I have been a backyard gardener for many years, but not an especially enthusiastic one. I work up some energy in the spring to get things into the ground, then just barely manage to do some watering when I think of it, and then get a second wind when those baby vegetables start to appear. I'd like to be more environmentally friendly about my gardening, but I wonder how much of a time investment is that going to take? Realistically, what's a typical minimum daily time budget for an ecologically responsible, permaculture garden (here in the US mid-atlantic region?)
The big time investment is up front, in the design and initial installation. The other aspect is to start small and, when you're successful on a small scale, you'll have incentive to scale up. Starting too big is frustrating. Fifty to 100 square feet of garden bed is plenty for a lot of people, although with your experience you may feel comfortable with more. And spring, the high-energy period, is a good time to start. The difference is, instead of planting 30 tomatoes, 20 bush neans and 10 zucchini, and then burning out on maintenance, you would plant a few fruit and nut trees, berry bushes, perennial greens, flowers, and soil-building plants, create a couple of small annual veggie beds, and mulch everything well. That keeps down weeds, reduces the need to water, and builds soil. When I had a huge, huge garden ( 30 trees, 600 square feet of beds, a hundred shrubs or so) I spent maybe 20 hours a week the first spring and early summer, then 10 the second, and by the 3rd of 4th year I was only working in the garden an hour or two a week, spread out evenly across the year. In my urban yard, I did about half that much prep work the first two years, and now, other than having fun with optional outdoor projects, I spend maybe 2 hours a week, and have a ton of food. Spending a lot of time on the design is the key (a good winter project). Besides my book, David Jacke's Edible Forest Gardens is great and has a huge , detailed section on design in volume 2. The old permaculture saying is, in a good design, the designer becomes the recliner.