TWE first spring delivery

TWE 041514-1st deliveryI only grow for 5 customers but this is the first delivery for the 6 week spring season. What’s in there you ask? Radicchio, mizuna, claytonia, cilantro, poc-choi, carrots, swiss chard, and an artisan lettuce mix. The mix has a combination of black seeded simpson, red cross and skyphos lettuce, spinach, and tokyo bekana. The whole idea is simple: take a handful of lettuce and add any of the other salad green “mix-ins” for a different tasting salad for several nights. It’s not really cheap but my customers enjoy the freshest tasting salad greens and veggies around-especially this early. None of the local CSA’s are up and running at this time. The greatest thing? Taste-taste-taste! And no chemical/pesticide/fertilizer residues-ever.

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Poc choi

joi choi march 2014I’ve been able to plant 5 or 6 squares of poc choi this spring. It’s too many-I probably only needed 3. Being planted at 4 per square foot, I’m not sure what I’ll do with 24 of them. About the only saving grace is they won’t come up all at the same time. You can see that there’s more than 4 in this picture. I was able to carefully lift out the extra plants and place them in other squares. I should have done it right from the beginning and only planted 1 or 2 seeds in each hole instead of what I ended up doing. This particular variety is a favorite of ours-Joy Choi. It’s a little more slender than the early variety I’ve grown before but just as delicious. These stir-fry’s with poc choi in them are just the best. My first spring harvest deliver season starts in less than 2 weeks. It looks pretty close to being ready.

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Red Cross lettuce after one week

Red cross after 1 week of sprouting 32914Remember these from last week? After placing the sprouted lettuce seeds in potting soil, this is what they look like after one week. There are huge advantages to this method. If I had attempted to direct seed this in the garden a week ago, nothing would have come up this quickly with the temperatures we’ve had. I will plant these in the garden in 1 week and they will be fine. It will be April 1st in just a couple of days. In zone 6B this means you can have your spring gardens planted with just a layer of plastic protection. This way you’ll have things in the ground, planted and harvested just in time for your summer gardens to be put in-about the 3rd week of May. In about 2 weeks from today my first delivery of baskets to 5 customers will start. It’s been very little effort. Here’s the goodies they will receive and an example of what you can also consider doing in a couple of days: Mizuna, Toykoy Bekana, 4 different kinds of lettuce, poc choi, swiss chard, tatsoi, radicchio, spinach, cilantro, carrots, arugula, claytonia, and minutina. I also have 3 Sakura tomato plants that are 2 feet tall and are now showing blossoms. These are special “greenhouse” cherry tomatoes that are just excellent. I’ll end up using these for my early summer delivery baskets and will probably have some available for the last week or two of the spring baskets. On April 1st I will start my regular tomatoes inside-San Marzano and other cherry varieties. This will give me 6 weeks of growth by the time late May gets here-perfect timing for them to go out. I’ll also start my cucumbers and basil inside as well.

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Lettuce sprouting in 2 days

red cross sprouted lettuce in 2 daysThis is for those who attended the SFG workshop at Thanksgiving Point this past Saturday. As an example of one way to get seeds started, I had one of the participants wet a paper towel, add a few seeds, place it on the paper plate, and then close it up. I kept this upstairs on a counter and by Sunday night, a few had already sprouted. By Monday, they all had. These have all been gently lifted out and placed in potmakers where they will continue to grow. In 3 weeks they will be ready to go outside in the garden. Pretty good way to plant. Hope it gives you some ideas.

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A great question

simpson and leeks 032214One of the participants in our SFG workshop today asked about putting together a SFG garden box that will be placed on cement. We talked about how to put plywood on the bottom of the box and then to screw(not nail)it down. Then fill it with soil,add a grid and start planting. “What about earthworms? How will I get earthworms in my box if it’s got a bottom and its on cement?” It’s a good question. Regardless of folks claiming that yard worms are different than garden worms, or that red worms are different that brown worms, the thing to look at is this: what’s the purpose of earthworms? Easy-they do two things that are important. First, they aerate the soil. Second, they leave behind their castings which act as a fertilizer. When this new box is built, there will certainly be no earthworms in the soil. However, the benefits of earthworms are already met with Mel’s mix. We already have a light and very fluffy soil(takes care of issue one), and we have 33% or organic growing medium(takes care of issue two.) Earthworms aren’t a necessary part of a SFG because of these two points. But, as you add your own homemade compost when amending soil throughout the year, you’ll end up with earthworms in your Mel’s mix anyway. It will just take some time. This is an example of how simple and easy the SFG system is. You don’t need to know the first thing about gardening to make it work. No need to make thing complex, after all, it’s soil, a seed, water, and sun. Build a box, fill it with soil, add a grid, start planting. Spacing is 1, 4, 9, 16. Rotation is any combination of fruit/root/leaf crops. How simple can it get? Anybody can do it when it’s this easy. Picture is megaton leeks and black seeded simpson lettuce. All looking good and getting close to harvest….yum, yum.

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You should taste this little gem

buckshorn plantain 31514I’ve learned a lot this winter about many crops that I’ve never had before. They continue to surprise me and our dinner guests that have a chance to have one of our “artisan” salads. If I had to list the biggest surprise I would list claytonia as the top. After that I experimented with 10 new crop varieties. It would be difficult to prioritize them after claytonia. They were all exceptional, but claytonia was just unbelievably delicious. This is a picture of buckshorn plantain. It’s crunchy with a little zest to it and adds a wonderful texture and taste to whatever salad mix your putting together. You won’t be buying this in any stores or any farmers markets this time of year. If you want it, you’ll have to grow it yourself. And it’s virtually unscathed in my protected square foot garden. You should give it a try. If you’re interested in buying some seeds(they can be hard to find)of this particular variety, I sell and ship them for $4.25 per pack. But if you wait too long it won’t be good. This is a cool/cold weather crop that does well with a lack of heat.

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Square foot gardening “lite” class/workshop

sfg workshop 330This will be the 1st of 3 workshops I’ll have at my home. The date for this is March 15th. The cash price is $25 per person and this class is 2+ hours long. We start promptly at 10:00(no Utah time!)and we’ll finish at 12 or shortly thereafter. We’ll begin by learning how to start and save seeds, then we will put together a light station. Directions for doing this will be included. Then we’ll build a box, make a recipe of Mel’s mix, and put together a grid. Then we will learn how to space things properly in the SFG system. We spend a significant amount of time learning the basics of home composting. You’ll learn how to identify a good vs. poor commercial bag of compost, and you’ll learn how to make the best compost with items from your own home. The balance of time is spent doing the advanced techniques of the SFG system: how to protect your gardens in the spring and fall, how to protect them in summer, and best of all-vertical gardening. Learn the right way of making a vertical growing unit. And find out how to properly attach the netting on the frame so that crops will climb on it. This class is for you-please bring a pair of garden gloves as you’ll be doing all sorts of activities. I will also have a small sampling of Johnny’s seeds available at $4 per packet. These are the best crops around and you can’t buy them anywhere in the state. The class comes with a free bag of fall leaves that will help you get your compost units going. As seating is fairly limited, I’ll need to have a contact cell phone/email address in case the class gets too big or unless I have to cancel the class due to inclement weather. The class is held outside so if it’s cool, please bring a coat. Please send me your information so I don’t get caught off-guard. If I’m planning on 6 attendees but 15 show up(it’s happened several times before)it’s a real shuffle for me. Hope you’ll join us. You’ll be glad you did.

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Poc choi

poc choi

It’s the 1st week of March and I’ve got hardly any room left to plant. I’m hoping to have my first full harvest by the 1st week of April-for sure by the second week. This is Win-Win poc choi-one of 3 different varieties that I grow throughout the year. This particular cultivar produces a very large and open plant. It’s exceptionally good in stir-fry’s. On the left is Clayton-which I’ve previously posted about. It’s been the surprise of the winter garden in zone 6 for me. On the right is Fordhook chard. I like this variety but I think I’m a bigger fan of rainbow chard, which has been planted in other squares of the garden. We’re still eating out of the garden from the winter harvest with much left of spinach, minutina, mache, tatsoi, mizuna, and mache. With several local customers to grow for I’ll be spending a little more time in the gardens. With the mild weather we’ve had so far I’m taking a chance that it’s OK to begin teaching garden classes. For the local folks interested in learning how to have a successful square foot garden, you can reach me through the “contact” page. Or, you can just check out the schedule on the right hand side of my blog. It’s a lot of fun and you won’t be sorry you attended. Gardening season is here and you can be direct seeding many things right now for an earlier harvest.

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Step 4: Start planting!

spacing shot-9 per squarespacing shot-16 per squareIt’s that easy! This is all you need to have a great garden. Now all that’s left is the spacing. In the SFG system, this is simple too. As a general rule things will be planted in 1, 4, 9, or 16 items per square. You’ll know by what the seed packet lists as the “thin to” spacing. As an example, broccoli will say “thin to 12.” This means there will be one broccoli plant per square. If you’re using transplants it’s easy-just drop it in the middle of your square. If you’re using seeds, you only need to add 2 or 3 seeds into each hole. That’s it! If all 3 of those seeds grow you can either cut them back with a scissors(a tough thing to do)or you can gently come under the early starts with a pencil and carefully lift them out. You now have another broccoli plant that’s germinated and can become a full plant. If the packet says “thin to 6 inches” you will plant 4 items per square. “Thin to 4 inches” will mean you’ll plant 9 items per square, and the last one-”thin to 3 inches” means you’ll be planting 16 items per square. The following is a short list of the spacing used in the SFG system. One per square: broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant, tomatoes, kale, brussel sprouts, basil, rosemary, and cabbage. Four per square: all lettuce, chard, pok choi, radicchio, arugula, marigolds, nasturtium, and cilantro. Nine per square: beets, leeks, chives, spinach, garlic, onions, mizuna, tatsoi, kohlrabi, and bush beans. Sixteen per square: radishes, turnips, parsnips, carrots, mache, and scallions. Keep your soil moist-especially at the beginning and you’ll be rewarded with a garden that you never knew could be so much fun and so little work.

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Step 3: add a grid

wood lath for gridcompleted gridYou can buy these at Home Depot or similar store for about 55 cents each. For each 4X4′ box you’ll need 6 pieces of this wood lath. It’s perfect because it comes in 4′ lengths. Then mark off each grid at the 1 foot line-you can see them in the first picture. So each 4′ piece of wood lath will have 3 marks on it-1 at the 12, 24, and 36″ measure. Then it’s just a matter of putting 3 grids on the bottom, and then the remaining 3 grids perpendicular to them, lining up the holes, and screwing them all together. These are bought from the store in their natural color but I paint mine white. It’s a personal thing-I like my grids to stand out. Now place your grid on the garden box and you’re ready for the last step. And you don’t need to nail them down. I don’t and they’ve never been blown off. There are several reasons for the grid but the primary one is that it breaks up your 4X4′ box into 16 equal squares. Each one of these squares will hold something different. If you don’t have a grid you’ll be tempted to do the same thing you’ve always done in your garden-you’ll start planting in rows. Your grids can be made out many things. I like wood because it lasts the longest. I bought all vinyl many years ago and after 3 years they all broke from brittleness. I think I just threw away my original white wood grid a few days ago. It lasted me for 15 years.

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Step 2: fill it with the right soil

gardner & bloome compostIf you don’t have the right soil mix, it’s a gamble on whether or not you’ll have a great square foot garden. The perfect soil can be made-mixed-in less than 20 minutes. What’s the main complaint during the garden season with your neighbors besides weeds? It’s “my soil is terrible…” The perfect soil is made up of equal parts-by volume not weight-of peat moss, compost, and course vermiculite. If you can’t find course, get medium. If you can’t get medium, get fine. If you can’t get vermiculite at all, don’t buy perlite. It’s useless in these gardens. This gets to be rather pricey, but it’s a one time expense if you make your own compost. If you don’t, you’ll always need a bag of compost around to amend your soil throughout the year. I bought one of those Rubbermaid tubs at K-Mart-the kind with ropes on each end. It’s simply a matter of filling that up to the top with peat moss and dumping that in your box. Do the same thing with the vermiculite and the compost. Mix it all up and wet it down. It’ important to do this. These gardens hold a tremendous amount of water because of the vermiculite. And that’s one of the main reasons we use it. I’ve made my own compost for 14 or 15 years and it’s easy. It’s also free with all the waste ingredients that come out of your kitchen. If I had to go out and buy commercially available compost, this is the variety I recommend. It doesn’t have any wood chips in it, and it doesn’t have any peat moss. This is unlike the Kellogg’s brand which has quite a bit of wood chips in it. This product has 8 or 9 different things in it which make it an excellent choice. How much soil will you need? Easy. All you do is take the measurements of your garden box. Let’s say it’s a single 4X4′ box. 4X4=16. Because you only need 6 inches of soil, you now cut that number in half. So that leaves you with 8 cubic feet of soil ingredients that you’ll need to fill your box. That means you will need approximately 3 cubic feet of vermiculite, 3 cubic feet of compost, and 3 cubic feet of peat moss. If you box was 4X8′ it would be different. 4X8=32. 32 divided by 2 equals 16. So this means you would need approximately 5 cubic feet of each of the 3 ingredients, plus a tad more to finish it off. I use compost to finish everything. Pretty simple. Now you have your box and it’s filled with the perfect soil that took you 20 minutes to mix. You’re almost ready…

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Step 1: build a box

2X4 SFG boxIt can be any length you’d like but it shouldn’t be any wider than 4′. It can be shorter than that too-just like the picture. This is for our daughter and son-in-law. They don’t have a lot of room so this 2X4′ will fit perfectly for them. That’s only 8 squares of planting. We’ll be filling it with crops that love cold weather, are easy to grow, and that taste great(doesn’t it all?) Your box can be made out of wood, vinyl, bricks, ammo boxes(although they’re a little deep), railroad ties(the newer ones), etc. Screw them together with regular deck screws-at least 2 on each side and preferably 3. Be sure to rotate the corners as it shows in the picture. Try to make sure you put it in a place that gets a minimum of 6-8 hours of sun. And how deep does it have to be? Only 6 inches! That’s it! These are 2X6″ pieces of wood that I picked out of a trash bin near some new construction in the neighborhood. Free wood is the best! It takes about 10 minutes to drill this together. Next up: step 2-the perfect soil and my recommendations for commercially available compost. This is one of the biggest things to understand about the SFG system. If you get this wrong, all the other advantages of SFGing go away. It’s the biggest reason for failing in the SFG system.

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Leeks

leeks in potmaker-20814I like to take some time and think ahead of what I want to eat and when I want it. Take leeks as an example. I grow three different varieties that mature at different times-one finishes in 90 days, another 110, and the last one in 120 days. You can’t direct seed leeks in February in Utah-they wont make it. When you do direct seed leeks in the garden, you have to “hill” them as they get longer. The reason for this is the most coveted section of the leek-the white shank. If you don’t hill them you’ll end up with just a small section of white. I don’t have time for that so I start them inside and then place them in the garden in small holes that are 8-9 inches deep. In this way we’re able to get a solid section of white that’s just delicious. The variety pictured here is Megaton and it matures in 90 days. That means they’ll be finished by early to mid April-perfect for me and my customers. Think ahead to crops that take a long time to mature and start to plant some of them inside. It’s just a timing thing for me.

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The first seedlings emerge

february 2014 arugula cold frameThis plant was direct seeded right in the cold frame 12 days ago. We’ve mostly had night temperatures in the teens for the most part. I really love my new cold frame. But now it’s time for me to prepare and begin direct seeding into the main garden beds. The soil is perfect and ready to go. If you’re not a square foot gardener and would like to experience a garden with no hard work, no heavy digging, no weeding, no thinning, and 100% of the normal harvest, then this is the system for you. The big picture is easy: build a box, fill it with perfect soil, put a grid on it, and then start planting. Right now would be a good time to gather your material for your raised box. It can be anything you like: vinyl(expensive), bricks, railroad ties(not the old style ones), or wood. Whatever you choose only needs to hold 6 inches of soil. That’s it! I have 2X6″ lumber in my garden and they work perfectly. You can make it as long as you want, but it shouldn’t be any wider than 4 feet. Most folks start out making a 4X4′ box, but you can do more if you want. Maybe one-4X8′ box would be a good starting point. Drill your wood together with deck screws and your new SFG box is ready for the next step. Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be posting easy to follow instructions on how to begin your square foot garden. I also hope you’re on the mailing list for my free newsletter. I’ll be diving a little deeper into the concepts of the square foot gardening system and why it works so well with the newsletter. I hope you’ll come along.

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2014 beginning

cold frame 2014This week I’ve collected all the seeds I’ll need for an early spring garden. I also built this cold frame out of scrap wood laying around the house. I really didn’t need one, I just wanted one. This will be perfect for use in early spring and winter this year. When I look at the soil inside the cold frame I can still notice a shadow of about 6″ in the front of the bed. This is being cast by the wood in the front of the cold frame and the sun still being a little bit low. I’d say if you want to have success in a cold frame early, make sure that the entire soil area in the cold frame gets 100% sunlight with no shadows. As I’ve watched weather underground I can see that the low’s for evening temperatures are a little below freezing for the remainder of the month. That, along with noticing there will be 10 hours of sunlight on January 30th tells me it’s soon time to start planting. In two weeks I’ll begin direct seeding right into the cold frame and the garden beds. Next week I’ll begin to start a few things indoors-leeks, a few varieties of lettuce, poc choi, and chard. There’s still quite a bit remaining in the garden right now-carrots, potatoes, spinach, arugula, rosemary, parsley, and mache. It’s been a fun winter experimenting with all sorts of different things. Spring season is getting closer.

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