Monday, January 9, 2012

My Experiment With Square-Foot Gardening

Nasturtium, parsley, and carrots in front right bed. Zuccini and cukes in left hand bed.
One of my resolutions for 2011 was to try square-foot gardening, having read Mel Bartholomew's book on the subject. I posted about it here. I just spent a happy half-hour reading your comments on that posting (lovely comments from wonderful gardeners), and I feel I need to let you know how the experiment turned out, especially as I blogged very little about my kitchen garden during the year.

I have four raised beds in my kitchen garden, each measuring 4 feet by 8 feet. I couldn't grow much in them using the traditional single-row method.  There was a lot of wasted space, because each row was spaced as much as three feet apart. If the plant packet says thin to six inches apart, for example, you can plant four per square foot, according to Bartholomew. This means there are six inches all around each plant, with no need for the three-feet row space.

It is not square-foot gardening if you don't have a grid. The grids are easy to make yourself, according to the book, but H.H. and I decided to invest in ready-made ones, as we are not very 'handy' and had limited time -- they were a bit more expensive, but we can use them year-after-year. The grids made it easy for me to visualize the harvest.


Before laying down the grids, we prepared the soil. Bartholomew recommends building on top of the ground rather than digging, and this works for me because of the proximity of a walnut tree. The tree puts poison, juglone, into the soil killing tomatoes and other plants. (That is why we built raised beds in the first place.) Bartholomew's growing mix is 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 vermiculite, and 1/3 compost. I decided I couldn't afford to buy vermiculite, so I used two types of compost instead: my home-made compost and mushroom compost that I purchase from the garden center.

My Composter (I'd love one that you turn with a handle.)
And of course I added horse manure. My mini horse, Dude, may be tiny but he produces plenty of  'black gold'.


There is no need for fertilizer with this growing mix. As an organic gardener, this is important to me.

Planting the squares couldn't have been easier using the plant-spacing charts provided in Bartholomew's book.  I had started some plants indoors from seed, and planted them after the first frost. With seeds -- I planted just a pinch right in the ground. I planted peppers, beets, carrots, zucchini, cucumber, snow peas, bush beans, parsley and annual flowers (zinnias, marigolds, and nasturtiums) in the squares. I grew tomatoes, onions, and herbs in grow boxes.

Carrots, parsley, and nasturtium.

Peppers, marigolds, and beets.
Snow peas are planted vertically (in the bed behind the grow box). Bush beans in front.
Thinning the plants was easy. I just snipped off extra plants with scissors, as pulling them out would disturb the roots of the plants that I wanted to grow to maturity.

Beebalm, strawberries, and blueberries in the raised bed along the fence.
With true square-foot gardening you can grow a different crop in every square, then stagger the harvest. I have such a short growing season, I thought this would be too difficult. And I couldn't get away from my old method of planting like-veggies in each bed, then rotating the beds each year. I had intended planting lettuce and other salads in the fall, after the beans were harvested, but I was in England then.

Growing more was the biggest success of my experiment, especially for my canning purposes. Look at the two pictures of beets below:

Beets planted in traditional rows, though with less than 3 feet between.

Beets planted in squares.



2010's canned beets. I more than tripled the amount in 2011.

Overall it was a good harvest. The carrots were a bit small, but that may have been because a pesky rabbit repeatedly munched on the tops. So what will I do next year? I will definitely try square-foot gardening again. I would like to add vermiculite to my growing mix if I can afford it. I will plant a bigger variety and try staggering the harvest. It's fun pouring over the seed catalogs and planning!!

How was your 2010 vegetable garden?

Pamela x


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34 comments:

  1. A really interesting post, Pam. I have read about square foot gardening previously, and our local RHS garden, Harlow Carr, gardened this way for a while too. You can certainly see the difference in your two planting methods with the beets.

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  2. It is a great way to plant vegetables and it is wonderful that you production increased too. I like the neat appearance of the beds, they really make vegetables a garden feature.

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  3. What an inspiring post to see on a morning when a new seed catalog is at hand!

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  4. Great post. I like full gardens and since I don't have much space for vegetables, the square foot idea makes sense. Your veggie gardens look great.

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  5. Hello! Well I really like your method and your production is fantastic, I love growing vegetables but I´m not lucky at all, I´m going to try this. besos. Lilián.-

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  6. I have been using the square foot gardening method for a few years now and wouldn't to anything differant. I don't use grids, I just made a mark on the sides and ends of the framing and eye-ball the squares. I, too, have an increased yield with less work and water and really enjoy my garden.

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  7. Pam, I am bookmarking this post for future reference. I am in awe of your success with square-foot gardening! Adding some raised beds has been on my "wish list" for a couple of years; maybe I'll finally get a start this year. I haven't read Bartholomew's book, so the grids are something new to me. Wow, what a lot of beets you were able to grow this way! Thanks for such an informative post.

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  8. Pam, what a great and interesting idea that even grabs the attention of this non veg grower.

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  9. Pam, the detailed write - up gives us an idea about what to put in, how to do it, and what to expect. The pictures too have added clarity.
    In India too, this type of planting is gaining popularity. In terrace gardening , people are experimenting with great success.

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  10. Such an interesting post! I actually had just gotten that book from the library - I've heard so much about square foot gardening. Your's looks like it turned out great!

    Last year my veggie garden was a big fail due to location and not so great dirt. This year I'm all set to start anew!

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  11. Pam - Really useful post. I've grown my vegetables in compost bags, pots and flowerbeds, but the grid method looks ideal. I have to try it!

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  12. Pam, wonderful post on your veggies. (I was just thinking that my tiny veg plot has not made a blog appearance yet either.)

    This sf gardening looks like it has been wonderfully successful for you. I have not read the famous book yet, but have done some of my own experimenting with using lettuce and herbs tightly around my tomatoes. Growing the beans up through the tomatoes cages was not quite as slick as I thought it might be though. :)

    I hope you have a sunny window to enjoy today as you do more veg planning~
    Julie

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  13. What an amazing veg garden you have Pam! I am completely green with envy :)

    Please would you consider linking this post on Garden Bloggers Harvest Day? You can find it here:
    http://www.thegardeningblog.co.za/gardening/garden-bloggers-harvest-day-january/

    I hopw we will see more of your veg garden in future.

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  14. I am also amazed, like Christine!! You have such a beautifully laid out veggie garden. Your beet roots are amazing!! I would love to see more of it! Thanks again, Barbie.

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  15. Those beets are amazingly healthy looking. You did a beautiful job. I can see why you want to try it again.

    As lovely as your raised beds were, I must confess, Pam that I was lusting over your kitchen stove! What a gem.

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  16. I have the square foot raised beds but before we had our deer fence I gave up on vegetables and planted species hellebores. My goal for next year is to reclaim these beds slowly by selling and moving the hellebores. Your post has inspired me to persevere.

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  17. Pam I have never heard of that before. Looks like it was a success.

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  18. Pam, this looks great!! Love it.

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  19. Pam, A great post. I know many who garden in this method with the same awesome results. Thanks for sharing your experience. Such an encouragement to home gardeners!

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  20. Wow, this style is really neat, and even the vegies look like they are ornamentals. And they look like they don't have any enemies at all, not even a single bug!

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  21. Pam, it's so neat to see your lush, full garden beds from last years growing season. I read the book last year too and implemented many of the idea's too. I had the best garden to date. I was able to stagger some vegs like lettuce, radish and spinach. It was really nice for our fresh salads. Cheers, Jenni

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  22. What a beautiful garden! And I can't believe the difference - 3x!!!! Mel Bartholomew should be contacting you for your testimonial!

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  23. I used this method in the past when I had more room. It really is interesting to see how well it works. It makes wanting for more space.

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  24. Hi Pam,
    It sounds like a great way to increase your harvest! I wish you much success in your 2012 garden.
    Dude is a cutey.

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  25. Oh Pam,thanks for your kind words about my harvest, but it was pretty pathetic compared to your veggie garden, which is fantastic! I like your square foot gardening concept. It's like my container garden, only more spacious and more flexible because you can do true companion planting. I can't wait to read about your 2012 harvest. do keep us posted!

    oh--I had some pretty sad looking carrot myself. And Dude is cute!

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  26. wonderful harvest festival Pam, straight from the horses' mouth as it were (Dude would agree too!) Like the borders that blend in with the veg garden and lure in the pollinators.
    p.s. why are raised beds so expensive - not fair on non handy non DIYers

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  27. Hello Pam. Your square foot garden beds are so impressive and show the hard work you and your husband must have put into them. I have raised beds, but I just rotate the crops each year. And I add compost, bat guano, chicken manure, and other organic substances to the beds each spring. As you do, I find it so rewarding to grow my own food.

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  28. My oh my, Pam, what a boutiful harvest! I love beets and was glad to see how your square foot method produced so much more. Your garden is beautiful, as well.

    Frances

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  29. Really interesting about the square foot gardening. Your veg look so tidy too!

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  30. It's so great to see your photos of square foot gardening. Your gardens look really full and productive, and also tidy! This is definitely a technique I need to read more about.

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  31. There are so many more possiblities when you've got a grid to work with - I think I would have a great time choosing from the seed cataglogue. I need to read more up on this!

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  32. How very interesting - I had not heard of this concept before - thanks for sharing it, and so well! And I'm glad for your success, too!

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  33. This is very encouraging. We're going to experiment with our first kitchen garden this year and have decided square foot gardening is the way to go. Just a couple of 4 foot x 4 foot squares I think. We'll see what we have room for. Congratulations on your harvest.

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  34. Hello. fantastic job. I did not imagine this. This is a great story. Thanks!
    Vento 500 Series Model 5309 Bb Flugelhorn

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