Saturday, May 17, 2014

Square Foot Gardens and Intensive Gardening

Hello Fellow Gardeners!

I know many of you have questions about square foot gardening. It seems complicated at first (at least to me) and a lot to keep track of. You know me, I am no expert but I will share what I have learned. Square foot gardening is a form of intensive gardening. To garden intensively means that plants are sown closer together in smaller spaces. If you look on the back of a seed packet, it will tell you how far apart to space the plants, then it tells you how far apart the rows need to be. In intensive gardening, the row spacing is ignored and you space the seeds the same length and width apart. I want to share my favorite resource for intensive gardening HERE. This gives you an overview of intensive gardening. I use the spacing guide every time I plant. 

The main points you want to remember for any kind of intensive gardening:
*The soil must be nutrient dense
*Extra and advance planning is needed
*Know which plants are compatible and which plants are not
*The area must be accessible at all points by hand so as to not compress soil by stepping on it

Since the plants are growing much closer together, it is imperative that you use nutrient rich compost for the soil. Plus you need to know which plants work well together and which don't. You don't want plants competing with each other for nutrients. Also, some plants can kill or stunt the growth of other plants. This is why you need to make a plan well in advance of planting. It takes time to lay a garden like this out. But, do not despair! There are many free plans on the internet that you can use to get you started. You should still do some research on companion planting, though, in case you run across a layout that is less than ideal. 

My square foot garden just starts out as a raised bed. I used the lasagna gardening method for the soil which I will cover later. The soil is very rich and nutrient dense.


Then I measured and put a mark at every foot on all 4 sides of the bed. I put screws on all the marks and tied twine to all of them in the pattern you see here. You can use sticks, narrow strips of wood, small stones, small piping...anything that won't get washed away so your bed will stay marked throughout the season. This bed was almost literally thrown together at the beginning of winter last year and does not have exact measurements. So some of the squares are bigger than 1 X 1, but none of them are smaller.


Now comes the planting stage. I have to admit I planned as I went along. I tend to do that when I am doing something for the first time. So I have experience when I tell you, IT IS MUCH BETTER TO PLAN AHEAD! But, I totally get it if you just want to get out there and get your hands in the dirt like Baby Brother does! I just can't get enough!


You will plant anywhere from 1 to 16 spots in each square depending on the size of your plant. Some plants need more than one square. The easiest way to determine this is to look on the back of the packet to see what spacing recommendations it makes. There are also many lists on the internet that you can follow.

Here I have garlic. The spacing recommendation is 4-6 inches, so I took the lesser of those and spaced 4 inches. 12 divided by 4 is 3. So I planted 3 x 3 garlic to make 9 in a square. This isn't an exact science and some plants I give more or less room based on experience.


In general, a plant that needs 2-3 inch spacing I plant 16, 4 inches I plant 9, 6 inches I plant 4 and 12 inches I plant 1. Anything over that becomes a lesson in geometry! For instance, a tomato plant needs 18-24 inches of space, so I plant one in the middle of 4 squares. It's all subjective to how you want to do it.

Here I have the brassicas section. Most of them call for a little over a foot of spacing and a little less than 2 feet. So I got creative here. I planted 4 of them in nine squares, planted garlic around the edges of the 9 square block, and planted a thyme herb right in the center. It will be fun to see how all that pans out. I started out with one each of cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, and collards, but a couple of them got dug up by squirrels, so I transplanted a couple of thinnings in place of them. But, of course, I didn't change my chart, so now I'm not sure which is which!


Here only two of my onions have sprouted, but I had planted 4.


I have 9 arugula.


16 radishes


Planted 4 red leaf lettuce, but only 2 showed up.


Here are my snow peas. Now I did look these up. The recommendation was to plant 2 rows of 4 with a flat trellis in between. But I used a round pepper cage and planted seeds all around each of the 3 legs. Then I ran some twine to criss-cross between the openings to give them a little more to grab onto. Can't remember if I planted 9 or twelve, but either way they are doing great!


My experiment with a potato. He really should have more than one square, but I'm wanting to see if I can get away with this. I had some old shelving that I broke up and stuck in the ground around him so that I could layer straw around it as it grew. Excited to see how this turns out!


My 4 kitchen scrap red onion transplants.


Kale gets one spot all to his lonesome,


As well as mustard.


Four turnips.


Nine garlic.


Nine spinach.


Sixteen carrots with a couple extra guests.


One romaine.


That's not a square just overrun with weeds! I planted 9 dandelion here. I hope to have some good roots to harvest this fall. More on that later.



On the end opposite the brassicas section, I planted 2 tomatoes in a 6 square area with basil, carrots, and onions spread throughout. I am looking forward to how this grows out too!


I still have about 8 squares to fill in. I am going to try a trellised squash of some sort, okra, possibly a trellised melon, corn, kohlrabi, and maybe some more herbs. The hardest part about a square foot garden is knowing what you can and can't plant next to each other and what's ideal. For instance, I have tried to alternate root veggies with leafy veggies for optimal spacial growth. But that is hard to do if you have more of one than the other. Then there are veggies that won't do well together. Probably the most commonly known one is legumes and members of the onion family. Also, don't plant tomatoes and potatoes with each other. I could go on and on. It's best to do a search on companion planting. I can't choose between all the great charts and guidelines that are out there! Beware because you may blow your mind a little bit. Plant A may help plant B and plant C may help plant B, but plants A and C don't get along and will hurt each other! It's quite crazy!

The biggest advantage of companion planting, besides saving space, is the natural pest control you can create. Most of your herbs and edible flowers will deter many different kinds of pests and/or attract good bugs that will help kill off pests. I am hoping to deter some of the many pests that showed up in my garden last year!

Another thing to keep in mind when planning a square foot garden is how much sun each plant needs and how tall they are. For example:  tomatoes need a lot of sun, so you don't want to shade them behind a large squash trellis. Most leafy greens like more shade than sun, so they can be planted in the shade of larger plants. 

I realize this post may have created more questions than answers! Rest assured that as time goes on, I will provide more detail. There is so much great information out there to learn and use!

Happy Gardening!

Jen Hen

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