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Archive for April, 2015

In the past couple years, I’ve heard a lot about square foot gardening. It keeps coming up in Google searches and the 500 Gardens program we’re part of recommends it to all of the new gardeners in Madisonville.

Our garden grid made out of old blinds.

Our garden grid made out of old blinds.

So what is square foot gardening? It’s a method that lets you grow more in a smaller space and is great for small gardens. We’ve half-tried this in the past and decided this year to go for it (almost) all the way.

The essence is breaking your garden bed into grids — one square foot at a time — and planting one to 16 plants per square foot. How do you decide? It’s all based on the plant spacing recommended on the seed packet or transplant tag: 3 inch spacing is 16 per square; 4 inch spacing is 9 per square, and so on. This has a good explanation of spacing as well as which plants typically work in which spacing plan.

This is what happened to our grid after a storm. It was easy to fix and put back together.

This is what happened to our grid after a storm. It was easy to fix.

It also helps to have a grid to better visualize where you’re planting everything and the Mel Bartholomew book says you need a grid to be “a true square foot garden.” Even though I think a grid drawn in the dirt would suffice, we decided to make a real grid this year.

Our gridlines are actually slats from old blinds that the cats have previously destroyed and they worked out really well. They are “secured” with a nail through the holes already in the slats.

An errant onion in a totally different bed. Squirrels probably dug it up

An errant onion in a  different bed. Squirrels probably dug it up

I will say the grids helped already.

When I was checking on our plants, I noticed a couple of onions weren’t poking through (we had nine per square). I was able to find a few where they were supposed to be but a couple of bulbs were missing. One I found in the next bed over, lying by the garlic. I suspect squirrels are responsible.

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I’m not always the best planner, and that was pretty evident when I filled our new raised beds with our planting mix. By the end of the “mixing day” I was exhausted and sore and just wanted to be finished filling the garden.

So I didn’t pay any attention to the garlic and chives already poking out of the ground. Once the beds were full, I just assumed the garlic would find it’s way up.

When that didn’t happen after a week or so, I knew we had to dig our way through the new dirt to find them.

It took a while and now the beds look a little more like a strange pit than a garden, but it seems the garlic is doing well. I found a picture I took of the new beds (sans soil) and learned more was still buried because there were actually two chive plants instead of one.

Now that everything is dug out (I hope!), we have 14 regular garlic plants and seven elephant garlic plants. Can’t wait until they’re ready!!

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We’re now in mid-April and all our early spring crops are looking good! I’m kind of amazed at how much we have planted so far.

There are peas (sugar snap and snow), spinach, radishes, carrots, lettuce, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and onions all doing really well, along with the garlic planted in the fall and chives that come back every year. Most of those are repeats from previous years, except the onions.

We decided to grow onions on a whim this year, even though they’re cheap to buy at the grocery store. After successfully growing garlic last season and learning how much better the homegrown variety was, we suspect onions will be the same. I found a bag of onion sets (they look like tiny, slender onions) that had red, yellow and white onions so we’re trying each variety. There are also a few squares we’ll use for onion seeds to have another later harvest (and for green onions).

We have tons of broccoli this year because the cell packs I bought had nine plants each instead of six, and I decided to try two different varieties. Some are planted in the garden beds and others in containers; same idea with the Brussels sprouts, which we can move around to find the ideal conditions/area for them to grow.

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As I mentioned before, the spring weather has not been very “spring like.” It’s been colder than normal, and there have been nights of freezing temperatures and snow flurries. Not exactly ideal conditions for starting our spring crops, which I’ve always been told should be in the ground around the Ides of March.

Because of the wild weather swings, we tried to outsmart Mother Nature and pre-sprout our pea plants. I knew they wouldn’t germinate in the soil when it was that cold outside. And it worked wonderfully!

IMG_9307The basics are pretty easy: take the pea seeds (really just shriveled up peas) and place them in a damp paper towel. If you have two different kinds, I’d suggest labeling them. We just used permanent marker to write on the paper towels before soaking them.

Once the seeds are in place, place them in a covered container (we used a small pyrex bowl, but you could also use a plastic bag) and place them in a warm place. For us, that was the top of the refrigerator. Check on them after a couple of days and dampen the paper towels, if needed. Ours took about three or four days for all the peas to sprout. Once they’re sprouted, plant as soon as possible in the garden.

IMG_9595Ours are up and doing great, even though the day I planted them (March 23), it was spitting snow. But it seems winter has finally released its tenuous grasp on Cincinnati and the weather these past few days has been quite lovely!

Now our only challenge will be trying to figure out how to trellis the peas as they grow because I didn’t think that far ahead when I planted them in the garden.

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It’s hard to believe we have been in our house for more than five years. We started our garden the spring after we moved in and our raised bed frames have become a little worse for wear. The wood was splitting and cracking, and they generally looked dilapidated.

Our plan this year was to make the beds themselves a little taller, adding another layer on top. Matt suggested replacing the entire frame with new wood, and I’m glad we did. The wood we bought was 6 inches tall and then 4 feet long, and we overlapped each end to make an even square. Just the wood makes our garden beds look so much better!

Because these were so much taller than our other beds, we needed to fill them with soil. This year we decided to follow Mel’s Mix from the square foot gardening method. It was fairly expensive to get all the ingredients, but they say the mix will last for years, with a little top off of compost each year. Also, our garden is pretty big if we consider it all together — 112 square feet — and you’re supposed to fill the beds 6 inches deep. It’d probably be less expensive if the garden is smaller.

Mel’s Mix is one-third each of compost, peat moss and vermiculite. The compost (you’re supposed to have at least five different kinds to not overload on one nutrient) provides the plant nutrition and the vermiculite and peat moss help keep the soil workable and hold water.

It was quite a task to make this mix by myself — Matt was on a work trip and I needed to get plants in the ground — but I made it work!

We did end up saving the old garden boxes and are planning to use them as mini greenhouses to start the seeds I saved from last year’s plants.

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