Heart-to-Heart with Diane

Hello and Welcome! Isn't raising a family the greatest!? I know I've got the best job in the world, just being Mom! I love sharing things I've discovered that make being "Mom" better, easier or more fulfilling, and that is what this blog is all about. Welcome!

Monday, July 20, 2009

A New Way to Garden

Getting things growing—early summer

This year, we decided to try the new version of Square Foot Gardening. Mel Bartholomew, the author that rocked the gardening world in the 1970's with the idea of grow boxes, has revised and drastically simplified his method and written a new book called, of course, All New Square Foot Gardening. No digging, no hoeing, no rotortilling, no raking, no pitchforking, no weeding, all you need is hand tools! . . . by the time I read these descriptions, I was convinced it was the right method of me. Mel has made it so easy, that I was eager to give it a try.

So, after getting my husband enthused, we scrounged used supplies: wood scraps, old carpeting, old buckets and barrels. My husband cut the wood and made it into 4' x 4' frames (approximately—no exactness here). These frames are bottomless boxes. We divided our former garden area in half, keeping half of the space in the "old method" and covered the other half of it in old carpeting we gathered that was being disposed of. Then we moved around the frames on top the carpet, just like arranging furniture, until we got them just where we wanted them. We left plenty of room between the frames, making it easy to maneuver around, but also allowing the plants to spill over into the carpeted area.

Next, we stirred up a soil mixture made to Mel's (the author) specifications: 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 vermiculite, and 1/3 mixed compost (composted from steer, horse, turkey, chicken manure, as well as grass and garden clippings, wood shavings, etc.) by volume. And we filled up our frames. The bottom of the frame was the old carpeting we had spread out. Just 6" depth of his "perfect soil" mixture is able to grow any vegetables or flowers you want! There is no need for any more. Even tomatoes grow in just 6" of this perfect soil.

At first, buying and putting new soil in the frames didn't seem right. It seemed like a cheater's way of gardening. But after years of continually assessing and trying to improve our soil, adding amendments, digging it all in— all the work that involves, and then growing a great crop of weeds (along with some veggies) I decided to listen to what this author had to say. And it made a lot of sense! The book is easy to read and very encouraging. More than this, it is easy to do! This fun read is a very different type of book than his first volume with all its exacting directions. This is the relax-and-enjoy version of an exciting new concept in gardening!

Then we marked off the square foot areas with a grid. We used yarn and just stapled it on one side of the wooden frame, pulled it across the top, and stapled on the other side in square foot divisions— but yarn isn't very permanent. Mel suggests finding old vinyl blinds at yard sales and using the slats to create a grid—he is very practical! The purpose of the grid is to help you plant each square foot in a different plant, creating natural crop rotation, beauty, variety, and abundance.

So, here we are at mid-summer and everything is growing great. Best of all, it is so manageable. The ground is covered with old carpeting, which is faded to a nice "dirt" shade. The soil filled frames are nice and neat looking, and for the first time in years of gardening, I don't "lose" things. Previously, I would plant parsley seeds, but the weeds overtook before the parsley came up. This year I have not only parsley plants, but basil, cilantro, dill, lemon basil, chard, lettuce, carrots and all the other "tiny" lose-able seeds are thriving and producing!

And how is the other half of my garden in the old method doing? Well, the weeds got away from me. I've been out there every morning for an hour at least working at it, but I now have clinical proof that morning glory weeds can grow 12" overnight! I will still get a good harvest of the "big stuff", but all the little seeds are irretrievably lost. The bush beans I planted in the Square Foot Garden are robust and blooming. The bush beans I planted at the same time in my old method garden are struggling along--no doubt the soil is not as rich, nor the water so even due to all those pesky, thirsty weeds.

You can start now! Mel has many informative charts, one of which tells when everything germinates, and how to plant now for fall harvest. This is an ongoing, most-of-the-year project. He even has "how-to" steps for making easy "lids" to cover and protect your crops beyond the normal killing frost.

My experiment is not conclusive yet, but thought I'd give you a mid-summer report!

Here's how it looks in mid-July—things are thriving!

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  • At July 20, 2009 at 8:49 AM , Blogger Toni said...

    beautiful I have wanted to try this method as well, I will have to get his book and start a fall group, maybe some tunips and kale.

  • At July 20, 2009 at 8:57 AM , Blogger Paula said...

    It looks beautiful. I have used raised beds before, although I haven't followed Square Foot methods exactly. I have raised quite a few things in when we had no yard for a garden.

  • At July 20, 2009 at 9:41 AM , Blogger Jen said...

    Mel also has the soil mixture on his website, for those of us with the older version of the book. I was fortunate enough to stumble across a "brand new" copy of the original at a thrift store! Unfortunately, with a new baby coming any day, our garden didn't get put in this year.

  • At July 20, 2009 at 1:35 PM , Blogger Julie said...

    Do you have to worry about the chemicals in the carpet leaching out though?

  • At July 21, 2009 at 9:57 AM , Blogger Megan said...

    We tried SFG for the first time this year, too, and it has been very successful for us. I really enjoyed reading the book this spring. I enjoy your posts very much!

  • At July 22, 2009 at 10:10 PM , Blogger Denice said...

    we are on our 8th year of sfg. although we do love it and still continue i want to warn you of one thing. the reason you dont have weeds this year is because its new soil. next year you will have weeds and more weeds will come each year. they blow in and get dropped from everywhere. sad fact of nature i guess.

  • At August 21, 2009 at 3:08 PM , Blogger Petrea said...

    What a beautiful garden! I'm very impressed with how beautiful things are. I have the same problems with some of the small things and would love to grow them in a more controlled environment, so I could remember them!

  • At February 21, 2010 at 2:24 PM , Blogger Kristie said...

    so you had 6 4X4 boxes? Can you grow pretty much anything in the one square or do some things take more than one square? I have room for 3 5X11 boxes. I'll have to ask you more stuff next time I see you...

  • At February 21, 2010 at 6:06 PM , Blogger Diane Hopkins said...

    It's pretty important to stick with the 4' x 4' configuration, as you can reach into the center squares from all sides, making harvest and planting easy. Small things like carrots can grow up to 16 (I sprinkled the seeds like salt and ended up with 30 or 40 carrots per square foot). Large things like cantaloupe or tomatoes need a whole square foot for just one plant. Come and see my garden this summer!

    Reading the book was really fun as the author is so enthusiastic about it, and makes it so simple, explaining it and all.

    Here's a blog about my carrots from harvest time last fall:

    September 10, 2009

  • At February 24, 2010 at 4:43 PM , Blogger Rachael said...

    What exactly is the carpet for?

  • At February 24, 2010 at 7:27 PM , Blogger Diane Hopkins said...

    The carpet keeps it all nice and clean with no weeds growing in the pathways. It is really pleasant to walk on it with bare feet when gardening, and no mud when watering.

    The main point, though, it to have a bottom to the frames, rather than having grass grow up into your gardening boxes. The boxes are just frames, and they don't have a bottom. So if you lay them down on plain grass, it will grow up through. And if you lay them down on dirt, weeds will come up, and also, you might mix the bad soil with your new fresh perfect soil mix when you dig around with your hand trowel.

    It is free at carpet stores, usually found in the dumpster behind the carpet store at the end of day and they are pleased to have you haul it off.


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