Thursday, April 30, 2009

Making Square Foot Beds and this week in our garden

Well, I can't take much credit for the building of our Square Foot Beds in the back yard since I was hit with a terrible stomach flu the day they were made! We were blessed to have some of RJ's students over to help and I vaguely remembering wandering out once to mutter something about keeping the soil moist as they mixed it, getting strange looks, and going back to bed.

But I can tell you the book (All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew) has very detailed instructions on making the beds, the right soil, seed sowing, plant spacing and more.

The Boxes:

We bought 2 pine 2x6 lumber boards for each bed, sawed them in half, and used a drill to attach them with wood screws. We then laid down Weed Block so we didn't have to dig out the grass. The beds were filled with our own version of Mel's Mix.

Here is one cost-comparison for making the boxes. For those who think just planting seeds is ambitious, you can buy the boxes here.

The Soil Mel recommends:
* 1/3 Peat Moss – available at any garden center or supermarket. It expands to double its size in the bag
* 1/3 Vermiculite – Buy the coarse grade in large 4 cubic-foot bags at any garden center.
* 1/3 Compost – Buy bags of it at the garden center to get started, but make your own as soon as possible.

We decided to skip the Vermiculite after talking with our local gardening center expert. It was expensive and he said it really wasn't necessary. For compost, we did purchase a few bags of different types of compost/manure since Mel recommends using 5 different types, but we mainly used free compost from our local county, which saved us a bunch of money. We hope to stock up so that for the rest of the season we won't have to buy compost. And maybe, just maybe, by the end of the summer, we will have our compost heap going!

The book explains that such rich soil should not need any fertilizer so we will wait and see. But we will use organic fertilizer if we have too.
I like Organic!

The Grid:

The beds are then divided into square feet. We used Wood Lathe Board (they come 4 feet long!) and followed the plant spacing guide in the book and found on one easy page on Emily's site at My Square Foot Garden. (What I also loved about Emily's site this Spring was getting her emails about when to plant. After you determine your color based on your hardiness zone, she will send you weekly emails about what to plant when!)

Lettuce and Spinach-4 to a square!
Plant Spacing:

Emily explains plant spacing in this way:

"To calculate how many plants per square, look on the back of the seed packet–totally ignore the row spacing, just look at the plant spacing:

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

Chard seedlings, 4 to a square
Peas, 9 to a square
The Cages:

The cages were made with 1x2 inch pine lumber boards, cut and attached in the same way as the boxes. We used our staple gun to attach the chicken wire to the frame. We bought 1" chicken wire which was difficult to work with, but we figured it only had to be done once and would ensure that even the tiniest of bunnies couldn't get in!

The cages were sturdy enough that on frosty nights I could throw a blanket over to protect the seedlings.

Location of boxes:

1. Close to the house for convenience.
2. Pick an area that gets 6-8 hours of sunshine a day.
3. Stay clear of trees or other structures that may shade the bed.
4. The area shouldn't puddle after a heavy rain.

Vertical Frames:
One last catch to growing lots of vegetables in one 4x4 plot is growing plants up. We still don't have our vertical frames but our peas are so big that we need them soon. I'm not exactly sure if we will try to build our own, just use trellis or purchase frames. I'll update next week!

So I hope that shows that even if you have a small backyard like us you can still grow lots of veggies!! It's not too late to start now!

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