Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Square Foot Gardening: Making A Transition

I have had my raised vegetable bed for about 8 years. Every year, I plant about 4-5 tomato plants, 2 pepper plants, broccoli and several varieties of herbs. Last year, I tried cantaloupe and watermelon; that was interesting. I am hardly an experienced gardener though. Every year, I just walk into the garden store, and pick whatever looks interesting. Since I get most of my vegetables from a CSA, I really just plant enough to supplement our CSA share.

But this year is different. Over the winter, I read the book, All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space! by Mel Bartholomew. I borrowed it from the library at first, but soon decided that it would be a good resource to have for myself. I heard about the book last year when several other bloggers wrote about it: Get Rich Slowly, Being and $5 Dollar Dinners.

I discovered that I already had the raised bed, I just needed to use it to my advantage. I was not maximizing the bed's capacity. It is a 4 foot by 12 foot bed and I was planting about 15 plants, but with a Square Foot Garden(SFG), I can plant up to 48 different vegetables in the same bed. At first, it just didn't seem possible, but I am going to try it anyway. Mel seems to be an expert and I, well, am not.

With the sunny weather we have been having over the last few days, I have been outside getting my box ready. I added a grid to the box, which after reading the book, a SFG is only a SFG if it has the grid.

Unfortunately, I am using my existing dirt, which has a lot of weeds, so I spent the past two days pulling weeds and raking the surface. Back in March, I spread some pine needles over the box to try to stop the weeds from coming didn't work..I still had a ton of weeds.

In Square Foot Gardening, if you use Mel's mix of compost, peat moss and vermiculite, you have very little weeds. I on the other hand have a garden full of compost that I made myself over the years. My problem is that in the beginning I used to put all of my yard waste, weeds and all, into my compost bin. Over the years, I have regretted that decision especially as I pull weeds EVERY day through out the growing season. I no longer compost weeds. They now decompose in the city dump.

It is too early in my neck of the woods to plant too much. But I did get in 2 squares of arugula, 2 squares of spinach, 2 squares of carrots, 2 squares of lettuce and 6 broccoli plants.

I still need to determine what I will be planting in the remaining 34 squares. That seems like a lot, but I have a few weeks to plan it out. Our last day of frost is about May 15. My plan is to grow as much food for my family as possible so that between our CSA share and our garden I won't have to buy any vegetables at the grocery store over the harvest season and maybe beyond. If my garden is really successful, I have a small section where I can expand and maybe next year I won't need to join the CSA.

As a side note: In an adjacent garden, I have 2 blueberry plants that I planted last year and I added a rhubarb plant this week.

Do you plant a kitchen garden? How big is your garden? Do you follow the Square Foot Gardening method?

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  1. This is our second year of doing a garden. Even with last years garden success under our belts, I still feel like we don't have a clue what we're doing! :-) But we're learning and making some changes this year. We have a good sized garden (for a backyard), and this year we will be adding some container gardening to our list. Planning on planting tomatoes (two kinds), cucumbers, peppers (multi and green bell), onions (yellow and red), lettuce (igloo), radishes, and pumpkins. Pretty much the stuff you can freeze for the winter or at least make last long through the summer! Your garden looks GREAT! Hope it all goes well!

  2. I admire anyone who does this. I wish I could but I just lack something - oh yes, the drive and the commitment. But really, I wish I would love to pick stuff from my own garden.

  3. That's a great idea. I'll look into that book. We rent so we can't dig up the ground but we grow in pots. They do well but it's hard to keep them alive in the Texas heat! We planted sooner this year trying to beat the heat.

  4. I can't plant a garden in my yard, as I'm a tenant. However, I have a square foot planter. In my planter I'm growing cucumbers and tomatoes upside down underneath (it stands just over 4ft tall), and on top I'm growing spanish onions and beets. I also have a window box of parsley and rosemary and in a few other pots I have lavender. I'm not sure how well this will work as this is my first year. :)

  5. I too have decided to try out Mel's square foot gardening technique and built 75 square feet of raised beds this past month. I already have several squares planted and are seeing sprouts all over the place. It will be fun to keep up on each other's square foot garden and compare notes!

  6. I don't use the square foot gardening method, although I read the original book some 5+ years ago. I do plant a garden every year. It is a rather small patch, but I am excited that we are expanding this year into a new area. My plans so far are to grow strawberries, tomatoes, green beans, peas, cucumbers, lettuce, carrots, spinach, broccoli, watermelon. I also have ordered a couple of blueberry bushes and can't wait for them to arrive! We love blueberries but they are awful expensive to purchase in the store. I plan on using them fresh and drying the ones we don't eat right away (may not be too many though!). Please let me know how your bushes produced last year. I am wondering what to expect in this first growing season.

  7. Mrs B - I wish I had better information about my blueberry bushes from last year. But about a week after I planted them, the bunnies ate the bushes for lunch, right down to the ground. I immediately but up a little bunny fence around the bushes and they grew back, but not in time to harvest. Although I have read not to expect too much the first year. My bushes are looking good this year and I am going to also put a net over them to protect from the birds...those darn critters.

  8. I have read

    I have been using The Square Foot
    Gardening method for twenty years but I have made some changes that suits me a little better. I have permenent beds of 4x8 with hog fencing running down the middle(hog fencing costs more but will last forever because it is rigid and much stronger).I then plant according to how the book says. I do make one other change. About the time when the garden needs its first weeding you will be mowing your lawn. I put the grass clippings around each plant so it will not need to be weeded again. The grass clippings will compost down over the winter and make your garden almost weed free and very easy to work next spring. On the paths I put card board covered with grass clippings to prevent weeds.I have 4 permenent beds and I just rotate them each year. I interplant each of these beds with veggies that are compatable with each other like corn beans and squashes. Another classic combintion is tomatoes, basil and carrots.I also succession plant.Early spring I plant the whole garden with spinach with snow peas on the fence. When it is time to put in the summer garden I just plant between the spinach. By the time the summer veggies need space the spinach season is over.One last thing, plant heirloom seeds (none hybreds) so that you can save the seeds and won't need to buy them next year.

  9. I would love to have you link up your square foot garden updates weekly here:

    Thank you for a peek into your garden!

  10. I don't use the square foot gardening method though I use companion planting and succession planting extensively. I do however drive my husband crazy with my interplanting of vegetables like tomatoes, beans, carrots, spinach and lettuce. He's a straight-line kind of guy. :)

    Good luck! I've been gardening for 15 years and though I feel like an old hand most of the time, there's always something new to learn and every year is different.

  11. Thank you for the book recommendation. I'm going to reserve it at the library right now.

  12. We love square foot gardening. I have 7 beds this year and can't wait to get started. Good luck with yours.

  13. I have been using square foot gardening for 20+ years also. I have 15 4x4 foot beds, 1 3'x30', 2 3'x20' and 1 8x10. In addition I have strawberries (6'x25') and blueberries (6 plants). I started with the mixture in the book. Yes, i dug out all of the dirt and replaced it. I also do not put weeds in my compost bin. I replenish the squares with well rotted horse manure. Yes, I srtill get weeds, but it's like picking lint off your shirt; so easy to remove. True be told, once the veggies come up, the weeds don't seem to. i plant a lot of potatoes, amoung other veggies/herbs.

  14. Square foot gardening is a great idea to save money, eat healthy, and get outside. I think it's great that you are promoting this and hopefully more people will follow suit!

  15. My wife and I are going to start gardening this year, but I don't want to get overwhelmed...this is a good way to do it and still get some good turnout! Great post!

  16. I have a garden. We are doing broccoli for the first time this year. We have a variety of lettuce and spinach, tomatoes, potatoes, green beans, strawberries, cucumber and zucchini which is also a first this year.

    I look forward to hearing how your blueberry bushes do for you. I hope to be able to have blueberries soon.


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