Thursday, May 24, 2012
Square Foot Gardening 2012
I've written about how much I love Square Foot Gardening (SFG) before (that was my very first post). That post includes a brief description of SFG and lists all of the veggies and flowers we grew in only 36 square feet of garden last year.
Square Foot Gardening is a method developed by Mel Bartholomew that involves planting your garden in a raised bed filled with special soil and divided into square feet by a visible grid. Each square foot is planted with a different type of plant and the number of plants that fit into each square foot is determined by the size of the plants. SFGs are small, intensive and highly efficient.
This year we decided to expand and add two more boxes. We spent the whole weekend shopping for materials, building the boxes, mixing the soil, assembling the vertical frames and planting all of our our square footage. We had two 4'x4' boxes and one 2'x2' box from last year, and this year we added one 2'x8' box and another 4'x4'.
Of course there are lots of different methods for gardening, but we've found SFG to be easy, fun and so rewarding. My favorite things about Square Foot Gardening are:
The time commitment. Initially, it is a lot of work to build the boxes and mix the soil, but after that initial time investment, I spend very little time gardening. I water the garden, which is compact and close to the house, admire my lovely vegetables, harvest our nightly salad and any other veggies we're planning to eat and pull out the occasional weed that has popped up. We opted out of our community garden plot this year because it was too time consuming (and back breaking) to till the soil, add soil amendments, plant rows of vegetables, weed (so many weeds!) and water every night.
The yield. Each square foot produces a bountiful harvest, and you can really pack so much into just a 4'x4' box. The vegetables are not only plentiful, but they taste amazing because they are organically grown in nutrient rich soil.
The soil. So light and airy, and it sparkles in the sunlight from the vermiculite. As pretty as soil can be, this stuff really is beautiful. It is a mixture of 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 vermiculite, and 1/3 compost. After years of gardening in the hard, rocky clay soils in New Mexico, this soil is a dream. Not only that, but once you mix it, you don't need to add any additional amendments, and it is organic and natural.
The lack of weeds. If you so much as spill a drop of water in New Mexico, a weed will pop up. We had so much trouble keeping the weeds down when we gardened in the typical way. At the community garden, weeding was a nightly task. In the SFG, you only have to worry about the occasional weed seed that blows in, and it is easily identifiable because it is outside of the grid.
The water efficiency. This is especially important to me because we can grow more vegetables with less water than we were using at the community garden. Water is expensive in Santa Fe (and scarce!), and I like the idea of reducing the amount needed for the garden. I've found that the soil holds moisture very well, and last year, we often went out of town for the weekend without worrying about the plants drying up.
Last year, I read Mel's entire book in one weekend at the cabin and came home totally enthused to start our SFG. I was pretty adamant about following Mel's instructions exactly, and Andrew joked that I had joined a cult that I read about in a book I bought at Home Depot.
Mel lays everything out really well in his book including instructions for planning how many square feet you will need and shopping lists for materials. His book is obviously the starting point for planning your own SFG. They should have it at your local library and they sell it at hardware stores.
My plan is to write a few posts over the next week or so about how to set up your SFG and build the boxes, mix the soil and assemble the vertical frames. I also paid close attention to the costs involved this year so I can report on that too.