Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Square Foot Gardening: Planning Your Garden

When planning your SFG, you want to pick a location with good sunlight (Mel recommends six to eight hours of sunlight per day) away from large bushes and trees.

We decided to install our SFG in the front yard to keep it away from the dogs. They often spend the day in the backyard when we're at work, and we know we can't trust them alone with the garden. More than once Lola has chomped container plants and destroyed seed starts. What we hadn't thought about was the neighbor's cat who sees our soft and cushy SFG soil as the primo spot in the neighborhood for a litter box, but that has been solved by watering the garden daily even the square feet that aren't planted yet. He doesn't like to get his paws wet so he stays out now.

Another consideration for planning is siting your boxes close to the watering source. We installed ours next to the house so it is easier to water without having to haul the hose around the yard. It doesn't seem like that big of deal, but I like to do anything I can to make it easier for daily watering.

Locating the garden in the front yard means that we walk by it every day on the way to and from work and walking the dogs and we see it often looking out the front windows. It is satisfying to watch our progress, and we always receive lots of compliments from the neighbors who can see it when they walk by.

One of our 4'x4' boxes last year.

After you've chosen your location, you'll want take into consideration how much space you have and how many vegetables you want to harvest.

Our front yard is huge and could accommodate several boxes, but we started small last year with two 4'x4' boxes that are 6" deep and one 2'x2' box that is 12" deep for carrots and leeks for a total of 36 square feet of garden space. According to Mel, one 4'x4' box that is 6" deep will supply enough produce to make a salad for one person every day of the growing season and a second 4'x4' box will supply the daily dinner vegetables for that person. We eat a lot of vegetables, and I found that between our three boxes, it was plenty for two people. You can see a list of what our 36 sf yielded last year here. In addition to daily vegetables, I also had enough basil to freeze about 20 cups of pesto, enough tomatillos and jalapenos to make a dozen small jars of salsa, and enough beets and carrots to make a half dozen servings of raviolis to freeze.

Honestly, for us determining how many square feet to build was mainly influenced by the quantities in which the soil ingredients were available. I only found peat moss in 3.9 cubic feet bags (expands to 8 cubic feet), so it made sense to me to make 24 cubic feet of soil since peat moss is 1/3 of the mix along with compost and vermiculite.

Once you determine how many square feet you will build, you can decide on the configuration of your boxes. I built an additional 2'x8' box this year so that I would have 8 additional square feet for climbing plants like tomatoes and eggplants (a 4'x4' box only gives you 4 square feet for climbing plants because the vertical frame is only along one side of the box). You should plan your configuration so that you don't need to reach more than two square feet to get to any of your plants and so that have enough space for at least three feet aisles between the boxes.

When it comes down to it, take a look at how much space you have, how many vegetables you want to harvest and then do a little research on the soil ingredients available in your area. I live in a pretty small town so maybe in more urban areas the ingredients are available in a wider variety of quantities.

After you've made your plans, you can work on your shopping list and building your boxes, vertical frames and mixing your soil... stay tuned!

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