This 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.
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.
It’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.
You 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.
If 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…
It 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.
I 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.
This 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.
This 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.
Today is December 30th and was able to harvest red pontiac potatoes along with some delicious carrots. I’ve already begun to add leaves and finished compost to some of my garden in preparation for an early spring harvest. I don’t have a cold storage in our home. This is the best way for me to do it with things like potatoes. First, dig down into one of your squares about 8 inches. Put your potatoes in the hole. Add leaves you’ve collected this fall, then add your soil back on top. I have a covered hoop house so I’ve been able to not have the ground freeze under the hoops. Then when you want some potatoes, just push over some dirt, dig down, and pull out what you want. There is nothing as great as a potato just pulled out of the ground on on to your dinner table. It’s so much different than what you buy at even the best vegetable aisles! For the square foot gardener, you can count on 6 pounds of potatoes per square. I’ve got about 20 pounds left.
I’ve had a lot of fun harvesting salad greens this far into December. Combining all the different crops to make dinner salads this year has been a real treat. A snip of this, another of that, etc. has left us bewildered at how great these cold hardy crops really are. At last count I have 24 different crops still growing under the greenhouse. And we’ve had a lot of snow and freezing weather to go along with it. With the exception of some lettuce that I let get to big before harvesting, everything is alive and doing well. After a freeze or two those larger leaves of lettuce just turn to mush. I should have started harvesting these lettuce leaves at the smaller stages. Right now my garden is a refrigerator-keeping our food in a cool climate until we’re ready to eat it. One of the biggest and best tasting of the new cool weather crops is pictured here-claytonia. Also known as miners lettuce, it’s a prolific and heavy crop. We’ve been able to not only add this to the regular mesclun salad mixes that I put together, but I’ve also been able to cut some of it and lay it on top of a fancy chicken dish for a garnish. Nobody knew what it was but they all loved it. They also couldn’t believe that I cut it a few minutes before dinner. If you’ve never tried this, keep it in mind for next fall and winter as it will not grow in the warmer weather.
It was a pretty good snow storm that came through Utah 2 nights ago. I had a problem with the snow load on the greenhouse and had to do some last minute fixing. I also had to change the shape of the greenhouse to the rounded instead of the Gothic arch. The Gothic arch added another foot and a half of height so the wind was really blowing it around. My only concern now it this shape of greenhouse and it being able to handle the snow load. I’ve tried to do this on a major budget but have learned that you’ll need to do some critical things to make it more solid than the simple Eliot Coleman PVC and rope greenhouse. That’s simply not going to work when you have the kind of weather that we have. But he’s in Maine so it should be a little similar I would think. At any rate, it was 8 or 9 degrees two nights ago and underneath the greenhouse it was 34. I’ll post soon to show what it looks like under the greenhouse. It’s great under there. I was able to go out into the garden and effortlessly harvest loose leaf lettuce, mizuna, tatsoi, mache, spinach, and arugula. More snow on the way and single digit temperatures at night for many days to come.
I have many hobbies-in fact my wife calls me the “hobby king.” To this day I’m not convinced she says that in a good way. But when you have a garden that produces such tasty things as this, how could you not develop a cooking hobby? That’s the case with me. Tonight I harvested arugula and radicchio from the garden. It’s been grown in cold weather so the arugula doesn’t have that overpowering peppery taste that usually comes with it, and the radicchio is no longer bitter. Slice some Granny Smith apples, make some carmelized pecans and a honey-lime dressing, and top it with blue cheese. I promise-you’ll have people asking you for the recipe. The winter harvest-the absolute best.
The weather has really changed this week. Today it was 28 when I woke up with temperatures around that for the rest of the week. Winter is arriving quickly. My greenhouse plastic has finally arrived and it’s now up. I’ve had a lot of success growing all winter in northern Utah for years with my basic setup as shown. I just thought I would put up a greenhouse so that I can garden and harvest without getting snowed or rained upon. I definitely did it for less than $100. There is no heat involved-other than the sun-but it doesn’t matter with the crops I’m growing as they all love this cold weather. Plants have certainly slowed in their normal growing pattern, but now it’s time for the winter harvest. There’s no work out there to do at this time. No watering needed, and no pest problems to speak of. Hopefully we’ll get another snow so that I can post a picture of the greenhouse and what’s growing underneath it. Fun stuff.
This week has been a lot of fun. Usually I’m busy amending all soil, emptying the compost bins and getting ready to close down most of the garden for the season. I ended up bagging a lot of leaves and will finish that chore this week. I’ve emptied my compost bins and have started to fill them up with all the usually things. My biggest job was putting up my greenhouse. It didn’t take me too long-about half an hour. I did it for a grand total of $75, maybe a tad-bit less. We had a light snow earlier in the week. I had the greatest feeling of going out during the storm and tinkering in my gardens with the temperature in the greenhouse at around 50. It felt like I was in a different world under there! This will the most enjoyable winter garden I’ve ever had. I have 96 squares filled with 25 different crops that will be harvested throughout the winter. Probably the best part of this week was the salad I got to make. I snipped some radicchio and arugula leaves which are nowhere near as bitter as they normally would be when grown in warm weather, and combined them with blue cheese and carmelized pecans. I slices some Granny Smith apples and topped it with a honey-lime vinigrette. Can’t wait for salads this winter. You should learn how to grow your own in cold weather. They really taste notably different when grown in the colder climate.