Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Square Foot Gardening: Starting Over With New Soil

Last year, I chronicled my box garden conversion from random planting to the more calculated method, known as Square Foot Gardening. I had great success, but at the end of the season, I vowed that in 2011, I was going to replace all of the dirt in my box with new soil following the Square Foot Gardening recipe for a soil mix.

When I first set up my box garden about 9 years ago, I naively used soil that was dug up from another project on our property. Even though I amended the soil in my boxed garden with compost over the years, the majority of the soil was thick, heavy clay that made pulling root vegetables, like carrots, very difficult. The soil also made it very difficult to pull the massive weeds that thrived in the box. I couldn't keep up with the weeds and by the end of every summer I had a few choice words for all of the weeds, but this is a family site, so I'll keep those conversations private.

So this was the year that I was going to replace my soil. I asked my husband if he would mind if I moved the existing soil to our back yard where 10 holly trees mark our property line. He didn't have a problem with it, but he also had no desire to assist me with this nutty project. Besides, he would be working on spreading the 3 cubic yards of leaf compost that we ordered around the front yard landscape and other flower beds around our home.

The leaf compost was delivered on Friday morning and we started our projects by the afternoon and worked all weekend.

I started removing the dirt from my box about a week ago, because I knew it would take me several trips with the wheel barrow. Several is an understatement; I lost count!

The soil mix that is recommended in the Square Foot Gardening book is 1/3 blended compost, 1/3 Vermiculite, 1/3 Peat Moss. I admit that I didn't use blended compost. I used leaf compost, because we had 3 cubic yards sitting in our driveway. I will add my own compost to the box in the future.

The book recommends mixing the soil on a tarp. I used a hoe to mix together and when I was finished, my husband helped me dump each load into the garden.

I totally missed the first spring planting, but I'm okay with that. This project was a lot of work, but I noticed immediately the difference in the soil and I don't think I will ever regret my decision. The soil is lighter and so easy to maneuver. The last date of frost in my area is May 15, so this weekend I will be planting my summer vegetables and herbs. I'll post pictures next week of my finished garden.

Do you follow the Square Foot Gardening Method? How is the soil in your garden? Have you ever replaced all of it? How is your garden growing this spring? Let us know in the comments.

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This post is linked to Garden Party Tuesday at An Oregon Cottage.

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  1. Our soil is not clay, but we do have a lot of evergreen/pine needles and the soil is very acidic. I am working hard to make compost to add in and get a better crop, of what is planted. So far berries and rhubarb.

  2. I have heavy clay soil, which I amend constantly with whatever organic matter I can get. I have to admit that I find Mel's mix a kind of nutty, expensive idea. Sure, the temporary lack of weeds sounds great (especially right now... my time is being consumed by weeding), but how much does your yield from the garden need to increase to make the work and materials cost a financially viable solution?

  3. MuddyToes - You make a good point. And if I gardened randomly like I used to, my yield wouldn't be as high. But with square foot gardening, I am able to plant up to 48 plants, vs the 15 or so that I planted before. I am hoping to plant about 40 though. My goal today is to work out a plan and plant tomorrow and Thursday, before the rain that we are getting the weekend. Now that the clay is gone, the dirt should last for years, but I haven't done the math yet. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  4. I just started container gardening. So far, I love it. I hope to add more in the next couple years.

  5. We have three square foot gardens and love the method! It is so easy to amend the soil once you get started...we just add a little compost as we work the squares and then plant. Easy peasy.

    Hope you have a great garden year! (Hopped over from the Tues Garden Party)

  6. We have terrible red clay and it's extremely hard packed. My dad was able to get some composted cow manure last year and it's been working great this year. I have to keep adding it to the soil. It helps so much!

  7. This will be totally worth it for you- no matter that you missed some early planting!

    An Oregon Cottage


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