeds; and used multiple compost bins to hold organic matter in different stages of decomposition, which reduces the need to turn piles regularly. He also designed and built an inexpensive wood-frame greenhouse, which is covered with plastic sheeting during winter and shade cloth in summer.

April Sauer collects fruit and vegetable scraps in a can that she keeps in the kitchen. When full, she empties it into the compost pile.

The Sauers incorporate the “reduce, reuse, recycle” philosophy into their landscape and lifestyle. “We think it’s important to keep as much material out of the waste stream as possible,” comments Ryan, who is an engineer for a civil and environmental engineering firm. For example, when building sturdy trellising to hold blackberry vines, he reused metal fencing that April’s parents no longer needed. After removing a bottle tree that had reached the end of its life, he recycled it as firewood and mulch.

The family, including 5-year-old Justin and 2-year-old Tyler, participates in recycling by using handy receptacles in the kitchen and bathrooms to collect items destined for the compost pile, such as kitchen scraps, paper towels, tissues, cardboard and dryer lint. April stores these in a metal gallon-sized covered container within easy reach. “I move it to wherever I’m working in the kitchen, chopping vegetables or squeezing fresh juice, and just toss in the leftovers.” When the container is full, she empties it into an outdoor compost bin.

The garden has several of these bins operating at any given time, depending on how much organic matter is available. Ryan’s walks around the neighborhood generate additional material for the bins: Neighbors and landscape crews are as glad to have him cart away bags of leaves or grass clippings as he is to have them. Some obligingly deposit the material in the Sauers’ driveway, which the couple good-naturedly refers to as “drive-by dumping.”

This free organic matter ultimately is transformed into dark, earthy compost, which Ryan incorporates into garden beds. “Composting and bed preparation are the most important steps to successful vegetable growing,” he states.

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