Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Closer to the dream - SFG at SGF

After a wonderfully productive weekend, we're a few steps closer to our dream of food sustainability: Square Foot Gardening at Simple Green Frugal. I recently read the book Square Foot Gardening, recommended by one of Dave's colleagues who said it was a wonderful way to garden. We were impressed by the book and decided to go for it. 

The basic idea of Square Foot Gardening is that you build a 4 ft x 4 ft raised bed, subdivide the bed into 16 - 1 ft x 1 ft squares and plant crops in those individual 1 x 1 squares. The amount that fits in each square, of course, varies - one broccoli will fit per square, but 16 onions can also fit in one square. In the end, you can grow a wonderful variety of veggies (or flowers if you prefer) in a small area which is easy to weed (be cause it's only 4 x 4 total, it's easy to reach in), easy to rotate crops, and never has to be tilled (because you never step on the soil). It's farming on a small scale. Of course, we're just starting with one 4 x 4 bed. We'll be adding at least one more (the second will be twice as deep to accommodate potatoes and carrots). You can grow as much or as little as you want, it's simple to maintain, and because they are raised beds, they look really nice. At least, that's the idea. Who knows what will happen once I get my little hands dirty in all this. 

The first roadblock we encountered was finding the right materials. We wanted to build the beds out of something that wouldn't quickly rot, but we certainly wanted to avoid treated wood and all the chemical toxins they would leach into our veggies. Our first choice was cedar, but we were having some trouble finding it. Finally, last week, I walked over to a small hardware store, not far from our house and low and behold... cedar! So we drove over this weekend and purchased two 4x6x8 ft boards and had them cut in half. Perfect!

Dave used decking screws to make the box, we chose an area of the back yard where we wanted the first bed to lay, then we put down trash bags in an effort to kill the grass underneath. We'll let that sit for the next week while we pull together the rest of our supplies - like dirt. The Square Foot Gardening book recommends a mix of 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 course vermiculite, and 1/3 compost. We have the compost, we picked up some peat moss over the weekend, and yesterday I was able to local the vermiculite by calling around to the local gardening centers. A quick errand this weekend to pick up the vermiculite and some digging in our compost pile, and by this time next week, we should be ready to plant!

Right - so plants. What in the world do we want to plant? Of course, I already have everything planned out. Would you expect anything less from Mrs Type A? 

A friend of mine, who is also starting her first veggie garden this year, gave me the rest of her spinach and broccoli seeds. So as you can see, I have both broccoli (photo to the left) and spinach (photo below) seedlings currently in residence on my window sill. I also picked up a tray of cabbage plants over the weekend. That will still leave us with extra space, so I'm planning on picking up more green onion bulbs at the farmers market next weekend. Here's the plan (keep in mind, I have four rows of four square available:

Row 1: 4 squares of broccoli (one in each square)
Row 2: 1 square of broccoli, 3 squares of cabbage (one in each square)
Row 3: 2 squares of cabbage (one in each square) and 2 squares of spinach (9 in each sqaure)
Row 4: 4 squares of green onions (16 in each square)

With this being my first year, it'll be a real learning experience to see how long this feeds us - whether it's too much or two little. How quickly does each grow? When to harvest?... But then, as far as I'm concerned, that's the wonderful adventure in all this. I can see it now... I'm canning cabbage soup from veggies right out of my backyard!

So that's where we stand today - The bed is built, we have one more ingredient to purchase for our soil mix, and my seedlings are growing strong just waiting for their new home. It's a very exciting time at SGF. We've talked about this for so long and it's finally coming together. Stay tuned. There's much more to come!


ttammylynn said...

Oh boy, firstly, after you take up the plastic bags, put down newspaper to keep weeds down, before your soil. It is usually printed with soy ink and biodegrades in a garden in time, but will give better weed protection to make weeding a bit easier.Did you borrow the Lasagna Gardening book? I'll loan it to you, just let me know. Soil tips in it could save you money filling up a raised bed, seriously. Also, I read that the City of Bryan has a compost facility where you can buy compost...I don't know many details, but it may be your best bet.
Wal-Mart has spinach, lettuce, beets, turnips, radish, etc in organic seed form for 2 dollars a packet, I believe. It is in the section by the live fish at SuperCenter, with the pots and waterhoses, you know.
I hate Wal-Mart, but seeds are pretty inexpensive there. Lettuce and spinach can be direct sown in a garden quite easily(the seeds come up pretty reliably, even when planted directly into a garden). I have a few snow peas in seed form I can give you if you are interested... I had to find them on-line, but they are organic, too.
Good luck with your garden, you must be so excited.

Burbanmom said...

I've heard a lot of good things about SFG. I think that's the route I'll take next year, instead of putting everything in pots on the deck.

Good luck and please keep us posted on your progress!

ib mommy said...

Heather, ditto on the newspaper for the weeds. As a matter of fact you don't even have to put down plastic. Just put down either a super thick layer of newspaper or a layer of cardboard. Either one will kill the weeds as well as the plastic. You can just put your soil right on top of the newspaper/cardboard. This is also an additional amendment to the soil when it breaks down. The earthworms LOVE it and they will have a big party in your garden:)

Definitely borrow the Lasagna Gardening book. I have had great success with this technique!

Good luck and happy gardening:)

fearlesschef said...

Yay! I am so excited for your first shot at the farming! I will anxiously await photos and updates!

Jennifer (of Veg*n Cooking) said...

How fun Heather! I've heard a lot of good things about Square Foot Gardening and it is on my list of things to read.

That is so exciting that you've got it all planned out. I'm really looking forward to following the gardens progress! And wahoo for broccoli and spinach!!

Heather @ SGF said...

ttammylynn - do newspapers work better than weed cloth? We have tons of it in the garage we were going to lay down.

I did get a copy of Lasagna Gardening from the library. In fact, I just picked it up yesterday. I won't have it read by the time we start this raised bed, but I'll be an expert by the time we start the second one. Thanks for the recommendation!

The snow peas sound wonderful, if you are sure you have extras! Maybe I'll take out one of the onion squares and replace it with peas. Yum! We'll have room for more stuff next time when I have a second bed. For now, I wanted to start small and the bed is full already. Well, it will be when I get all the plants in.

burbanmom - will definitely keep you posted. It sounds super easy, but we shall see...

ib mommy - thanks! I'll have to consider the newspaper on bottom. I've never heard of that, although it's not like I've done a garden before (other than some tomatoes and strawberries up north).

fearlesschef - oh, there will certainly be updates. I'm like a new mother with this stuff. And all my little seedlings have popped up. So exciting...

jennifer - it was a pretty easy read and very straight forward. Now we'll see if it's all as easy as it sounds. But people have been growing food, forever right? Can't be so hard... :)

Glenda said...

Heather, thanks so much for this post! I forwarded the link to my hubby, as we've been talking about putting in one or two raised beds for the spring. The info in the comments has been extremely helpful too -- I'm going to see if our library has Lasagna Gardening.

greeen sheeep said...

I was just reading about this on another website. The photos they had caught my eye. I like everything neat and orderly. If you're a type A person, you will love this garden.

I am looking forward to seeing how it develops for you. Keep us posted. Good luck!

Heather @ SGF said...

glenda - it's a really easy read and wasn't too expensive to put together. I'll post pictures when I have the soil and plants in so you have a better idea of what it looks like. So far so good!

greeen sheeep - this is definitely the garden for anyone who has control issues :) It's VERY organized. Hopefully it also means a wonderful harvest. We shall see...

Sara said...

We did 4 square foot beds this year and loved it! I had more tomatoes than I knew what to do with:) It's so much easier than I thought it was going to be, especially since we had enough rain to not need to water. No watering, no weeding...just harvesting! Good luck!

Heather @ SGF said...

Sara - ooh, do I have questions for you! What all did you plant? Were four beds too many? How many mouths do you have to feed at your house?

I'm really looking forward to all those goodies coming right out of the back yard. What a great feeling!