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Posts Tagged ‘square foot garden’

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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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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We’re back! I know it’s been months since the last post — 2014 was a big year. I got married and got a new job! Both really exciting things but with all the ensuing happy craziness, it left little to no time for blog posts (or much gardening, to be honest).

Last year our garden did OK — not great, but not too terrible. Part of it is because of the aforementioned life events, part of it because of the cooler summer weather, part of it because of the constant plague of garden pests and creatures we have, but it’s mostly because we weren’t keeping up with it. It also probably didn’t help when the garden was more or less ignored for more than a week while we were on our honeymoon.

This season we’re practically starting over — new raised bed boxes, new soil and new method. We’re trying more of the square foot gardening method to get as much out of our efforts as possible. We’ve also built new boxes and filled most of them with Mel’s Mix, the “perfect garden soil” formula from the books.

We know not everything is going to be perfect. For starters, we added Mel’s Mix on top of the soil and whatever else is there: leaves left over from the fall, a bunch of plants I forgot to pull out (do carrots overwinter?), and likely a handful of those little veggie and herb tags that have been unwittingly mixed in over the years.

Snow in early March delayed our garden plans.

Snow in early March delayed our garden plans.

Second, we’re getting a later start on spring planting. Again. This is out of our control — it doesn’t help (or motivate you) when in early March everything is still covered in snow and is then followed by days upon days of rain. This past weekend was our first nice one (sunshine! warmer temperatures!) in a long time.

Finally, we know our garden won’t be perfect because, let’s face it, life has an odd sense of humor. This weekend is a perfect example. After spending a few hours at several different stores gathering wood for the new beds and the ingredients for our soil mixture, we grabbed the wheelbarrow so we didn’t have to lug 40-pound bags of compost to the back yard.

And guess what? Our wheelbarrow, which we rarely use, had a flat tire. Luckily our neighbor, who is an avid and awesome gardener herself, let us borrow hers. Oh, and to top it off, the drill ran out of batteries when we had our last three screws to put in the last of four raised bed boxes.

This year we’ll post more (I promise!) as we go through our gardening adventure, sharing ideas and experiments from last season, as well as all the successes and failures we have (hoping it’s more of the former this time).

In the meantime, here’s our rough planting plan for this year. I’m sure we’ll move things around when they actually get planted. The garlic is in a different place in both beds because, as usual, I forget where I planted them until the shoots start poking through the ground. And also, I got a little overzealous when buying our broccoli — we have 18 plants now, and I’ll probably experiment some more with container growing.

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Here it is, our grand garden plan. It’s ambitious, but I’m optimistic about it.

We’re trying something new this year, both with vegetables and planning. Last year everything worked fairly well, and we stuck to the plan — for the most part. This year, we’re adding carrots, which is something we’ve never tried before. And we’re going to try again with Brussels sprouts, broccoli and kale because none worked particularly well.

The broccoli bolted pretty early, the Brussels sprouts never really grew and the kale was knocked over and destroyed by squirrels. We’re also going to try to follow the square-foot gardening method a little more closely. We sort of tried it last year, but not exactly.

Our garden plan for this year. It's a mix of square-foot gardening and succession planting, plus some container plants.

Our garden plan for this year. It’s a mix of square-foot gardening and succession planting, plus some container plants.

I’ve also splurged ($25 for a year) on the garden planner tool from Mother Earth News. In the little bit I’ve played around with it, the tools are really great, and it’s what I used to create the picture above. Some are harder to see, so I’ll explain what’s in each bed.

It looks very crowded because I have “all months” showing, but there is some succession planting going on here — the peas will be gone before the tomatoes need the room; the garlic will be pulled before the zucchini needs room to spread, etc.

We’re also going to use our “alternative pots,” which are basically old coffee containers and big buckets that used to contain cat litter. Everything will be washed and have holes drilled in the bottom for drainage.

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It’s been about a month since everything was planted and so far, so good. Except for a few plants providing dinner for the deer, our vegetables are looking healthy and (fingers crossed) pest/disease free.

I’m not quite sure I stuck with our planting plan for each bed. For the most part, it’s right, but I made some adjustments. Here’s what we have, starting from back bed at the left of the garage.

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