The Wealthy Earth

A square foot gardening blog

June 27, 2015
by Jim
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Square foot gardening-No Weeds!

lettuce-no weeding with square foot gardening

lettuce-no weeding with square foot gardening

Summer has just begun and I’ve heard so many folks already complaining about two things. First-many of their crops aren’t doing very well. Two: the weeding has started! Over time the summer will take care of the crops not growing well-usually. Most of them bounce back pretty well. But the weeding-it will be with them for the rest of the growing season. And people hate to weed! It’s the number one reason people don’t like to garden.(br>
There is no weeding in the square foot gardening system. Why? It’s simple. It starts with the growing medium. Not only is it a perfect mix of ingredients, it also has no weed seed in it. Vermiculite is rock-no weed seed. Finished compost-shouldn’t be any weed seed if done correctly. Peat moss-it’s been sterilized so there shouldn’t be any in that. The only weeds that will end up in a square foot garden are those that have been blown in and found a place to settle down. If you do see a weed the soil is so loose it comes out very quickly. I might weed a total of 20-30 minutes for the entire year. I suppose the other way you may have some weed seed is if your homemade compost wasn’t finished. When compost piles heat up to 140 degrees and higher it kills the weed seed in the unit. If you’re amending your soil with homemade compost and you notice weeds growing after some time, the compost didn’t finish heating up.

The other main reason weeds aren’t a big issue in a square foot garden is the intensive nature of spacing. When items are planted as close as they are in the SFG system it’s difficult for any weed seed to be blown in. This square of lettuce is a good example of that. There is just no room for a weed seed to take root. And by the way, this lettuce is excellent! It’s surprisingly holding up very well in high 90’s to 100 degree temperatures.

Still working on the eBook-how to successfully grow lettuce in warm weather. It’s close. It’ll discuss the techniques that I’ve learned over 15 years that have enables us to enjoy lettuce all year long-even in the hot summers of northern Utah. Nothing like a fresh head of lettuce to go along with vine-ripened tomatoes, cucumbers, green onions, carrots, and swiss chard.

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June 13, 2015
by Jim
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Square foot garden spacing for lettuce

encino lettuce, one per squareThis is one great head of lettuce.  I’ve been growing a lot of different varieties this spring and summer, always trying out new things.  I had a visitor on my Facebook page ask if this is only “one plant?”  I think the question came because of the traditional spacing for lettuce in the square foot garden system.  It is different for this particular variety.

As you look at most lettuce seed packs it will say “thin to 6 inches.”  This is why lettuce is planted  every 6 inches-in both directions-in a 12 inch square, or 4 lettuce seeds per square.  If you had a 2X2′ box of nothing but lettuce you would have 16 heads.  For a 4X4′ it would be 64 heads of lettuce.  But what if the seed packet says “thin to 12 inches?”  Thats the case with this variety.  This means one seed goes right in the middle of your 12 inch square.  The spacing guidelines of 1, 4, 9, and 16 are the general rules that are taught during SFG classes and hold for just about everything.    If you look at something like beets for example-SFG instructors and the SFG book will say to plant them 9 per square.  I don’t know of a single variety of beets that would break this spacing.  But then something like this lettuce comes along and does break the spacing guidelines.  I guess that’s why they’re called guidelines-bacasue there exceptions.  That’s why SFG instructors ask participants to look at the “thin to” information on the back of all seed packets.

This variety of lettuce is called Encino.  I bought if from Territorial Seeds, which is a great seed company.  It’s an artisan lettuce that grows in 55 days and ends up being 15 inches around and 9 inches tall!  Unbelievable.  And the taste?  I just cut a few leaves last night and it’s excellent.  The leaves are very buttery tasting and resemble  the oak-leaf varieties in texture, but with a little more firmness.  When harvesting the leaves you notice the white core which you can’t see from the picture.  It’s described as “enormous plants that are overstuffed…that form impressive ottoman-like mounds.”  If you’ve never tried this variety of lettuce you ought to.  Yes it tastes very good, but the looks of it!  It’s the first thing a visitor to my garden a few days ago noticed and asked “what is that?!”  Very impressive.

You may notice some changes to my blog over the next few weeks.  There will be 2 things I’ll be adding.  First, I will be selling seeds from Cooks Garden(Burpee.)  When you read the descriptions in seed catalogs you get the idea that everything is great!  The folks who do the marketing and write up the descriptive portions of each seed are very good at what they do.  I always have a hard time not buying seeds because the write-ups are so good.  I thought it would be a good idea to spend time and money growing as much as I could the past 3 years.  Lots of varieties.  I would say for the most part the write-ups are accurate.  But every once in a while you do get a dud.  And I’ve had some.  On the other hand I’ve had some very, very good crops that I absolutely love which I wouldn’t have known anything about if I wasn’t a big experimenter.  I’m not sure if my love of great tasting food drove my gardening hobby or if it was the other way around.  Either way, I’ve learned a lot.  I’ll be putting my two cents worth on the items I’ve had success with(or lack thereof.)

Second, I have a new eBook coming out shortly.  Hopefully.  There’s nothing more maddening during the hot summer months to have all these delicious vine-ripened summer tomatoes being harvested and no lettuce to go with it.  Sure you can go down to the store and buy heads of lettuce, but why?  The same different that exists between a summer tomato and a plastic winter tomato holds true with lettuce as well.  Without question.  The challenge is if you live in a climate that has summer temperatures of 85 degrees plus it’s next to impossible to grow your own lettuce-which is why many home gardeners don’t even attempt it.  But what if you learned a method that would virtually guarantee delicious home-grown lettuce all summer long?  That’s the subject of my new ebook.  Keep an eye out for it, I think it’s going to be good.  The delay is making it available on as many different platforms as possible-Amazon, iTunes, my blog, and possibly even on the Square Foot Gardening Foundation website-where my first ebook is also sold.  If you’re wondering how to grow lettuce during the summer, this will be the book for you.

Learn how to grow your own food this summer.  It’s not too late-and it’s never too late for a square foot garden.  You can have a small 4X4′ garden with a minimal amount of crops(see last post for an example)that are easy to grow.  Try it just for a summer.  You will be so glad you did.  And you’ll learn to hate buying any of it at the store

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May 19, 2015
by Jim
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A Summer Square Foot Garden Example

Summer square foot garden planI’m often asked what to plant during certain times of the season. This is my attempt to do that with an example of what a summer square foot garden might look like. Actually, this is similar to one of my gardens.

This is obviously one-4X4′ box. The north is on the right hand side of the card. This is where your vertical towers will be placed. That way you don’t have to worry about anything getting shaded during the summer. If you place it in any other location you’ll notice the plants behind the vertical tower getting long and leggy because they’re searching for sunlight.

Starting from the upper right hand corner and working down you’ll notice a cherry tomato plant. This will be grown vertically. Make sure you buy indeterminant tomato plants. These varieties will get to be 7-10′ tall by summers end if you pinching back the suckers that come off the main stem. Butternut squash will form a solid wall of green in about 2 months and 1 plant will take up 2 square feet. You can plant sets of green onions right now. That way you can begin to harvest them(cuttings for salads)in as little as 4 weeks. Your cherry tomato plant will be enough to feed 3-4 people all summer and into the fall. The squash and onions will take up their respective squares until the end of summer and into early fall.

The next row includes peppers, basil, a cut-and-come again lettuce variety, and bush beans. By putting the pepper plant against the back of the box you’ll be able to prevent shading that you’ll see if you put it somewhere in the middle of the box. Most bush bean varieties will have a very heavy first harvest and then a weaker second harvest. After that, the square should be emptied. If you wanted to grow and harvest beans for an extended period of time you’d have to think about growing pole beans. Basil is a classic summer herb to grow. It lasts until the first frost when it then turns black overnight and dies.

The next row includes carrots, both a cut-and-come again and regular lettuce(Romaine type), and swiss chard. By cutting the base of cut-and-come lettuce varieties(two inches above the soil line)you’ll be able to get one full harvest and then another harvest in 2-3 weeks. I know some who will cut it a second time for yet a third harvest. Your choice, but my experience is quality begins to suffer after the second cutting. Swiss chard is a great addition to your summer salads and will last well into fall. I like to cut my chard leaves while they are still small. Once they get to be more than 5-6 inches tall they get to be too chewy for our liking.

The last row has zucchini growing on a single t-post that takes up one square. I’ve been doing this for years and I’ve never had a failure doing it this way. There’s two more square of lettuce and then finally a square of beets. These lettuce varieties can be anything you like to eat. Maybe this is a spot where you want to experiment with one of the designer lettuces such as Salanova. The beets will pay off in fall. In the meantime you can enjoy the beet leaves in salads or in the “green smoothies” that everyone is drinking these days. Beet leaves in salads look nice and are exceptionally healthy.

If it were me I would plant everything at once with the exception of lettuce which I would plant every week. If it were my first square foot garden I would buy all transplants for a quick start. Eleven crops taking up 16 square feet. In another 4X4′ box you can add more peppers, lettuces, cucumbers, melons, tomatoes, potatoes, and spaghetti squash. And because we don’t thin or weed in the square foot gardening system, by the time summer ends you’ll know you haven’t worked very hard. You’ll then a lot of extra energy to then plant a fall garden.

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May 13, 2015
by Jim
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Planning your square foot garden

braising greens: red and green mustard, hon sai tai, kale, and tatsBeing deep into the spring months, it’s time to now focus on what and when to plant for your summer garden. Choosing to not worry about wide swings in weather in certain locations leads some people to only have a summer/early fall garden. There’s certainly merit to that thinking. In the next several weeks the weather in our zone will start to really heat up. By then many will be done with all the tradition cool spring crops-spinach, lettuce, varieties of Asian greens, swiss chard, mizuna, etc.<br><br>
What to plant for summer? The first thing you’ll need to think about is the space needed for vertical gardening. In the square foot gardening system all vining crops are grown up on a trellis made out of 1/2″ electrical conduit. It’s virtually indestructible and will last a long time. This means crops like indeterminate tomatoes, squashes, pole beans, and melons will be growing up, not out. This method is highly efficient. By keeping your crops off the ground you minimize the damage by certain garden pests but also give your plants better air-circulation and exposure to the sun.

By knowing the food needs of your household you can plan for the quantities of each crop. Cherry tomato plants can bring 10-12 pounds of fruit throughout the growing season. Can you use that much? Can you use more? If so, how much more? Lets say your family will consume in the area of 35-40 pounds of cherry tomatoes this summer. That means you’ll plant 4 cherry tomatoes using just 4 square feet. And yes, you only need 1 square foot to grow a tomato plant that will be 7-8 feet tall by the end of summer. Just make sure you’re growing indeterminate plants, not determinant and keep those “suckers’ pinched back. You’ll do this for all your vining crops.

Along with these items you’ll need to plan all the other things you want to grow. Beets, carrots, beans, certain types of lettuce, basil, etc. Once you’ve figured that out you’ll arrive at the number of squares needed for this summer. If you’ve planned it out and find that you don’t have enough squares, you need more square foot garden boxes. If you’ve got a lot of squares left over, you’re garden is too big. We like to minimize the size of our gardens in the SFG system. We grow only what we need and what we love to eat. Our goal is to have each family member enjoy a fresh, just harvested salad every night of the growing season and nothing more. This eliminates the all-at-once harvest that’s come to be associated from most home gardens.

I’m beginning to empty out squares that have previously been filled with spring crops. I’ve got transplants of certain things ready to go right now. A typical summer garden for me might include the following: zucchini, bush beans, pole beans, cherry tomatoes, many squares of selected lettuce varieties, basil, peppers, spaghetti squash, green onions, carrots, swiss chard, and cucumbers. That will be the content of a single 4X4′ box. In another box I’ll have lettuce, melons, banana squash, New Zealand spinach, kohlrabi, pole beans, beets, and a transplanted rosemary plant. And what about corn? In my mind corn is a huge nitrogen and space hog. It takes up valuable space for too long and it’s dirt cheap in the summer. For those reasons I’ll let the farmers take care of the corn

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April 22, 2015
by Jim
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Square foot gardening-the cloche

tomato clocheI’ve always enjoyed growing tomato varieties that are difficult to buy locally. Because of that I order all my tomato seeds from various seed catalogs. This particular tomato is a “sun-sugar” and it’s very sweet. Like one of my customers said: “it tastes like grapes with a slight tomato flavor!” They have been transplanted once into bigger pot makers a week ago.

But we all want to be the first person in the neighborhood to harvest tomatoes. Some folks go out and buy large tomato plants that already have the yellow blossoms on them thinking they are closer to their summer dream. And that’s all it is-a dream. No matter what you do, no matter how hard you work, it’s very hard to have tomatoes by the end of June in zone 6. Look around at your neighbors and you’ll find that everyone starts getting tomatoes at about the same time. Still, I planted this outside today with temperatures in the low 70’s. But the night temperatures are still a bit cool-mid 40’s with one night predicted to be 39. I could just wait for a week but I don’t want to-I thought I might try an experiment. I’ve got a lot of extra plants growing inside in case it doesn’t work.

In the square foot gardening system we teach “recycle, reduce, reuse.” Don’t throw things away. I cut the bottom off a plastic orange juice bottle to be placed over the plant to act as a cloche. By removing the cap I can prevent the inside temperature from getting to warm. The other advantage of this is we had some stronger winds today. Not only does it protect against cold but also the wind-which is especially damaging to new plants. By late afternoon I put the cap on-trapping the heat of the day inside the container for some of those cooler evening temperatures. I’ll remove the cap first thing in the morning and let it warm up. In a future post I’ll share what other things I do with this kind of bottle.

For those who may not know, I also have a Facebook page under the same name as this blog. I hope you can visit-I post different things than I do here and I’m actually more active on that than I am on the blog. I try hard to put the daily happenings of my square foot garden on Facebook while spending time on some of the more specifics with the blog. My hope is that you can visit both as they augment each other nicely

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