Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Square Foot Gardening

A lot with many big trees in the back yard precludes us from gardening there. The soil is heavy clay and the children can play tennis or dribble a basketball on it as easily as they do the driveway. We had to come up with a better option if we wanted to raise our own produce.
The front yard was much more attractive. But a vegetable garden in the front yard? We decided to try it. It was only slightly successful until we tried the square foot gardening method. There are several books on this technique at the local library. They are generally called by the very creative name of "Square Foot Gardening".

One of my most valuable resources is helpful children. They are handy when the manure and soil need to be worked in. I am good at planning, planting and weeding. I don't do as well with the shovel work.

Our beds are 4'x8-10'. You never want a raised bed wider than 4 feet. At this width you can easily reach in and weed from both sides without compressing the soil. We add mulch, wood ash and aged manure to our beds annually. We also try never to plant plants from the same family in the same soil more than two years in a row. Different plant families take different nutrients out of the soil and put others back. The above bed contains our first planting of lettuce. We were a bit late this year, our gardening juices didn't get flowing early enough. There are also some volunteer lettuce plants that we chose to leave for now.

We leave lawn mower distance between the beds to keep it easy to trim and look nice. We have nails along the boards that contain the dirt. They are spaced every foot. We then wrap string around them across the beds to form squares that are1'x1', Hence the name 'Square foot gardening'. If you look closely in the above picture, you can see the string forming the squares. We remove the string to mulch and till in the spring and then put it back before we plant. The books will tell you how many plants to put in per square foot. The closer bed is our herb bed. It contains the perennials, sage, thyme, parsley, and oregano. Our dill reseeds so we don't disturb it. I will put in lots of basil and a rosemary plant. We generally start our own plants, but this year we were lazy. If you shop around you can mix and match flats to get about the number of plants you need without buying a bunch of seed packets. I think it costs about the same. It is definitely a lot less work.

We do have one narrow bed that we use for peas early in the spring and then switch it to cucumbers when the peas are done. We also will then plant a crop of lettuce there when that is done. We try and plant lettuce about every 10-14 days so that we don't have to buy it from the store in the summer. You do have to be aware of where the sun is and how tall your plants will grow when planting your garden. Plant the shorter plants towards the south and taller ones to the north. Plant lettuce in the shade of a tall plant in the summer. We do have one bed that we have mixed in a lot of sand in so that we can grow root veggies there.
We'd love your ideas and questions re gardening, especially the square foot variety.

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