Sometimes I wonder how a girl from The Emerald City could not have a natural green thumb, but I refuse to throw in the towel. I may not be the greatest at yard work, but I love my gardens!
Over the years I’ve tried to keep plants in the house. They die. Some live for a few months, but eventually they die. I’ve also tried gardening outside.
Here’s the plain truth. I’m a city girl and a geek. I hate dirt under my nails. I’m not the most outdoorsy. I don’t want to mow the lawn, hang around outside, or any of that. I can actually be quite reclusive. That said, I love the pleasure of growing things in a garden.
Sometimes I put a lot of thought and effort into gardening while other times I’ll just hit the store and go “Ooooh pretty!” OK, there’s generally more of the latter than the former.
This year, though, I have a plan. The plan is called: The Square Foot Garden. Or in my case, The Three Square Foot Gardens.
Tis the season to think growing! Spring is finally in the air, and none too soon if you ask me. This winter took for-stinking-ever to pass.
As you know, I bought a new house last year. I bought it not because the house is awesome but because of the fantabulous gigantic back yard. Seriously, I looked out the back window and my heart fluttered. There’s a half acre almost to this lot. It backs to trees. There’s a fence so I can go out there and not see my neighbours yards.
You can’t get much better than this for suburbia or the city.
My friend introduced me to the square foot gardening name which I quickly recognized as the sort of gardening my father prefers. He studied agronomy at Va Tech as well as grew up on our family farm. He knows his stuff, so I knew this square foot gardening deal equaled out to a great deal.
We started out indoors. Our area still frosts through parts of April. Why wait? I couldn’t! The boys and I sat down and pulled out some seeds from a friend. Planting time!
First you need to make sure to label your plants. Wouldn’t want to mistake what you are growing for something else! Could make for some interesting cooking, right?
The boys came up with our labeling system for our sprouting box. They used some mini dowels we’d purchased for some random school project that we’d forgotten about. Great idea!
We used sprouting boxes to help our seeds grow. The real cool thing about this was we got to truly watch the water cycle in progress! Talk about your learning opportunity!
I sat the boys down and explained this whole square foot gardening idea to them after we planted some seeds. There’s loads of information on the web about it, but basically you make a square garden and block it off into one foot by one foot squares. You then plant all of one type of plant in there. The next square you do a different plant. This allows for a greater quantity of produce in a smaller area.
The boys came up with everything we are planting. I asked what they wanted, and they told me. I put together a list and we determined we needed to make THREE boxes measuring four feet by four feet! That’s a lot of garden! There’s more I’d like to grow, but that seemed like an awful lot for year one!
Next up, we needed to make our boxes. Sir Megabyte and I went to the hardware store and picked up decking screws and boards. The menfolk then cut our boards and put together three beautiful boxes to plant in!
We chose where to put them and then we laid out newspaper on the ground. This will form a nice barrier between my soil mix and the yucky stuff underneath. Our back yard has a gradual slope, but we chose to be lazy and ignore it. Hopefully all will be well.
Isn’t that a nice looking box? We wet the newspaper to aid in the putting it down. Next up we needed dirt. We chose to go with a pure Mel’s Mix. (Mel is the “creator” of Square Foot Gardening and swears by this mix.) That meant I needed one part vermiculite, one part peat moss, and one part compost.
Vermiculite is a pain in the rump to find. And it’s expensive. Try over 20 bucks for 8 cubic feet and at one place in town. Ouch. Still, I wanted to stay true! Then it was the cheapest – peat moss. Lowes Hardware had the best price at roughly 10 bucks for a 4 cubic foot compressed bale. (That expands out to 8 cubic feet!) Finally I needed compost. Living off the Rappahannock River is a boon! I get great American history and river silt! River silt is probably the most awesome stuff for gardens on the planet. The Friends of the Rappahannock produce what they refer to as Rappahannock Gold. Best of all? CHEAP! Only $2.50 a bag! Of course I needed like eight bags, but that’s great!
The other issue I had was the size board I needed. I really only need my boxes to be about six inches deep. Now I read on CNN that backyard gardening is up by 30% this year. I guess ye olde “Victory Garden” is now referred to as “Inflation Garden”. Whatever, it’s Victory Garden forever for me – because it’s a victory to grow your own stuff! At least for me…
No six inch high boards, rats. So we went with a slightly taller board, but we needed to then add some bulk to our beds. Enter play sand. We bought some play sand and put it in our garden boxes and then added another layer of newspaper nice and thick.
This stuff sat in my yard for some time because I didn’t have a tarp big enough to mix it. I was finally able to coordinate with my friends for a “Dirt Mixer!”. And you thought it was messy going to a singles mixer? You ain’t seen nothing yet!
They brought over able bodies and the largest tarp I’ve ever in my life seen. We mixed up my dirt in two batches.
First we threw the various parts onto the tarp and kind of shoveled it around. (Is that even a verb? All’s fair in english and gardening!)
Here is everyone ready to roll! And by roll, I mean ROLL! We folded the tarp and everyone pulled with all their might. Rolling the dirt around and making it mix itself up!
Look at Joram working on pulling!
Caramon worked hard, too.
We put dirt into our boxes, and then came time to water. Yes, we made ourselves some nice dirt soup!
I used a ton of water in this. The kids watered away until I swear it really did look like soup!
Most of the water drained away, but it was needed to prepare the soil for taking plants. Now my garden boxes are done. Filled with dirt and ready to take in some plants!
Don’t they look great?
I am a little worried that I still have so much room between the dirt and the top of the boxes. I’m going to hope that I have more than enough sunshine to make up for it.
My next step is to get my hands on a staple gun so I can grid my boxes off into the one foot by one foot squares. For those who don’t want to do the math, each of my three boxes will hold sixteen squares. Four across, four down.
Some boxes hold a lot, like I can plant 16 spinach mustard into one square. Some squares only hold one thing, like a tomato plant.
We’re planning on a good mix of things. Roma tomatoes, Best Boy, green peppers, peas, strawberries, bush beans, cabbage, carrots, corn, etc. Some of our seeds are sprouting, some we still need to get. I’ve been seed trading with friends. Our little sprouts are so exciting!
The fun part of this is not only the seeing science in action, or watching our hard work pay off. It is learning about all the different types of vegetables out there. My family may have owned a farm for so many generations, but I don’t know about all these various veggies.
Someone gave us spinach mustard seeds. I had no idea such a thing existed! We’ve learned about the various bush beans. Silly us, we knew about navy beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, and green beans. Those sorts of beans. But not bush beans! And then there’s swiss chard. Unfortunately there’s no room this year for swiss chard. Maybe next year. I am hoping this goes well, if so we’ll be able to add more gardens next year. Goodness knows we’ve the room for it!
We also discussed things we’d love to get but can’t afford for year one. Various fruit trees and bushes. My boys love pears and plums and would love to plant trees for both of those!
Finally, we’ve enjoyed getting into this whole thing with friends. There’s two families that are using this method of gardening that we’ve been conversing with. The one that came out for our dirt party and the one that sadly missed the fun. (Oh how she wanted to come! She loves to play in dirt!)
Maybe she can come for some planting or harvesting! It will be fun to watch our garden grow along with theirs!
Never fear, there will be more gardening blogs to come! I am hoping to have quite the greenery pictures to share!
Are you planting this year? If so, what? What method are you using? I’d love to hear more!