The biggest key I have found (at least for us) to keep a garden healthy and producing is investing the time and effort in the beginning to make things convenient later on. A few parts of this include:
1. Location, location, location. And I'm not talking just about picking out your sunny spots for sun loving plants. I'm talking about finding a spot that you frequent, even when you're not focusing on gardening, so that you constantly keep an eye on your plants even when you're doing other things. This is especially important for plants that need a little extra attention. We have our tomato, pepper, cucumbers and potatoes right outside our back door where we walk by them daily because they need constant attention. The plants that are a little less finicky are out in the new garden expansion (corn, beans, lettuces, carrots, squash, etc), which is still connected to the backyard, but further away.
2. Easy watering. It might not seem like such an ordeal right now to hand water your little baby plants you've just tucked in your beds, but come July when those babies are now huge thirsty monsters and you're dealing with dog days of summer, that simple task is now quite a chore. Thinking ahead will save you a lot of time and frustration down the road. For our raised beds in the backyard, I have snaked an irrigation hose through the plants and pin pointed the water streams directly at the bases of the plants (photo above). It's easy to do this right now when the plants are tiny. When these tomatoes are sprawling giants later this season, it would be nearly impossible to put something like this in place. For our big garden we are looking at sprinkler systems that will reach all of the areas and hope to have that in place soon.
3. Mulch. I can not stress this enough. Not only does proper mulching help ward off a good portion of your weeding, but it also helps insulate plants and retain the moisture they need. It is a wise investment to learn about mulching and get started on it sooner rather than later. We use non-seeded grass hay as a neutral mulch but things such as pine needles or wood chips can also be used (different kinds of mulch can alter the pH and other properties of your soil, so know what you are using and use it to your advantage). In our raised beds we mulch all around the plants and pretty much fill the surface. In our big garden expansion, we are mulching between the rows with a kill much (which I'll post more about later).
What other gardening tips do you think are important?