Gardening by the Square

4 05 2009

We decided (Mom, BF, and I) to do a Square Foot Garden this year.  This gardening method has been popularized by Mel Bartholomew in his book  All New Square Foot Garden.  I ordered the book last Tuesday and it arrived on Wednesday. BF and I busied ourselves with learning the system and planning our garden.  I like this method for various reasons, including:

  • No dig, you build a box above the ground and fill with special soil mix (more on soil mix later)
  • The one foot squares make it super easy to see how much you can plant and plan your plantings
  • low maintenance, less weeds!
  • According to the website, square foot gardens take 50% of the cost, 20% of the space, 10% of the water, and 2% of the work.  I’m a fan of all of that!

At first I was going to use the space at the back of the yarn (where I had a small flower and herb garden last year) and a planting bed at the side of the house.  But when we started to lay out my designs and paid attention to the amount of sun that each area got, we decided to abandon the planting bed by the house.  Our garden is completely contained in the back corner of the yard, which gets some decent southern sun. We decided to make two 4×4 boxes, one 2×8 box and one 2×2 box. This gives us 52 square feet of garden! We also decided to put two  5’x4′ trellises on the 8×2 box and one on the front 4×4 box.  The trellises are used for vine plants like tomatoes, squash, cucumber, pole beans and peas.  I also decided to cut back the existing planting bed that i created last year.  I currently had 4 lavender plants growing in the corner. I cut the box back to just be the lavender and added a couple new lavender plants to fill out the box.

The Layout of our Boxes

layout1

Plant Plotting

Laying it all out was only half the fun. After what seemed like 20 iterations (and adjustments for impulse buys when picking out plant starts) we settled on our final plotting of plants.

plants1

We quickly realized that this is a lot of veggies!  How exciting- we might have enough to have fresh salad and veggies every night this summer and also be generous with our friends and neighbors!

Here is the breakdown of the plants we bought.  Almost 150 total plants in 52 squares! wow!

what number we have number per square Squares
Lettuce (Romaine) 2 4 0.5
Lettuce (Spring Salad) 2 4 0.5
Lettuce (Spicy Salad) 1 4 0.25
Lettuce (Grand Rapids) 1 4 0.25
Lettuce (Buttercrisp) 4 4 1
Lettuce (Salad Blend) 8 4 2
Lettuce (Red Sails) 4 4 1
Catnip 1 1 1
Tomato (Early Girl) 1 1 1
Tomato (Stupice) 1 1 1
Tomato (Sungold) 1 1 1
Tomato (Longkeeper) 1 1 1
Tomato (Window Box Roma) 1 1 1
Cucumber (Fanfare) 2 2 1
Cucumber (Sweet slice) 4 2 2
Cucumber (Burpee) 2 2 1
Beans (Pole) 8 8 1
Sugar Snap Peas 8 8 1
Summer Squash (Goldbar) 1 1 1
Beans (Bush) 9 9 1
Swiss Chard 8 4 2
Peppers (Cali Wonder) 2 1 2
Peppers (Cubanelle) 1 1 1
Peppers (Jalenpeno) 1 1 1
Onion (Red Burgermaster) 8 16 0.5
Onion (Walla Walla) 4 16 0.25
Onion (White Sweet Spanish) 4 16 0.25
Radish 9 9 1
Asparagus 6 3 2
Shallots 8 8 1
Garlic (Elephant) 3 1 3
Rosemary 1 1 1
Basil (Genovese) 8 4 2
Parsley (Flat Italian) 3 4 0.75
Chives 1 1 1
Dill 1 1 1
Sage (Berggarten) 1 1 1
Lemon Verbena 1 1 1
Winter Savory 1 1 1
Dahlia (Hello Gorgeous) 4 4 1
Dahlia (Figaro) 4 4 1
Marigold 4 1 4
Dhalia (TBD) 3 1 3

Materials

In order to build out boxes and make our soil mix, we had quite a lengthy shopping list.

Boxes
6”x 2” boards
Plywood (bottoms
Deck Screws
Large washers (to hold the plywood botom in place)

Grids
4’ wood lath boards (for the Grid
Nuts and bolts

Soil (24 cubic feet total)
1/3 Peat Moss (8 cubic feet)
1/3 blended compost (8 cubic feet)
1/3 coarse vermiculite (8 cubic feet) **

Trellis
electrical conduit
¼  inch 2 foot rebar
½ inch elbow connectors
Trellis netting
Zip ties

Chicken Wire Cover
2”x2” boards 4’ lengths
48” wide 2” square Chicken wire
Zip ties

Soil Mix

Perhaps the most difficult item on this list to find is the vermiculite.  Vermiculite has been  a controversial gardening product.  In mining operations, it is often side by side with asbestos.  However, I did research and found that now-a-days great care is taken in the mining process and you can find vermiculite products which are certified asbestos free.   If you still are nervous at the prospect of using this product, it can be replaced with perlite,  but I decided to use the suggested vermiculite.  If you also want to try vermiculite and are having trouble finding it in large bags, call around to your local feed stores (yes, farm supply and feed stores!) they usually carry the large bags.

Another interesting note about the soil mix- you need to use different types of compost- from chicken and steer manure (or as I like to say chicken $hit and bull $hit!) to mushroom compost, vegetable/yard waste compost.  In my quest to find a good blend of compost I purchased some locally produced compost and realized that I helped to make that compost.  I have a yard waste and compost can as part of my garbage service. Its a great service and the yard waste and food I put out at the curb every other week ends up in bags of compost at my local garden center.  Out of all of the compost we purchased the local stuff was the most inexpensive and the best quality.  Since there isn’t much transportation cost, (it’s made one town over) the compost was very moist and fresh (larger companies dry out their compost to reduce the weight of the bag and thus transportation charges.  I thought it was a cool example of how green practices come full circle.

Cost

How much will this garden cost us this year?  I am estimating between $400 and $500 including all materials and plants.  Most of that cost is the one time cost of building the boxes.  If I had decided to do this method earlier I am convinced that I could have gotten materials for the boxes at little or no cost using websites like freecycle or craigslist or by contacting construction sites for scrap lumber.  As it is, I kept cost down by using regular lumber instead of  long lasting cedar.  I could have reduced the cost even more by growing my own starts indoors earlier this spring.

Plants

The most fun part! BF and I had a blast coming up with our shopping list and picking out plants.  I picked up my plants from local Flower world (love that place) and from a community plant sale.  A couple of impulse buys at Lowes and Ace Hardware…

After a long weekend and lots of work, we’re ready to finish up by building the removable chicken wire cage (keep the critters from dining on my plants!) put plants into the boxes.  This project has been fun to work on together and we are both a little sore after all the construction and soil making.   I’ll end with a photo of our befores durings and afters…