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Easy Winter Gardening the Garden Slob Way

Updated on August 4, 2013

Winter Gardening for Lazy People

I have a secret garden. It lives alongside my "real" garden... the one I tend with loving care and exquisite attention to detail. My secret garden is like my real garden's ugly sister.

Like ugly sisters everywhere, my secret garden does a lot of work and asks very little in return, while her beautiful sibling lazes about in the spotlight, extracting payment in blood, sweat and tears for every favor granted.

In my "real" garden, I am a gardener. I painstakingly plan her layout and monitor her health. Everything I plant in her is carefully selected and placed with both the plant's needs and my own aesthetic preferences in mind. She lives in front of my house, displayed for the world to see.

My secret garden lives in back of my house. Her layout is determined partially by the amount of sun each patch receives, but mostly by my wild and reckless whims. Most years, one of her corners sports a wild tangle of bizarrely mixed vegetables and flowers in a vague, undefined hill. This hill is created as I select seedlings started indoors for planting, tossing seedlings that don't make the grade in the corner of the yard. In my secret garden, I am the Garden Slob, and winter is my time to shine.

All photographs by the author.

Fava beans with gently rotting squash in the background

In fall, the pretty sister I've been wooing since spring grants me the favour of her harvest. Her fruits are bountiful and beautiful, and then they are gone. As winter settles in, she sinks into a months-long slumber.

Now the Garden Slob goes to "work"... the only effort that will go into my ugly secret garden all year. This year, that effort was as follows: I cleared the dead summer garden plants from the old dryer drum in the back yard, stuck 5 fava bean seeds about an inch into the soil with my finger, and scattered a small handful of lettuce seeds on top. That's it. No pruning, no fertilizing... no watering!

In the summer garden, the lettuce would be thinned, the beans watered and staked. In the winter garden, beans sprawl and dangle as they will, lettuce is thinned when I make a salad, and everything gets watered when, and only when, water falls out of the sky.

Will the beans provide... well... beans? Probably. Most years they bear tons of good fava beans. That's not their primary function, though. They're doing a more important job.

Beans in general, and fava beans in particular, fix nitrogen in the soil. My ugly secret garden is hard at work, preparing this makeshift container for her beautiful sister's arrival in spring. In the background, more dead squash rots quietly into the soil, preparing to bring forth children when the soil warms.

My Winter Fava Beans and Lettuce

fava beans and lettuce in an old dryer drum
fava beans and lettuce in an old dryer drum

Heavenly results in a lazy and frugal winter container garden.

These fava beans and green leaf lettuce, planted on a whim, have been watered a grand total of two times from September to March. Helped along by a very mild winter and light, warm rains, my fava beans are now covered in flowers, and my lettuce grows faster than our household can scarf down salads.

It's looking like we'll get a good crop of fava beans before these plants are pulled up, in a few months, to make room for summer's veggies. By then, the fava beans will have completed their primary task of fixing loads of nitrogen in the soil, making this container a perfect home for my hungry summer crops!

My "real" garden is mostly a spring and summer affair. Come early spring, I begin the process of preparing her beds, germinating her seedlings, planning her layout. I fret over her soil, and prepare painstaking maps of her daily sunlight areas.

In the background, my ugly secret garden quietly grows. If time permits, perhaps I toss a few seeds or a handful of compost at her. If not, no worries! She'll still put forth abundant new growth. Why? Because the Garden Slob does not remove last winter's dead plants. The Garden Slob leaves the last round of ugly secret garden fruit rotting on the vine, where its decomposing flesh provides ample nutrients for the new seeds sleeping inside.

Most Squash Will Reseed From Rotting Fruit

Heirloom seeds are best, as the seeds from plants grown from hybrid seeds can produce unpredictable offspring. Have a bunch of fruit from hybrid plants? Try letting it reseed anyway. What's the worst that could happen? It's not like you put any extra work into it. That's how the Garden Slob rolls.

HeirloomSupplySuccess 10 Heirloom Triamble Squash seeds
HeirloomSupplySuccess 10 Heirloom Triamble Squash seeds

A striking squash, Triamble reseeds easily from rotting fruit.

HeirloomSupplySuccess 25 Heirloom delicata squash seeds
HeirloomSupplySuccess 25 Heirloom delicata squash seeds

Delicata is so pretty, and the flesh is sweet. Use in recipes that call for butternut.

Squash Spaghetti D679 (Yellow) 25 Seeds by David's Garden Seeds
Squash Spaghetti D679 (Yellow) 25 Seeds by David's Garden Seeds

Spaghetti-like strands of squash flesh are a hit with the kids.


Lettuce and Fava Beans - The Winter Garden's Dynamic Duo

Lettuce grows unaided through a mild winter, and fava beans fix nitrogen in the soil, preparing your container for a fresh round of summer plants come spring. Fava beans are a great winter crop in any garden. You can plant and tend them with the care you'd show for any garden vegetable for a bountiful crop, or mix them with some compost and scatter them wildly about your garden, ignoring them thereafter. They'll grow. They may produce less than they would with proper care (though this is by no means a given), but they'll be enriching your soil all winter long whether you put any effort into them or not. That's right: Garden Slob.

Lettuce Wildfire Mix D2850 (Multi Color) 500 Seeds by David's Garden Seeds
Lettuce Wildfire Mix D2850 (Multi Color) 500 Seeds by David's Garden Seeds

Great lettuce for salads, and the baby greens are so tender and perfect.

Stereo Bush Broad Fava Bean - 50 Seeds
Stereo Bush Broad Fava Bean - 50 Seeds

Fava beans offer lush foliage and pretty flowers in winter, and beans in spring.

Fava Beans, 10 Pound Box
Fava Beans, 10 Pound Box

Gardening on a larger lot? Fava beans make a wonderful winter ground cover. While fixing nitrogen in the soil, they will also help prevent erosion from rain.


Is there a corner of your garden that's left to fend for itself? Perhaps an area where you half-heartedly toss some seeds on the ground twice a year, or enjoy volunteers that spring forth from the remains of last year's crop? Tell us about YOUR inner garden slob!

Have an opinion? - Leave your cheers and jeers here.

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    • profile image

      SteveKaye 4 years ago

      I like projects that are easy. Thank you for publishing this lens.

    • leatherwooddesign profile image

      Marisa Horn 4 years ago from Rintown Pa

      Another great lens

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Umm, all these fresh vegetables looks so yummy.

      You must have great gardens. :)

    • hntrssthmpsn profile image

      hntrssthmpsn 5 years ago

      @anonymous: Thank you! Your kind words made my day.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I just found you and I'm in love. Guess who's posts I'll be reading today (instead of cleaning house (winkwink)). KEEP 'EM coming

    • sukkran trichy profile image

      sukkran trichy 5 years ago from Trichy/Tamil Nadu

      i love your gardening lens series. it is really motivating. great job.

    • hntrssthmpsn profile image

      hntrssthmpsn 5 years ago

      @JenwithMisty: That sure sounds to me like it counts! Congratulations!

    • JenwithMisty profile image

      Jen withFlash 5 years ago

      Great lens!! Very fun to read and I wish I had a real garden and a secret garden. Wait, I think all that stuff growing along the side of the house is already a secret garden. I haven't tended to it all year and it's certainly growing on it's own!

    • gardendesignsan profile image

      gardendesignsan 5 years ago

      Hats off to you. This is so ture and done particularly nicely after all who doesnât have a spot like this? Ha ha I think if youâre a gardener, we all know where our ugly gardens are. Great lens love your style of writing.

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 5 years ago from Canada

      I love your secret garden it looks beautiful.

    • ItayaLightbourne profile image

      Itaya Lightbourne 5 years ago from Topeka, KS

      Sounds very natural and earth friendly to me. Wonderful article! :)

    • profile image

      grannysage 5 years ago

      I love it. Slob gardening is the way to go for me, if I still had a garden that is.

    • evelynsaenz1 profile image

      Evelyn Saenz 5 years ago from Royalton

      My winter garden lives on window sills and in hibernating pots tucked into the cellar. It is mounds of compost frozenly waiting for spring. What a privilege to live in a climate where your winter garden flourishes! :)

      Blessed by a Squid Angel! :)

    • sherridan profile image

      sherridan 5 years ago

      Too close to home for my liking! :-)

    • Jeri Baker profile image

      Jeri Baker 5 years ago

      I love it (don't all gardeners have a slob garden at some point, at least). Thanks.

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 5 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      Any garden I have had is a slob garden. Nice lens!

    • Ann Hinds profile image

      Ann Hinds 6 years ago from So Cal

      I want a "slob" garden. I guess I will have to start ignoring a portion of my yard.

    • N Beaulieu profile image

      N Beaulieu 6 years ago

      I loved reading your lens. My secret garden is in the compost pile in the woods. I mostly get onions and an occasional tomato plant or two.

    • Lee Hansen profile image

      Lee Hansen 6 years ago from Vermont

      My secret messy garden is actually in a couple spots. Near our neglected compost heap (it's a heap, not a bin, and it's huge) all sorts of volunteer squashes grow in bliss. We discover them in fall when we put leaves into the heap. Volunteer flowers that pop up in unexpected places get dug and dumped into containers here and there. They make the best planters for some reason ... I guess they're grateful and so they try harder. Love this lens!

    • kathysart profile image

      kathysart 6 years ago

      Love container gardening and all gardening really.. this is a lovely lens that inspired me! Angel blessed too.

    • Pam Irie profile image

      Pam Irie 6 years ago from Land of Aloha

      I wish I had a Secret Garden too, though I don't think yours is a secret any longer. :)

    • Countryluthier profile image

      E L Seaton 6 years ago from Virginia

      I am just taking it all in. You are tops on my garden slob chart!

    • Frischy profile image

      Frischy 6 years ago from Kentucky, USA

      This summer eggplants came up in my garden by surprise. They all made lovely flowers, but no shiny purple fruit ever emerged. The chickens used their big leaves for shade, so I suppose they earned their keep. No more hybrid plants for me!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Very clever idea for an article!

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 6 years ago from Central Florida

      I love volunteer plants (which my husband calls weeds). Back in the 1930s my grandparents tossed their garbage in one spot where the chickens liked to scratch about. Over time, a nice grouping of volunteer fruit trees grew there. They should have called it their secret garden.

    • wolfie10 profile image

      wolfie10 6 years ago

      very nice lens