Friday, May 11, 2012

Adventures in Gardening Part One: Can I really grow my own vegetables?

Now that I am eating clean and organic, a large portion of my grocery bill consists of produce. This summer I knew that I wanted to attempt to get some of my produce locally and so I started looking into CSA’s (community supported agriculture) and farmers’ markets in the area. While I think CSA’s are fantastic, I decided not to purchase a share in one because I was afraid it would be a waste of money since I doubted I could eat a whole “share” and I was not thrilled with the idea of not being able to select which produce I wanted each week- I really did not have any interest in getting loads of turnips or radishes or other things that I do not eat regularly.  While there are a lot of farmer’s markets in the area, with my busy schedule I was not sure I would always be able to get there during open hours.   After dismissing the idea of growing my own vegetables about 15 times (after all, I am the girl who could not even keep the potted pansies on her front porch alive) I realized that it was ridiculous to not try something because I was afraid to fail so I decided to try it!

Next I had to figure out how to actually start and grow a garden! When I hear the word “gardening” images of little old ladies in big floppy hats snipping flowers with pruning shears pop in my mind. Needless to say, this is not the type of gardening I was envisioning! While I was excited to try to grow my own vegetables and herbs, I recognized that I did not have hours to spend every day weeding and watering and I was not convinced I wanted to rototill up a huge section of my lawn for a traditional garden. Luckily, a friend pointed me in the direction of Mel Bartholomew’s book “All New Square Foot Gardening.”

What is Square Foot Gardening?

One of my 4x4x6 boxes, my brother used twine to map out the 16 squares of the grid

The basic premise of square foot gardening is that the old traditional way of gardening is inefficient for individual or home consumption gardening. I love some of the questions Mel asked himself which led to his development of the square foot gardening method:
  • Why do planting instructions on packages of seeds direct the gardener to pour out an entire packet along a row only to have you later go back and tear out 95% of the seeds you planted once they sprout? It is a terrible waste of seeds and time and work- all useless unnecessary work. (Amen, I thought as I read that) 
  • Why plant an entire row of everything? Just because my garden is 30 feet long for example, do I really want or need a whole row of cabbages? Why would I want 30 cabbages to ripen all at the same time? How many people go to the grocery store and buy 30 heads of cabbage once a year?  (Not me!)
  • When told that the reason that a 3 foot aisle was required on both sides of the planted row was so there was room to get into the garden to hoe the weeds, Mel  responded with “But I don’t want to hoe the weeds, that’s too much work.” (Preach on Brother Mel!:) 
Mel then used his expertise as an efficiency engineer to create the square foot method which has the following benefits::
View of the three boxes from my kitchen window
  •    A square foot 4x4 foot layout produces 100% of the harvest in only 20% of the space
  •    A smaller confined space drastically reduces the amount of weeds and the time needed to water, making gardening enjoyable and less of a chore
  • You no longer have to spend years trying to amend your existing soil
  • There is no need to use chemical fertilizers (so no ruining your nutritious vegetables with potentially cancer causing agents!). 
  • By mapping out 16 individual 1x1 squares within the 4x4 box, you are able to grow a wide variety of plants, allowing for crop rotation, staggered harvests and three distinct growing seasons
This was exactly the type of garden I was looking for and after talking to one of my best friends Katie, we decided that we would attempt this endeavor together and start out with two 4x4x6 square foot gardens. I made a list of all of the things I needed to accomplish before I could actually begin to plant my garden:

Brayden helping to measure and tape the cardboard
  •  Buy or build the boxes (These are super easy to make! My brother made me two 4x4x6 boxes plus a bonus 2x2x6 strawberry patch box for $31! Just remember to use untreated lumber, you do not want the chemicals from treated lumber to seep into the soil)
  • Decide where to locate the gardens (I chose a location where they would get a lot of sun, but also where I could see them from my kitchen window so I could enjoy and monitor them easily) 
  •  Make a cardboard barrier for the base of the boxes to prevent grass and weeds from creeping through (A great way to use up all of the extra boxes in my garage!)
  • Purchase ingredients to make “Mel’s Mix” soil (peat moss/vermiculite/compost)
  • Figure out what crops to plant and where to space them in the garden (will be discussed further in next week’s post)
  •  Locate local farms and greenhouses where I could purchase seeds/plants (this was a great experience- I discovered an awesome family farm  The Feed Barn and a great non-chain local garden center Pipkin's Market
Once all of that was accomplished it was time to move on to the next step! Check back next week for Carrie’s Adventures in Gardening: Planning, Purchasing and Playing in Manure!

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