The Wealthy Earth

A square foot gardening blog

April 7, 2015
by Jim
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Spacing in the square foot garden

lettuce spacing in the square foot gardenLots of people have questions about the spacing of crops in the square foot gardening system. During classes, most certified SFG instructors including me talk about the simple and general spacing of 1, 4, 9, and 16. As we explain, the big plants such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, and kale will be planted 1 per square foot. The reason is simple. As you look at the “thin to” directions on the back of the seed package for these crops it will say “12 inches.” That’s were you get the spacing of 1 per square foot.

The next general spacing will say “thin to 6 inches” on the packet. These are crops such lettuce, marigolds, swiss chard, strawberries, arugula, bok choi, etc. that will be planted 4 per square. The picture above is an example. Right now these are outside under the protection of a cold-frame being hardened-off. In a few days I will plant all of these plants in one square foot. By the way, this is a magnificent lettuce variety called forellenschluss. You surely can’t buy it in any grocery store an but you can easily grow it in your garden. And can I say, you will be so glad you did? The wine-red markings with the lime-green leaves make this head of lettuce look as good as it tastes.

The next spacing is “thin to 4 inches” and include crops like spinach, beets, onions, and bush beans. These are planted 9 crops per square. You might think your bush beens are crowded, and they are. But there is no wasted space in the square foot gardening system. As long as it says “thin to 4 inches,” this will be the correct spacing.

Last are the crops that say “thin to 3 inches.” Carrots, scallions, radishes, turnips, etc. are examples of this spacing. Sixteen carrots in one square? That’s quite the use of space. If you have a traditional single row garden this will take up 4 feet in a linear row.

There are some other spacings that don’t fit the 1, 4, 9, 16 spacing. These include some of the squash or melon plants. As I look at my butternut squash packet, it says “space every 24 inches.” This tells me that I will use 1 squash plant per 2 square feet. If I want to have 2 squash plants to harvest I’m going to need 4 square feet to plant them in. For something like cucumbers we plant 2 per square. So, in 2 square feet we will have 4 cucumbers plants growing.

Sometimes you may come across an unusual spacing that you’re not used to. For example, I have a variety of lettuce that says “thin to 12 inches.” That’s unusual because lettuce is normally planted 4 per square inch or every 6 inches. In this case I will simply place 2 or 3 seeds in the middle of the square and let it grow. This is obviously a very large head of lettuce that will be harvested in a short 55-60 days that breaks the general spacing guidelines.

By looking at the “thin to” information on the seed packed you will always be correct. Keep a heads up for my upcoming eBook coming out soon. I think you’ll really enjoy it

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March 29, 2015
by Jim
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Watering your square foot garden

well watered square foot gardenThe square foot gardening system boasts of saving 90% of traditional water usage. Hearing this leads folks to thinking they don’t have to water their gardens very much. That’s really not the case. In fact, this thinking leads to the 2nd most frequent cause of failure in the square foot gardening system.

Here’s what the thinking should be: lets say your current garden space is a 20’X 20′(400 square feet)piece of land. If you were to change that garden over to a square foot garden, you would only use 20% of that space, or 80 square feet-roughly a 9’X 9′ patch of ground. Whereas before you would be watering 400 square feet of garden land, you now are only watering 80 feet of land-an 80% reduction. If that’s true, where does the 90% reduction number come from? Easy-course vermiculite. This material is excellent at retaining water and accounts for the additional 10% reduction. Of course in the SFG system, we’re talking about using course vermiculite. While it’s important to get course vermiculite in your soil, it can sometimes be a challenge to find. Vermiculite comes in three grades: course, medium, and fine. If you can’t find course, get the medium. If you can’t find the medium, get the fine. Whatever you do get vermiculite in your soil. The finer grades don’t hold as much water but it’s better than no vermiculite at all.

Once your gardens have been thoroughly watered in it’s important to keep the growing medium moist-just like any other garden. One of the ways I can tell I’ve got enough water on my garden is a simple visual check. I know that if my soil is light colored it doesn’t have enough water. This picture is an example of how dark my growing medium is-all the time. If I come out to discover it’s a light brown color, I know it’s gotten dry and it’s time to lay more water on it. While you can certainly stick your finger into the soil to get an idea of how dry/moist your soil might be, I prefer the visual check. It’s been the best barometer for me over the past 15 years.

Make sure you’ve got enough water on your gardens. It’s difficult to over-water these gardens with the addition of vermiculite in your soil. Any excessive water will drain out the bottom

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March 10, 2015
by Jim
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Why use the square foot gardening soil?

composting with leavescomposted and amended squareI’ve always commented on the importance of soil. It can make or break you. Your soil will be the most determining factor in having a successful gardening year or not. And all your friendly neighborhood gardeners? They complain bitterly throughout the year because nothing seems to grow very well back there. They keep doing the same things year after year and expect different results. I won’t tell you what the definition of that is!

But it doesn’t have to be that way! There is so much good information out there about soil. It’s not hard to learn about what it takes to have great soil Every year I see neighbors tilling their leaves into the garden during fall. Then they rototill again in spring when it’s usually still too wet and cold. They might add horse manure at this time. All this is very good except for the fact that there isn’t enough material in their amendments to substantially change the composition of their growing medium. Ten bags of steer manure covered over a plot of land that’s 30X40 feet doesn’t do much at all.

There’s no question that if you wanted to work hard at improving your soil you can get it. But it’s a lot of hard work. And knowledge. This is where your county extension folks come in. They really know their stuff! And after several years you might have that dream soil by following their direction.

My point is you can have perfect soil right away. Just three ingredients gives you that loamy, loose, and friable soil in about 15 minutes. No need to wait years to have that perfect soil. Coarse vermiculite, peat moss, and a good blended compost in equal portions(by volume not weight)are all you’ll need. And you can have that tomorrow without becoming a master gardener! No need to learn about acidity, soil composition, pH, etc. Just combine these ingredients and you’ll see just how easy it is to have that perfect soil without all the time, knowledge, and costs associated with things like limestone, ground powders, bone and blood meal, special fertilizer blends etc. Though it’s always a plus to have this extra knowledge, it’s not needed to have a great garden right now. I’ve been a square foot gardener for 15 years now and I’ve never had any soil issues. Ever. At this point my soil is 100% compost because those 3 ingredients mentioned earlier are long gone after this amount of time.

As you look around the internet at composting methods, you’ll learn about all sorts of ratio’s and formulas. While much of that is probably pretty good, why make it difficult? Coming to one of my square foot gardening workshops will prepare and teach you the simplicity of making great compost. And you’ll never be able to buy compost as good as you can make it. Not even close. So if you’re a northern Utah gardener looking for a better way to garden, think about attending my SFG workshop on April 11th. A quick email is all that’s needed to register. You’ll also learn the trick in the pictures above and what I’m doing. Good stuff Maynard

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March 1, 2015
by Jim
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Winter carrots in the square foot garden

winter carrots in the square foot gardenThis winter couldn’t have been any more fun that it was! It seems like every year I learn a few new things, and this past winter was no exception.

It was an unusually warm and dry weather, which meant that I had to physically water my gardens. It didn’t take too long but it was the first time I’ve had to do that. As I write, we just finished getting snow yesterday and last night with more coming this week. And the temperatures are supposed to take a plunge as well. It was all predictable-with the spring-like weather local gardeners were getting all excited to get the gardens revved up. I just had a sneaking suspicion that winter would return. And it has.

This is the kind of thing that drives many home gardeners crazy! It’s also discouraging to be ready to do something after months of being cooped up inside only to have it all be delayed. But, it is still winter.

I feel badly for my garden brother and sisters. If they would throw out their old way of single row gardening, they could have started their gardens at least two weeks ago without too many problems. By limiting the size of your garden, which is a very different way to think, you can protect them much easier. And when you can protect your boxes from wind, snow, sleet, rain, wind-chill and just flat out nasty winter weather, you’ll have a much different garden!

When our kids were younger we used to have a lot of chicken pot pie in the winter. I would trek on out to the garden and pull fresh carrots-like the ones pictured. As soon as the kids would bite into the pot pie, they would all ask-where did you get the carrots? They’re really, really good! They stopped asking after a while because they knew it was right out of the garden. Since the gardens are covered in the winter, it’s not a hassle in the least to pull them right out of the ground. No heaving digging is necessary. But boy, are they tasty. In an effort to keep warm in cold weather, our bodies produce more glucose. It’s the same with plants. The starches they store are then turned to sugars in cold weather, making them sweeter than they would normally be in the summer season.

This particular variety is called Napoli. It’s delicious and very, very sweet. I was a little late in putting them in last fall but they still developed into a decent size for winter production. I’ve got just a few left until I’m out completely.

I will be having another SFG class on April 11th beginning at 11:00 for folks living in northern Utah. If you’r interested in attending, just let me know via my blog contact page or my Facebook page under the same name of the wealthy earth. I’ve already met a few folks who put it off because they thought it was too cold to start. And now they wished they had come out to learn. They’ve missed out on at least a 2 week head start. Don’t delay. Get started now. Or you’ll maybe be sitting there looking at these pictures in a month and really feel bad for not starting now.

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February 18, 2015
by Jim
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Square Foot Gardening-2nd class

amended square of soilI will be having my second square foot gardening class on April 11th beginning promptly at 11:00 AM and ending at 1:00 PM. This class is conducted as a workshop. We will be doing all the basic things needed to have a successful SFG, along with the advanced techniques as well. Space is limited so if you’re interested in attending, please contact me by email at: jrt2020_2@msn.com. Price for the class is $25 per person.

In addition to the previous information, we will be spending time on how to protect your gardens in spring, summer and fall, vertical gardening, making great compost, and getting the most efficiency as possible out of your gardens. Please bring a pair of gloves.

At the time of this class you’ll see a square foot garden in full bloom. Normally at this time of year your friendly neighborhood gardeners are getting out their rototillers and working soil that is partly frozen and still wet. Come on out to see how easy it is to grow delicious, healthy food. The goal of attending this class is to leave not having to ask anybody else about how to do something in the SFG system because you’re now the newest expert in the neighborhood. There will be a small line of specialty lettuce seeds available for the summer months at $4 per pack. These varieties can’t be bought anywhere in the state of Utah and I promise you’ll be amazed at not only their taste, but also their appearance.

As the spring season comes roaring in, be sure to sign up for my free seasonal newsletter. I won’t over do it-you’ll only get 4 newsletters per year but I discuss many questions that people have and why we do things a certain way that might not make sense. For instance, look at the square in the picture of this post. Notice the deep, dark square of newly amended soil that’s ready to plant. Anything will grow in this mix. You’ll learn how easy it is to make it. After all, if you don’t get the soil right, nothing else really matters

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