By the beginning of July things had come in impressively. Just about all of the seeds had taken. And, the pumpkin that came home from kindergarten had outgrown its box. Since when do school plants actually grow!?
We missed the June strawberry season. There weren’t many berries and I think those that did form got eaten by chipmunks.
We had a steady supply of green beans.
I also set up a sprinkler because our amazingly wet, but not too wet, and cool, but not cold, spring had given way to summer heat.
The peas grew nicely up their trellis. The carrots and pumpkin competed for space. The pumpkin began its takeover down the wall. And, the corn came in shockingly well. It’s not Field of Dreams, but it’s an orderly square of corn stalks.
By late May there were sprouts everywhere.
In the near box corn is sprouting from seed. In the far box the strawberry plants took well. We didn’t get very many strawberries though. I don’t know if that’s because its the first year or because the chipmunks got them first.
Apologies for the shadows; the glare wasn’t letting me take decent pictures away from the house in the other direction.
The near box has carrots sprouting. The trellis is up for tomatoes to be added later. It will later become clear that this trellis needs to be better supported or we need a different support plan altogether next year.
The far box shows a great deal of arugula, spinach,
and broccoli. Peas are sprouting behind the broccoli and will eventually grow up that trellis. While the trellis is strong enough to support peas, putting them behind the broccoli proved to be a poor decision. Plantings will be moved around next year.
Finally, the last two boxes have a similar look.
The near box has a healthy dose of broccoli and parsley. The swiss chard and lettuce are just getting started. In the far box, beans are sprouting from seeds and there are some open spaces for peppers once it warms up.
Next year I think I’ll plan to put peppers in to replace the broccoli. That will free up additional squares for greater productivity. And, it turned out everything went on sale at the nursery at the start of June so there really wasn’t any benefit to buying warm weather plants earlier. But, by then its too hot for broccoli.
By the middle of May, seeds had started to sprout. Everything looked so organized!
We had tiny carrot tops.
The second box contains purchased cucumber (back left) and broccoli plants. There is arugula grown from seed in the front right. There are two boxes of spinach grown from seed. The peas behind the broccoli were grown from seed too. Being behind the broccoli would prove to be a problem later.
The last box has more broccoli, celery, and parsley – all purchased. Swiss chard seeds have sprouted in the front left. Lettuce from seed is growing in the front right.
Three boxes remain empty. One has corn seeds, but there’s nothing to see. The others will get strawberries and peppers/beans when it gets warmer.
We had a small garden in our previous house. It was an L-shaped raised bed into which we planted rather random things every year. At some point I converted half of it to strawberries, but the rest was always random. Frankly, beyond strawberries, the thing that had grown best there was celery.
After we moved, the kids started asking for a garden again. It took three years, but it finally happened. Each year I thought I knew where it should go and each year I reconsidered for one reason or another. In the end it ended up on a ledge stepping from the front yard to the side of the house. It gets truly full sun so I was a little worried about the plants getting burned from the heat reflecting off the rock wall, but that doesn’t seem to be an issue.
This time I read Mel Bartholomew’s book All New Square Foot Gardening and made a plan. It hasn’t all necessarily worked to plan, but the whole thing was definitely much more organized than previously. The book recommends 4 ft by 4 ft boxes. Those would have overlapped with the rocks so we went with 4 ft wide and 3 ft deep boxes. Six boxes spaced nicely.
I spent $170.56 on 1″x6′ cedar boards that I had the lumber yard cut to 4′ and 3′ lengths. These were screwed together using screws we already had to make eight six-inch boxes. Two of these were stacked on top of other boxes to make two twelve-inch boxes using four joiners (two per box) that cost an additional $2.80. That brought the total for the boxes themselves to $173.36.
The ledge already had landscaping fabric and mulch. So, after confirming the placement of the boxes, I moved them out of the way, scraped off the mulch, made some effort to level the area (not fully, but some places were rather sloped, and replaced the boxes. Then I spread the extra mulch around the boxes.
Mel recommends a mix of vermiculite, peat moss, and five types of compost. The math worked out better for four types of soil/compost though, so that’s what I did. Two blocks of peat moss cost $10.97 at Lowe’s while four our bags of vermiculite cost $83.88 at Home Depot. The compost mix included six bags of Coop Poop for $57.00, four bags of cow manure for $19.92, four bags of top soil for $13.32, and four bags of organic bed soil for $39.92. That brought the fill total to $130.16. I also spent $7.77 on twisted mason line to divide the squares, bringing my total for box construction to $406.14. Clearly one would need to maintain a garden for a few years for this to be a cost effective way of procuring food! But, this was supposed to be more of a fun project for us; feeding us was not the primary goal.
I laid a tarp out on the grass above the boxes and mixed the fill in four batches. This was by far the hardest part of the prep work. I shoveled the mixed fill into five gallon buckets and dumped them over the edge into the boxes. When I got to the very end, I enlisted some help to slide the tarp over and dump the remaining fill directly.
I failed to take a picture of the filled boxes, but you can imagine. Plus, we’ll get you a picture next week when we start seeing the planting process. The build started in mid-March with the boxes filled on April 11. But, it was another week before I planted anything and even then we fought some frost for yet another week.
Tonight I harvested an entire salad – lettuce, celery, carrots, and cucumbers! That, plus the peas that went into the main dish made for an interesting discussion at dinner.
This was year one. So, over the next few Thursdays I’ll go back to the beginning and bring you up to speed as to where we are now including costs, space, and plantings.
In the meantime, I have learned a few things so far:
- Do not plant peas and broccoli next to each other. When I pulled out the spent broccoli plants, I lost a few pea plants that had hooked onto them.
- Celery doesn’t like this space. We had a smaller garden at a previous house that celery did very well in. But, this space is much sunnier.
- The chipmunks like our strawberries. We’ve gotten next to none to reach edible stage intact. Interestingly, they haven’t touched anything else.
- I need brackets for the vertical supports. That’s probably obvious from the picture. My first pass didn’t quite work, but I have a new plan (most likely for the fall when we have better access).
- The pumpkin plant is taking over. The above pictures were taken a week ago. It’s gone way further since then. Pumpkin was not in my original plan, but our kindergartner brought one home from school and the carrots hadn’t taken in one square so I threw it in. Thankfully its not taking over anything really important.
- I gave up on watering one square at a time as needed. Hence, the sprinkler in the picture.
So, there’s a sneak peak. We’re getting way more produce than I thought we would when we started. Some things we will plant less of next year; some things we’ll plant more.
I read Mel Bartholomew’s book and took square foot gardening rather literally. We have six boxes that are 4′ by 3′. Honestly, I think this is plenty for us even though his book states this should only cover the adults. Either way it fits the space well so I’m not feeling the need to expand any time soon.