Square Foot Gardening

Monday, July 2, 2012

I have been meaning to write this post for a month, but I'm just now getting around to it. Oops.

Back when we still lived in our condo, one of the things I looked forward to most about moving to a house was the opportunity to try my hand at growing my own vegetables in the summer months. This winter, as we got closer and closer to spring, I began thinking about a veggie garden. But I had no idea what I was doing.

And honestly, I still don't really know what I'm doing. But I'm experimenting, I suppose. Experimenting with guidance, because I did do SOME research, after all.

I had heard a lot of good things about raised garden beds and the method of square foot gardening. I had good intentions to buy Mel Bartholomew's book on the subject, but uh... I never got around to it. Instead, I asked a lot of questions of friends and did a LOT of Googling.

We bought a raised garden bed kit (4' x 4') at Home Depot for around $30. Then I used Mel's soil mix "recipe"--1/3 part peat moss, 1/3 part vermiculite, 1/3 part compost. I got all of my soil supplies at a local gardening store. To fill our garden bed, I think I ended up with about 10 cu. ft. of material. I mixed up the soil (eyeballing the amounts) in batches in our wheelbarrow, then filled the garden bed. Not before debating for weeks about where to put the garden bed, though.

We have a very shady yard. Our house faces south, so our "side yards" (which we don't really have very much of) would get the most sun, except that the light tends to be blocked by neighbors' houses. Our front and backyards have a lot of trees (which we love), so it's just... shady. For best results, veggie plants need approximately 6 hours of sunlight a day, so we needed to figure out where in our yard that was possible. We debated between 2-3 locations, and observed the sunlight different times of day, trying to determine which area was best. It was sort of hard, as we were doing this in May, when the trees out back were starting to fill in with leaves again, but certainly weren't as full as they are now!

We finally settled on an area behind our garage, and got busy. We laid scrap cardboard out to block weeds/kill the grass, and put our garden bed kit on top of it. Once filled with soil, I sectioned off each square foot of the garden with string so that I would have a guide for planting.

Then, I just needed plants.

I decided from the beginning that I had no interest in growing anything from seed. Call me lazy, but I would rather leave the seedlings up to somebody else. So, I set out to pick up a variety of veggie plants--from our farmer's market, from our local gardening stores, and I even picked up one from Home Depot. Then, I needed a plan for planting--so I mapped out the locations of each of the plants in the bed on a piece of paper.

Anyway, I'm sure you want pictures, yes? Unfortunately, I didn't take many, but here's what my little garden looked like at the beginning:

This is actually before I even bought the zucchini and cucumber plants! Pictured above are six square feet of broccoli plants, one red pepper plant, four basil plants, and two tomato plants (one beefsteak, one lemon boy). The tomato plants have the little ring thingies (see? I'm such an expert) to help support them as they grow. The plant in the pot is a strawberry plant. Within a few days of this photo, I added three zucchini plants (occupying one full sq. ft. each) and four cucumber plants (two per sq. ft.) to fill up the rest of the garden bed.

At first, I watered daily. Then, I read that it's best to do a deep watering, but less often, so now I've been watering every 2-3 days (mostly every other day, since it has been hot and dry here).

Five weeks later, I've got this:
Woot woot! Most of our veggies are singing. But our grass--well, our grass is crying. Poor grass. Did I mention it has been REALLY dry here? Also, don't mind the wheelbarrow full of kindling in the background.

ANYWAY. Here's a closer look at each plant.
Our red pepper plant has had this baby bell pepper on it for a few weeks now. It doesn't seem to be growing very quickly, but maybe this is to be expected. At one point, it had a bunch of flowers on it, which I thought would turn into a bunch of peppers, but alas, only one. The rest of the flowers are nowhere to be found anymore. I don't know, maybe we'll only get one pepper out of this guy. I'm holding out hope, though!

Side note: Funny story about my inexperience as a gardener. At one point during my Google adventures, I read something about how you're supposed to prune the flowers off of the plants so that all of the plant's "energy" is focused on growing the fruit, not the flowers. So, when this pepper plant started flowering (it was the first to do so), I actually almost cut off the flowers! I was too chicken to do it, though, and it's a good thing--since I now know that THE FLOWERS TURN INTO THE VEGETABLES.
Here's a shot of a couple of our zucchini plants (we planted three). My father-in-law is in disbelief that we dared to put zucchini plants in a small garden bed like this because he's convinced that they'll overtake everything else. And, well, maybe they will. We shall see. Somehow I need to try to keep them contained as they grow--I think I can trim back the leafy parts, yes? Anyone with gardening experience care to share some expertise?

The zucchini plants are currently flowering like crazy--the flowers are really pretty when they're open during the day! I noticed tonight that one of the plant's flowers are starting to shrivel up and fall off so I'm hoping to get some zucchini babies soon!
Here is an above shot of our six broccoli plants. As you can see, some of them are doing better than others. I'm pretty convinced that the one in the bottom middle square isn't going to make it. Poor thing. Also, you can probably see that something is chewing the hell out of the leaves on my broccoli plants. Everything else appears to be untouched, but whatever it is sure likes broccoli. I'm not stressing about it too much since the leaves aren't the part we're planning to eat. Unless someone tells me I should be stressing about it. Should I be? Anyway, no signs of baby broccoli crowns yet. Fingers crossed.

Oh, you can also see the little yellow spots forming on my zucchini plant leaves in this pic. All of them have it, but I have no idea what it is. Thoughts?
Cucumbers! I had some trouble with these guys, as one of the plants didn't survive transplant. But, I replaced him quickly to give another guy a chance. These haven't been springing up as quickly as other things, so I was starting to get worried about them all. But tonight I noticed that they are starting to form small flower buds, so YAY! I think they're on their way.
Tomato plants are awesome. It's so satisfying to grow them because I swear, it seems like they've grown another few inches every day that I go out there. And we've noticed a TON of flowers forming on them that we're hoping will result in lots o' tomatoes.
I was diligently checking for tomato babies every day for a couple of weeks--to no avail--but then suddenly BOOM! Within the last few days, we've sprouted babies!! Two days ago, we had two tomato babies, and as of tonight, we have SEVEN. I am so excited!
Last, but not least--basil. I had plans to grow more herbs this year, in separate pots, but didn't get around to buying or planting them. But at least we've got basil, because this family? We like pesto. A lot of pesto. I've actually already harvested enough basil off of these plants--twice--to make a full batch of pesto. I've stolen various amounts of leaves for other recipes calling for fresh basil, too. In fact, this picture doesn't do my basil plants justice because I just harvested leaves to make pesto on Saturday, so the bounty has been significantly depleted. Needless to say, basil is doing really well.

I forgot to take a photo of my strawberry plant, but it's pretty boring because I swear it has not changed AT ALL. I am not holding out very much hope that we'll be seeing any strawberries this year. Boo.

So that is my gardening experience so far. I've gotten a pretty big kick out of it and am pleased with our success so far. Assuming things continue going well, I want to expand the veggie garden next year--by at least one, if not two more garden beds. Imagine the possibilities! Wheeee!

What are you growing this year? What has been successful? Any failures? Any inexperienced gardeners out there with funny stories like mine (almost cutting off the flowers)? Do you have any comments or tips based on what you're seeing in my little ol' garden here?


Life of a Doctor's Wife July 3, 2012 at 9:52 AM  

I am just like you - experimenting. Without really knowing ANYTHING. But man is it gratifying to see something grow! I have a few little bell peppers that look like yours - they grow a little bit every day which is SO exciting! And some of my tomatoes are actually turning RED! Three of the cherry tomatoes were ripe enough to pick and my husband tried one the other day. How are you keeping critters away from your plants though? I swear, the birds and chipmunks keep snacking on my strawberries and I'm afraid for the tomatoes.

Ashley,  July 3, 2012 at 10:10 AM  

From what we heard, strawberries can take like a year to really get good fruit off of them, but I'm not sure if that's true or not...

Becky July 3, 2012 at 1:30 PM  

We're growing one tomato plant this year. I swear that thing is like a weed!

Lucianna July 3, 2012 at 3:25 PM  

Wow, impressive! I like mixing lots of vegetables in the same garden and seeing what happens.
We had a tomato plant that had one nice sized fruit on it for awhile and no other flowers were developing - eventually we picked it when it was too early because some animal was eating it and then right after lots more flowers grew and lots of fruits - maybe that would help with your pepper?
Also, regarding the broccoli plants and the bugs eating those - I guess I wouldn't worry unless/until they are really decimating the leaves. If the leaves are too torn up,they might not be able to do their photosynthesis work, then the entire plant will suffer and the vegetables might not grow too well.

Brooke Kordas,  July 3, 2012 at 4:47 PM  

I've had gardens of various sizes (and my grandfather had a home garden that was 1 acre that I helped with when I grew up.) It looks like something is munching on some of your leaves. The zucchini would do MUCH better being outside of that contained area. They get bigger ; the bigger they get the more 'fruit' (veggies) you'll have. And, I've found having more than 1 of a certain kind of veggie is better, as they tend to cross multiply better. I've had everything from watermelons, peppers of various varieties (the banana peppers did better for me), tomatoes of all sorts, yellow squash, zucchini, cucumbers, green beans, etc. And, remember there are bush green beans (and bush varieties of other veggies) that are in my opinion better because they do not need a trellis to climb. Good luck ! Nothing better than fresh veggies that you grew yourself !

Anonymous,  July 3, 2012 at 7:24 PM  

Great job! This is the Boy and my 3rd year of container gardening on our rooftop patio and while our plants would love a good rain - they've been loving the heat! We've got mad yields this year, way better than anything we've had in the past. A tip for your tomato plants, once the flowers have started to really yield tomatoes cut off the LEAVES that are on that branch. That way the plant's energy will go to the fruit and you won't be staring at green tomatoes for weeks. We have so much fun with our veggie garden especially since - like you - we have no worries if we produce or not. We're happy with whatever we get and this year - things are booming!

Julie,  July 3, 2012 at 8:56 PM  

We have a hobby farm(mainly to house our landscaping business equipment), but I have about an acre garden that did pretty bad last year because I didn't take care of it (except the tomatoes and eggplant did awesome), this year my cucumber plants are huge and budding out nicely, my squash plants and tomato plants are doing great as well (I got a couple of yellow squash and zucchini so far, but only green tomatoes so far) The hot peppers are doing okay but the bell peppers are struggling. I also have gotten quite a bit of broccoli and my cabbage is doing good, as well as the pumpkin plants are doing good. The eggplant are all getting eaten by a little black bug- I have tried spraying them with organic neem oil, but they are still there- I am going go try a Tabasco mixture next. I have actually found that starting my squash and other plants from seed works really well and I don't have to deal with some dying from transportation shock- plus its a lot cheaper!

Anonymous,  July 3, 2012 at 10:49 PM  

It'll take a year or two to get strawberries, but they're totally worth it! :)

Lawn Mowing Brisbane July 6, 2012 at 6:25 AM  

I too tried planting some plants like potato and carrot at my backyard and failed to succeed at the beginning. Felt very sad for it. Then got some tips from my neighbors and friends. Collected more information on it. Now i have succeed in growing many plants.

Kelly July 16, 2012 at 7:11 PM  

The crazy heat this year is really zapping the flower production of many plants. Even tomatoes which we think of as hot-weather plants need night temps below the mid 60's to keep the flowers coming. Additionally- if you are getting giant beautiful plants with little produce there is likely too much either organic material (compost) or it was too well fertilized at the start. The rule of thumb is to give them a half dose of either at the beginning and then feed again when they begin setting fruit- this way they don't just make tons of leaves. Aim for 5% organic material (you are currently at 33.3%). Don't be afraid to add some garden soil in with the substrate too- they really need the minerals. Keep your chin up though! No one can tell you exactly how you should do it- the fun part is trial and error, so you can be really proud of the successes!

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