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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Square Foot Gardening in 2013

I wasn't really happy with how haphazardly last year's garden was laid out.  In reality, if I saw something that look fun, I stuck it into the ground somewhere.
So this year, I've spent a great deal of time planing Companion Planting and Square Foot Gardening.  Why?
- Sq ft gardening makes much better use of small spaces.  And because your soil is well amended, it can support more plants per ft than an unimproved bare patch of dirt.
- Most plants seem to grow better (for me anyway) in clumps instead of rows.
- Companion plants improve the taste, increases productivity, and/or controls pests of your veggies.  And you end up with a crop of herbs or beautiful flowers to boot.
- Companion plants are all things I want to plant somewhere anyway... might as well put them in where they can do double duty.
In the end, I came up with this truly overwhelming design.  This translated into an equally overwhelming pile of seeds that I picked up from Walmart.  Slight rabbit trail.  I had a fully populated shopping cart with one of the online, heirloom seed companies, equaling several hundred dollars.  Just before I purchased them, I was cruising through the aisles of Walmart to find these same heirloom seeds for $0.50 a packet vs $3-6 a packet plus shipping.  I'm all for paying a bit more to support the small guy, but when you get into that much of a price difference, it's time for you to get a better business model.
Onto the Spring 2013 garden plan.
Spring 2013 Plan
In addition to the two existing 4x8' beds, the new plan calls for three new 4x12' beds.  I can't put into words just how much work it is to prepare just one 4x12' bed with nothing but a shovel and a wheelbarrow, then to improve the heavy clay soil by hand mixing it with bagged compost and peat moss (or coconut coir... cool stuff).  But it took me about a week, working 1-2 hours a day to get ready to plant.
Was it worth it?  Every second!

Square Foot Gardening Template
First off, the soil mix of 1 part composted manure : 1 part peat moss : 2-3 parts clay has a much more appealing look that last year's beds (which were still very red in color).
Second, the soil is actually workable instead of being a big wet goopy mess.

So I measured and staked off my squares and started planting.  I can't shake the weird feeling of not putting my carrots into a row, or freaking out that everything is planted too close, but I'm going to stick with it and see what happens.

If this works, the output would be incredible (from my row growing point of view).  In a single 4x4 square, you could produce 128 ears of corn (assuming you get 2 ears per stalk).  Or for bush beans where you can grow 9 in 1 sq ft.  Or the most interesting of all... squash, pumpkins, and melons where you can grow one in a 1'x2' rectangle .. if you trellis them.  My experiment with trellising summer squash worked well last year, though I'll need to use a more sturdy frame for the larger fruits.  We'll see what happens!

Update: 4/26/2013
Finally got the last bed in place.  Fun fact, between the three beds I've dug, moved, dumped, scooped up again, mixed with organic matter, moved back, and raked over 8 tons of earth.  What a good shovel and wheelbarrow :)

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