The Wealthy Earth

A square foot gardening blog

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>
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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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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