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Archive for May, 2011

Last Spring, while we were expecting Tootsie to come along in the middle of June, I didn’t know how much energy or time I would have to maintain a garden.  I wondered:  even if I got it started, how would I keep it weeded?  I envisioned a mass of wild grasses choking out my vegetable plants.  But someone recommended the book  Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew and I took her advice.  (Thank you, Becky)  I found the book at the library and skimmed it quick for the basic idea.  It changed the way I garden!

Instead of digging up a large area at once and planting everything in rows, the square foot gardener divides the garden into smaller, more manageable areas.  Each square foot is assigned a number of plants, according to their size.  I was surprised at the suggested numbers per square, it seemed like a lot in some cases, but the point of the book is to create an efficient, compact space.  Not only was I able to cram more vegetables into our small space, but I was able to work 1 square at a time, using just the hand tools, which saved me energy and time.  Working step by step, preparing the area for each variety of veg, I didn’t concern myself at all with the weedy area assigned for another day.  As I worked along, I appreciated how much this system would benefit a person of limited physical ability.  I thought about some of the mature folks I’ve spoken to over the years who “used to garden” but find it physically overwhelming now.  As for me, in my condition, I would not have had a garden at all last year.  This year, I’ve decided to use the same technique on a larger scale.

So, if you want to give it a try without looking at the book, you’ll essentially do something like this:

2 ft by 2 ft squares divided into quads

That’s my interpretation of it, anyway.  My squares are side by side because I only have a 17′ x 3′ space to work in, but you could make a 4 foot by 4 foot raised bed and divide it up as such.  I used all scrap wood and I have to admit, I probably could have looked harder for more of those nice, flat, 2 foot boards, but I’m short on time these days.  The boards should be something you could step on to get to the back of the garden.  In our case, we don’t have that kind of depth to be concerned about.  Do you see how they control weeds and keep you focused on a small area?  I did take advantage of the space in front of those short boards by planting marigold seeds.  If you don’t have marigolds in your vegetable garden, consider adding them as an organic method of insect repellant.  They look cute, too. 

After dividing the space, we assigned plants. 

To calculate how many plants per square, look on the back of the seed packet.  If the suggested plant spacing says:

  • 12″ apart, plant 1 per square
  • 6″ apart, plant 4 per square
  • 4″ apart, plant 9 per square
  • 3″ apart (or less), plant 16 per square

Here’s the visual:

Broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts require 1 full square.  Green beans can be sown 9 per square, so we chose 3 non-connecting squares for 3 different varieties.  Assigning squares in this way also makes crop rotation easier.  Next year, just move your vegetables to a new square.  It’s important that you wear pink tulle during the process as this contributes to the collection of loose soil and dry leaves.  

these transplants get 1 square foot each

You can maximize the squares by allowing companion plants to share space.  We tucked some herb seeds in the center of each quad, then we rolled out the soaker hose.  Here’s what it looked like when we unfurled it.  It will calm down after a while, but it’s probably wise to lay it out in the sun for a day or two so it’s not a real wrestling match to set it down.

make watering easy

I recommend getting a soaker hose.  We bought this 50 foot long one from The Christmas Tree Shops for $6.99.  It’s totally worth it to not have to drag a hose out every day.  Poor watering techniques create roots that reach for the surface and weaken the plant.  Always water deeply to anchor those roots in the ground.  Watering and weeding are your biggest time-consumers, whatever you can do to make those 2 things easier on yourself will really pay off in the long run.

I hope seeing what we’ve done in our small garden encourages you to give it a try.  You really don’t need a lot of space to enjoy gardening.  Learning to work the space you have is key.  This is just one of many techniques that allow you to grow more food in less space.  Think outside the box.

Related article:  From Seed to Kitchen, Phase 4  

A note about watering your garden: 

A soaker hose is a hose with lots of tiny holes in it that allows the water to drip gently on the ground, preventing muddy splashes, puddles, and plant damage.  It “soaks” the ground.  It comes with one end that has a connector to fit your regular garden hose (or spout) and the other end has a cap.  The cap can be removed to connect another hose.  You lay it (pins are available to hold it in place) on the ground around your plants and leave it for the season.

When we first transplant the plants or seeds into the garden, we water daily to promote downward root growth.  Silverback turns the spout on his way to the car in the morning and I run out in my jammies to shut it off in about 20 minutes.  I’m a little surprised we don’t have this automated yet.  🙂  A hose timer would be helpful.

We also watch the weather, if rainfall is expected, we don’t waste water. 

As the plants become established, less watering is necessary and we rely more on mother nature.

Morning is the best time to water, for several reasons. 

  1. less evaporation, less waste. 
  2. less likely for the heat of the sun to scorch wet foliage. 
  3. night watering leaves plants susceptible to mildew and fungus.

Also, watering the ground – not the leaves – helps prevent damage and mildew.  So, if you choose not to use a soaker hose, be sure to aim low with your garden hose each time you water.  Keep the flow low so you are not blasting up mud or pushing the plants around.

 

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Native Violets

 

Tulips

 

Kitty enjoying the perennial garden

Cherry blossoms and bright blue sky

 

A closer look

 

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