Monday, April 11, 2011

Gardening, Squared. [Part I]

Have you ever heard of Square Foot Gardening? It's a system of gardening invented by Mel Batholomew that promises to grow more veggies in less space with less work than traditional row gardens.

I recently bought his book on Amazon and am totally impressed. Each raised bed is either 2' wide or 4' wide, depending on its placement. If you were to grow something along a fence or wall, you would build a box 2' wide. 4' wide boxes are for those with space to walk around the entire box. The idea is that the average person has a reach of about 2'. The box is then divided into squares. Each square is for a different crop. The growing medium inside the box is a special mix of 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 compost, and 1/3 vermiculite. This mix is soft and friable and full of nutrients. Because of the high amount of compost, there is no need to fertilize. And because you're not using any of the existing soil, the weeds will be at a minimum (the verdict is still out on that... I'll let you know how it goes).

Here's how we got started:

1. First we picked the only spot in our backyard that gets 6-8 hours of sun a day. This spot is at the far back corner, not ideal. If you have a good, sunny spot closer to your back door, use it.

2. Boxes. We used 2"x6" untreated lumber to build our boxes. We built 3 4'x4' boxes, so I bought 6 2x6 boards and had them cut in half (at Home Depot they are 8' long), totaling 12 boards. I also bought some thin wood for the grid on top and had that cut as well. You need 6 4' pieces per box.

Each box is held together with 3 3" wood screws at each corner.

3. Placement. Find your best spot and move your boxes around until you're happy. Make sure to leave at least 3' in between each box for you to walk. After finding the right placement, remove all the existing weeds and grass (or have your husband do it for you). We used a hoe and metal garden rake for this task (yes, WE).

4. Weed cloth. Lay a piece or two of weed cloth under each box to guard off any invaders. This job is easier with a baby cooing in the background.

5. Mel's Mix. This is the name for the growing medium. 1/3 compost, 1/3 peat moss, and 1/3 vermiculite. You can find this at just about any garden center, however you may need to go to a REAL garden center or nursery for the larger packages (this will save you a money).

When selecting your compost, try to get as many different ones you can. Don't get all Black Kow or all mushroom compost, date around.

Peat moss will come in 3.7 cu ft compressed bales, that's what you want. Not the smaller bags.

The vermiculite is sold in 4 cu ft bags. Don't buy the small bags, go big or go home.

For our 3 boxes, we needed a total of 24 cu ft of Mel's Mix. We bought 8 cu ft of compost (each bag will say how many cubic feet it is, if it doesn't, compare it to a bag that does), 7.5 cu ft of peat moss, and 8 cu ft of vermiculite.

We laid it all out on a tarp and mixed and mixed. This tarp thing was the method Mel Bartholomew recommended in his book, however, if I could do it all over, I would pour my components directly into the boxes and mix individually.

Once mixed, shovel a layer at the bottom of your box and use a hose with a soft spray nozzle to wet it down. Do this 3 more times, filling the box.

6. Once filled, build your grid by using a measuring tape or yard stick to mark off each foot and nail or screw in place.

Next week I'll show you how I planted my boxes and what we decided to grow.

1 comment:

  1. I have that book! I think his method is amazing! I can't wait to have a backyard so I can begin the gardening process :)