Thursday, May 24, 2012

Adventures in Gardening Part 2: Planning, Planting and Playing in Manure!

Box #1 Strawberry Patch
Now that the location for my square foot gardens was chosen and the raised bed boxes were built (see Adventures in Gardening Part one) it was time to move on to the next steps in my gardening adventures: designing, filling, and planting the boxes!

Where, When, How and What to Plant:
I quickly learned that growing vegetables is a science which requires a lot of careful thought and planning! A huge thanks to Katrina Boylan for answering all my questions and guiding me in the right direction.  Here is a list of some things I had to consider in designing my square foot gardens:
  • Growing season: Certain plants thrive in cooler spring/fall weather and cannot tolerate heat, while others will die if planted when the weather is too cool
  •  Location within the squares: tomatoes, pole beans and anything that requires a trellis need to be placed on the north side of the bed so that they do not shade the rest of the plants and shorter plants (lettuce, carrots) should be placed close to the edges so they are easier to harvest
  • Seeds versus transplants: I chose to buy plants for the vegetables that required seed starting indoors (eggplant, tomatoes, peppers) and  for everything else I used seeds that could be planted straight into the garden
  • When to plant: the traditional advice is to wait to plant summer crops until after Mother’s Day when there is less of a chance of frost, but since our weather in Ohio has been unusually warm I was able to plant a little earlier.
  • Natural pest deterrents: Certain flowers such as marigolds and zinnias help deter pests (particularly rabbits!) so planting a few squares with these is a good idea if you want to have an organic, pesticide-free garden!

Finally, my major criteria in designing and laying out my beds was that I only wanted to plant vegetables that I enjoyed eating and which could be easily canned or stored if there was an overabundance. Here is the link if you want to see the final design of what I planted in each square:

Playing in Manure

One of the key aspects of square foot gardening is starting out with the proper soil mixture. To fill my boxes with the special “Mel’s Mix” that square foot gardeners recommend I needed 5 cubic feet of vermiculite, 5 cubic feet of peat moss, and
6 cubic feet of compost. One of my favorite things about the square foot gardening method is that I will only have the expense of purchasing the soil ingredients once- next year I will only have to add compost from my own newly started compost pile (look for a separate post on this soonJ ) to the already existing soil! To make Mel’s Mix you need to do the following:
  •  Lay out a tarp near the boxes
  •  Dump all of the bags of compost on the tarp (Mel recommends using 5 different types of compost to get the maximum nutrients, but I could only find 3)
  • Use a shovel/rake to mix the compost- you want to keep mixing until it is well blended and uniform
  • Next add the vermiculite and mix well (the vermiculite and peat moss are dusty, so if it is windy you may want to water it down a little or wear a painter’s mask)
  •  Add the peat moss and mix thoroughly
  • Fill the boxes with the  blended soil mixture (as Kate said, once you add the vermiculite and peat moss to the compost, it feels a lot less like you are playing in shit!) 
  • Once the boxes are filled to the top, use a hose and lightly water the mixture down (repeat this step a few times until the boxes are full)
  • Step back and admire your organic, nutritious soil and get ready to plant!
Brayden and I planting our carrots
Planting my garden was a breeze!  There was no digging in hard clay soil or pulling rocks out- seriously all we had to do was use our hands to scoop the soil apart, put the plant or seeds in, recover it with the soil, and then lightly water the base of the plant (I didn’t even drag the hose out- just used a bucket of water and a cheap water bottle!).  There are only a few things to remember when you are planting using the square foot method:
  •  Know how many plants to put in each square: extra large plants take up the whole square, large plants are planted 4 to a square, medium plants are planted 9 per square, and small are planted 16 to a square
  • If it is going to be a vegetable that requires staking or trellising, put the stake or trellis   in first so you don’t disturb the plants roots
  • Consider staggering your harvest by planting some of your peppers or tomatoes now and another batch in two weeks- that way you have a continual harvest instead of everything ripening at once.

Boxes 2 and 3
I cannot tell you how surprised I was at how easy it was to get the boxes ready and planted! Instead of spending an entire weekend toiling away, I was able to get this accomplished in just a few evenings after work- a total of 4 hours MAX!

Check back in a few weeks for an update post on how my garden is growing and whether my crops are still alive!


  1. This might be a dumb question...will your carrots have room to grow? Are they short carrots or do they just stop growing when they hit the bottom of the box?

  2. Sarah that is a GREAT question!!!!!! They are dwarf carrots, so they should only grow to about 6 inches- however if you wanted to grow taller ones, the book explains how to make a little removable 1x1 square to put on top of the box to make it taller