Applying time-management techniques to gardening

A pomodoro kitchen timer, after which the Pomodoro Technique is named.

Last week’s span of warm, clear days found island gardeners scrambling outside, perched on bended knee pulling weeds, transplanting seedlings and slaying slugs. It was a flurry of activity that reminded me of a children’s story called “All Summer in a Day” by Ray Bradbury.

The story takes place on Venus, where it rains for seven years at a time. And then the rain stops for two hours ... and magic happens.

I won’t spoil it for you, but know that it’s worth a read. Just Google it ...

It’s easy to overdo it, you know, in our efforts to pack months of planning and dreaming into a few days or hours. Our backs hurt, tools are lost and refound, to-do lists get longer, holes appear in gloves, new callouses form, wheelbarrows balk under the weight of compost, we forget time ...


The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. 

It’s popular in office cubicles, but it works just as well in the garden ...

I shared the Pomodoro Technique after a student in my last Compost Academy complained about time: “While working in the garden, the hours fly by and before you know it, you’re thirsty, starving, exhausted and your whole day gets away from you.”

Here’s how pomodoro works: Use a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. Each interval is known as a “pomodoro,” from the Italian word for “tomato,” after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that Cirillo used as a university student.

In the garden, I prefer pomodoros of 60 minutes; while working on the computer, 45 minutes.

There are basically six steps in the original pomodoro technique:

• Decide on the task to be done.

• Set the pomodoro timer (25 to 60 minutes)

• Work on the task.

• When the timer rings, stop working.

• Take a short break (about 5 minutes) and then return to work

• After four pomodoros, take a longer break (15–30 minutes).

After you complete a task, using pomodoros, review what you’ve just completed.

Do this from a learning point of view:

• What did I learn?

• What could I do better or differently?

It’s important to focus your attention on the task at hand (weeding, planting), while performing a task a la pomodoro. Otherwise, you miss the point and the lesson.

Meanwhile, here are two gardening tasks that may still be on your list of things to do.  Practice your pomodoro skills, rain or shine ...

As Mark Twain said: “In the spring, I have counted 136 different kinds of weather inside of 24 hours.”

First, let’s plant potatoes ...

One of the easiest things to grow in the whole wide world (besides creepy things in your refrigerator) are potatoes. Before planting them, though, do as English gardeners do: Buy some seed potatoes now so you’ve got time to chit them. That’s right, chit them.

Chitting isn’t as weird as it looks and sounds. It’s a great Scrabble word, though even as I type it, Microsoft Word is underlining the word in red. Chitting simply means setting the potatoes in a well-lit place until they produce shoots about an inch long.

Chitting helps get potatoes off to a head start before they are planted. A word about choosing which varieties to grow: Don’t bother going to the grocery store, where most potatoes have been treated with a retardant to prevent sprouting.

You’ll want to buy certified seed potatoes that are preferably disease resistant. This is extremely important. Ireland’s potato famine of 1845 was caused by a parasitic fungus that killed potato plants. As a result, thousands of people died from starvation.

Potatoes are in the nightshade family, which includes eggplant, peppers and tomatoes. Hard to believe that eggplants and potatoes are related ...

In the garden, potatoes need plenty of shoulder room, sunshine and fertile, slightly acid, well-drained soil.

Come planting time, some gardeners look to the heavens for advice, claiming that plants do better if set in the ground during the dark phase of the moon.

The moon is currently in a waning gibbous phase, which is the first phase after the full moon occurs. It lasts roughly seven days, with the moon’s illumination or visibility growing smaller each day until it becomes a last quarter “sliver” moon with a visibility of 50%.

It’s at this point that potato growers get busy planting spuds ...

During the same phase of the moon, you’ll want to sow carrot seeds. Now, growing carrots is a test of your patience because it can take two to three weeks before they decide to germinate.

How to get carrot seeds to germinate?

The trick to making sure that carrot seeds sprout is to barely cover them with soil and keep them moist. Which means you might have to water the carrot bed more than once a day ...

Here’s another technique that my sister-in-law, who lives outside of Anchorage, swears by: She sows her carrot seeds, covers them with a little soil and then soaks them with water. Next, she covers them with a piece of carpet.

“It’s a homestead technique,” she says. “It protects them from frost, warms the ground, and you don’t have to water. When the carrots come up, simply remove the carpets.”

And then you wait.

Maybe the pomodoro technique is effective for waiting. ... Reading helps: “All Summer In a Day.”


Curious to know where local gardeners hang out? Visit the Kodiak Growers Facebook page. Got a gardening question? Send it to:

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