The importance of the soil in the square foot garden

homemade compostWhen all is said and done if you don’t get the soil right nothing else will matter.  The back-breaking work of adding soil amendments every spring is not only time consuming, it’s flat out hard work.  And row gardeners do it every year, sometimes more than once.  Taking a sample of your current soil and getting it tested will give you some insights of what you need to add.  Then its a trip to the nursery store to spend money on soil additives that may or may not make a difference.

One of greatest things about the growing medium of the square foot gardening system is that you don’t need to know anything about soil.  N-P-K is nice to know, but it’s not needed if your going by the book of the SFG system.  And you can mix it together in about 10 minutes time once you have all the ingredients at hand.  

But there’s another reason that the SFG soil is so beneficial which goes beyond the issue being discussed, and that’s what it does to the taste of anything growing in it.  If greens/vegetables grow well in your garden but taste a little bland, it’s probably because of your soil.  The environmental factors of your soil will have a definite effect on the taste of your food.  Folks that are involved with the farm-to-table movement understand that organic practices where growers pay attention to the health and biodiversity of the soil produces the best tasting vegetables.  The health of the soil from which the vegetables are grown imparts a unique quality and flavor that is specific to the growing site or plants’ habitat.  This is the reason why executive chefs develop a close relationship with local organic growers.

After gathering your raised bed materials and putting your boxes together, step #2 is to fill it with the perfect growing medium.  That will be the topic of next weeks post

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Gathering your things for a square foot garden

wood for a square foot gardenI thought it might be a good idea to begin showing how to have a successful square foot garden. I’ll make it simple and quick. There isn’t a lot to do but there are some key things I’ll address over the course of the next few weeks.

The very first thing to do is to construct a raised bed. It’s very important to put together a box that can simply be placed on top of your existing soil. Use this time to gather leftover wood around your home. Maybe neighbors have wood laying around that they don’t need. Is there construction going on in your neighborhood? If you can rummage up free wood, get it.

Make sure your bed will be able to hold 6 inches of soil. If you have 2X6’s-thats perfect. If you have 2X4’s thats okay too. Just double up on them and use hinges to hold them together. Also make sure your beds aren’t any wider than 4 feet. They can be as long as you’d like, but no wider then 4 feet. They can be 1, 2, or 3 feet wide depending on your garden plans.

The last thing to do is to screw the wood together. Do not use nails-they aren’t as strong. These raised beds are going to last you a long time. Mine have been in for 16 years and have a long way to go. What about preserving your wood? That’s your call. I’ve got my own opinion about that but the good thing is that it doesn’t matter what I think. You get to do whatever you like.

My next post will be brief but important. I’ll address the critical nature of soil before discussing the perfect growing medium. After all, if you don’t get the soil right, nothing else will really matter. Start getting ready-Spring is coming.

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Early square foot garden planting

early spring planting of arugula and lettuceI know it’s probably way too early to start but I like to experiment on cheating the seasons. I’ve still got 2 layers of protection over my square foot garden main beds and feel pretty confident that I can get these two crops to germinate and grow.

I decided to give this an attempt because I looked at the weather report and saw low’s in the mid-20’s, highs in the upper-30’s to low-40’s and some sunshine. That should be good enough to start a few things. The real issue is bang-for-the buck.

This will successfully grow(hopefully)and be done in about 80 days. If I wait another 3 weeks and began planting lettuce then, it would be ready in 55-60 days. So, why start early? Because I’m bored. We hit the 10 hours of sunlight later this week which is another early sign that spring is close.

To learn more about the two crops planted click here and here. I love this variety of arugula. It’s milder than any I’ve had before, and it’e even more so when harvested in the baby stages.

By clicking on any of my Burpee links, you get free shipping for online orders of any size by entering “B1FA” into the promotion code box when checking out. Its a great time to start ordering your seeds

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How to water your square foot garden in winter

how to water your winter garden with snowNot too far away to start planting your spring gardens! Mine have been covered and protected since mid-November. As the main spigot has been turned off since then, I have no easy way to water during the winter. I know there are some that say it’s not necessary to water from November until mid-late February.

As a general rule that might be okay. My experience has been a little different. I have had years where I didn’t water any winter crops the better part of 3 months and things survived. But not very well. When I removed the protective covers and started to water them again, most things perked right up and started to grow immediately in early spring. There would be times when I looked at a crop, such as chard, and saw that it wasn’t doing very well and could benefit with some water. In previous years I wouldn’t add any and would wait until February. But now if a plant looks like it’s struggling, it’s going to get watered. And I noticed a dramatic difference. I’m happy to report that I think that’s true for everything under your protective coverings.

This picture shows my newest thought on how to water in winter. Roll back the covers and shovel some snow on top of everything! It works so well and your watering with something that is free-and very clean! Because the soil has remained warm, the snow melts in a matter of hours, but your plants get what they need. I’ve covered my entire garden with snow and it’s really amazing to see how much better the plants do with jus a little bit of attention. For those interested in this particular variety of spinach click here. It’s my favorite, it’s easy to grow, hasn’t had any pest/disease problems, and it’s always reliable. I get it from Burpee.

As a side note and a very good inside tip, if you’re interested in buying seeds from Burpee you can click any of the links on my page. If you add “B1FA” into the promotional code box its free shipping! Can’t beat that.

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Square foot gardening-the winter potato harvest

winter stored and protected potatoesIt’s been a mighty cold winter so far! We’ve already had to deal with frozen water lines on New Years day. Talk about starting the year off on the right foot!

One of the things I can always rely on, no matter what the weather brings, is a good potato harvest from my square foot gardens. Under protective covers I’ve got somewhere in the area of 35-40 pounds of potatoes. This is plenty to get us through the winter. If I needed more to feed everyone I would just have to plant more at the right time. Each square of potatoes is further protected by a thick layer of fall leaves, which provide even more protection. The only work I have to do for harvesting them is to pull back the protective covers, locate the square of potatoes, and then dig in for the gold. Even with temperatures in the single digits(and lower at night)the dirt is loose. None of them have frozen because of the three layers of protection.

This year I experimented with several varieties of potatoes. I’ve always been partial to Red Pontiacs. The taste is unsurpassed. However, I’ve now discovered a few other varieties that are every bit as good, but they come in different colors. You can see the Red Pontiacs, but you’ll also see the yellow and purple potatoes. The taste is magnificent! I’ll certainly be planting more of these this year.

And this year is almost here for us northern U.S. gardeners. I’ll be harvesting what I have under protection for at least another month, when I’ll then begin planting anew. Get those seed catalogs out! Right now I’ve seen one variety of squash that I’ll be growing for the first time. I’ve always heard great things about it, so I’ll be trying it. Its an Italian squash called Tromboncino. Give it a look.

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