Category Archives: square foot garden

My Dream Came True!

Back near the beginning of the year, when I put together the plan for my dream garden, I never thought I would wind up installing it this year!  After a lot of planning, research, and cost analysis, I got the OK from my spouse to move forward with my plan.

First, I plotted out the section of yard I wanted.  This wasn’t too hard as I was just expanding and squaring off the section I expanded last year.  Then I removed the existing mulch and pulled the sod and put it aside under plastic to kill it (most of it wasn’t desirable grasses).   While pricing out materials at one of the big box stores, I found some 2x2x8″ bricks on clearance, so I picked up a fair amount of those to use for edging.  I did my best to level the garden area and installed the edging as level as possible.  This proved a little tricky considering the grade slopes ever so gently away from the house, but I managed to make it work.  Weed barrier was laid down and secured and next came the boxes.

Math is not necessarily my strong suit, and I took a fair amount of time to work out how to make the least amount of cuts for my raised beds.  Off to the big box store again for lumber and hardware – corner brackets that cost more than the lumber!  These materials camped out in my garage for a couple of weeks while the weather decided what to do.  I finally had a few good days coming up in the forecast, so I bribed my husband to help me cut the lumber so I could go to work in the garden the next day.  Once again, I spent an hour or so making sure the corners joined in a way to not get something like a parallelogram and I went to work.

Now that the boxes were done and roughly placed, I needed to figure out the best way to fill them and mulch the paths.  Filling came first and I found a local dirt guy who also sold a compost that sounded lovely  – chicken & horse manure, mushroom compost and a few others I can’t remember.  So I ordered a combination of soil and compost and had it delivered.  I started filling the beds and realized that there was no way I was going to be able to complete the job by myself, and rain was predicted for the next day.  That soil HAD to get in.  Luckily, my neighbor and his teenage son took pity on my and using two wheelbarrows, managed to get the rest of the fill in the beds.  The best part, was finding this guy:

This would be Lord Voldewart or, The Toad That Shall Not Be Named.  He hitched a ride on the truck and got unceremoniously dumped on my driveway, then scooped up and dumped out of a wheelbarrow.  He now has his own tank, fresh water, and fresh food.  He’s one happy toad!

About a week later, I scheduled mulch to be delivered and installed in my backyard.  The landscaping in the back is along the entire perimeter of the yard, plus the back of the house and my garden area.  The guys edged my beds and installed the mulch.  I finally had a proper garden!  Since then I have installed grids for square foot gardening (using a vinyl folding “door” that I found at the hardware store, it has narrow slats that I could remove and cut to length – even better, I can write on it with pencil) transplanted my thyme, oregano and parsley, planted my onions and garlic, and sowed everything else directly in the planting beds.  In the past two weeks, I have installed trellises and kept an eye on things.  Nearly everything has sprouted and some things are doing fantastic.  The herbs are VERY happy in their new location and I have radishes that I will be harvesting any day now.  In the two beds I used last year I am planting strawberries and romaine lettuce.  The one I planted lettuce in was an afterthought.  I wasn’t planning on using it, but I needed to do something with extra compost/soil so it got filled, I figured I might as well put it to use.

I’m also impressed that everything I dug up, divided and transplanted is not only surviving, but thriving and doing extremely well.  The daffodils bloomed right on schedule, the geranium looks like it was there all along, and the Ozark blue star is starting to bloom.

Today I spent a fair amount of time weeding.  While the compost was a great find, I have discovered that it was absolutely riddled with seeds.  Some are clover, which I’m tempted to leave as a green mulch, some look like radishes, some look sort of like carrots, and others look like weeds and grass.  I figure if I pull a bunch this year, next year it shouldn’t be as hard.  I’ve left a few that look like something useful just to see what comes out of them.

Speaking of pulling, I completed the first blitz of garlic mustard eradication.  I’m pulling more as I find it, and had a disheartening discovery.  It seems as though it is running rampant in my neighbors yard, and being that he’s elderly, it’s not going away anytime soon.  I’ve considered mentioning it, but honestly, I would wind up getting stuck pulling it all, and I’m just not willing to put in all that extra work for the next few years.  I’ll be happy if I can keep the stuff in my yard under control.  Next time I see the person that does his yardwork, I may mention it.

So this is what my garden looked like when it was finally installed.  Parts of it are much greener already, and nearly every square foot has a sprout (or more) in it.  There are also more trellises along the outside of the longest bed and on the right hand side.

I’m off to research chemical free ways to eradicate massive anthills.  I may have mentioned before that our entire neighborhood seems to have been built on an established carpenter ant population.  Unfortunately, they like to make their hills near my edibles.  Every year there is one near, or in, my raspberry patch, and this year I have a bonus one adjacent to one of my planting beds.  It’s quite fun watching them carry mulch to their home, they are amazingly strong little guys.  I’ve heard some judiciously applied boiling water may do the trick, but whatever I do, I have to be careful not to splash or otherwise harm my tomatoes.  If anybody has any viable solutions, I’m all ears.

Dream Garden

Nothing like cold temps and snow to get me thinking about what I ultimately want to do with my garden!  Last post had a plan for my existing garden, but after some estimates and shrewd requests for materials, it looks like my dream garden is going to work out.  I made this plan the same day as my previous one, and I can’t stop thinking about it.  Something about it feels very “right”.    The little bit of enginerd in my blood is also charmed by the straight lines and neatness about the plan.  I’m going to do my damndest to make this work this spring.  We’ll see what happens.

Tomato Tomahto

Many people who don’t do a full blown vegetable garden still plant one vegetable that is best home grown.

Tomatoes.

Garden Bounty

I have found that tomatoes are easy to grow and the reward is fantastic.  Ask anybody who has grown tomatoes and they will tell you that what you buy at grocery store pales dramatically in comparison to what you get out of the garden.  The taste of home grown tomatoes has no equal.

This year I have a total of 8 tomato plants.  Two ‘Brandywine’, two ‘Early Girl’, two ‘SuperSweet 100’ cherry tomatoes, one ‘Arkansas Traveler’ and one ‘Mr. Stripey’.  So far the yield I have gotten from the ‘Brandywine’ and ‘Early Girl’ has far exceeded my expectations.  The plants are so heavy with fruit that picking can be a challenge when the fruit are jammed together in their supports.  In fact, one of my ‘Early Girl’ plants is threatening to bring down the stake and spiral cage that supports it.  I am using the Veggie Cage spiral tomatoe cages.  You just connect them to a stake (I have six foot stakes in the ground) and gently guide the tomato plants through the center of them.  As the plants grow, you guide the shoots through the sides to give them support.  Not only do they work exactly as advertised, with no tying of the plants, but they are attractive as well.  Four of my plants are in my Square Foot Garden.  My ‘SuperSweet 100’ cherry tomatoes are doing very well trellesed up with a nylon trellis, and I haven’t had to tie them or their neighbors up as well.  As the plants grow I gently weave them in and out of the trellis and they seem to be appropriately supported.

In the past, I had planted fairly standard varieties of tomatoes, usually ‘Big Boy’ or ‘Better Boy’ and that was the extent of my tomato experience.  This year I chose ‘Brandywine’ because all over the internet, I have read that they are possibly the best tasting tomatoes.  They certainly don’t disappoint.  Not only are they meaty with a rich flavor, but they can grow to fairly enormous size.  I have had two tomatoes that have weighed over a pound, and 4-5 more that hover around 14 ounces.

August16Harvest

The ‘Early Girl’ variety was a result of me possibly channeling the spirt of my grandfather.  Apparently he used to grow tomatoes all the time and the variety he planted most often were ‘Early Girl’.  These look much more like supermarket tomatoes.  They are almost perfectly round and red, not irregular and pinkish like the ‘Brandywine’.  They are not as meaty, but still have a good tomato flavor, just not quite as sweet.

Early Girl

My ‘SuperSweet 100’ are my husband’s favorite.  He has always loved cherry tomatoes, but we were shocked at how sweet these are.  They are truly like garden candy.

I have to say that the yield on ‘Arkansas Traveler’ and ‘Mr. Stripey’ is downright disappointing.  I suspect it has something to do with being in my Square Foot Garden (when the ‘Brandywine’ and ‘Early Girl’ are in the potager).  It could also be that I did some direct composting early in the season around the plants in the potager, but not in my SFG.  Next year, I will definitely put all of my tomato plants in the potager and probably direct compost early in the spring again.  I think I might plant one or two more ‘Brandywine’ and try a few other varieties as well.  I’d like a Roma tomato, maybe a yellow grape tomato, and something more exotic, like a ‘Black Krim’.  It all depends on what I can get at the nursery.  I’m not sure if I’ll start seeds again next year.  While I enjoyed raising my “babies”, I am horribly impatient and hate the hardening off process.  While that seemed to go well this year, most of my starts didn’t make it.  I may have started seeds to early.  We’ll see how the winter goes.  If it’s another tough one, I’ll probably start seeds again, just so I can have something green to look at when it’s still cold outside.

Bumper Crop

About a week ago, I caught my youngest daughter picking raspberries and popping them in her mouth.  She was enjoying them and we only had a few ripe at the time.  This morning I looked out the kitchen window and saw a bunch of red dotting my raspberry bushes.  I grabbed a container and headed out to pick.  On the way, I was distracted by the peas and realized I hadn’t harvested any in a few days.
Peas

After picking a small container full I reversed course and went back into the house to grab another container for the berries.  When I approached my raspberry patch I was amazed at what I saw.  More ripe berries than I had ever seen in the 3 1/2 years we have lived in this house.  I started picking, swatting at the japanese beetles that would occasionally buzz my head trying to protect their turf (they haven’t actually been bad this year, might be because I killed HUNDREDS of grubs when setting up my kitchen garden – a thought that still causes me to retch when thinking about it).  Soon I fill my container and head in to give them to my husband to rinse (there were a lot of fat happy bugs all over and around the berry bushes).  I dump the berries in the colander and head back out.  Soon my container is full again and my husband and I are totally amazed at how many we managed to get in one harvest.  I really should have weighed them, but I was already drooling over the plump red fruits.  My guesstimate is that I picked about 2 pounds of raspberries this morning, give or take a few ounces.  It totally filled one of my bigger plastic containers.
Raspberries

The best part is that there are still a lot of mostly ripe berries out there that I will be able to pick in a few days.  I’m not sure I’ll get quite as many as I got today, but I’m hopeful that we’ll come close.

My Babies are Growing Up!

I spent a few days last week potting up my seedlings.  My tomatoes were the first to graduate to plastic cups and they are thriving with the added nutrients and room to stretch their feet.  Most of them look like actual tomato plants now, with lovely stocky stems.  The broccoli and cauliflower seem to be happy as well, growing quicker and straighter.  A few days ago, the peppers, cilantro and dill moved up.  They seem to be stretching out and enjoying their newfound freedom as well.  The cilantro is no longer laying on it’s side, and neither is the dill.  Could be that I yelled at them and told them that lazy seedlings don’t get to go out to the garden.

Real estate under the grow lights is starting to become a problem though.  If anything else needs to be potted up in the next month, it will have to grow by a windowsill, which in our house is still relatively shady.

The experience of starting these plants from seeds has been far more rewarding than I could have ever imagined.  Last fall, when the idea to start a vegetable garden took root, I thought for sure it was a whim, the enthusiasm for which would fade.   If anything it has grown.  The idea that I can feed my family tasty, nutritious, fresh, organic food from something as tiny as a tomato or pepper seed is amazing.  God help the poor bunny or squirrel that decides that my plants are a salad bar.  They have become my little green babies.  I check on them multiple times a day, talk to them, pet them, rotate them.

I have big dreams for my two little square foot gardens.  I have dreams of adding more, and dreams of converting my family to fresher whole foods instead of the processed crap we have all become accustomed to.  My dreams went so far as to look into the possibility of raising chickens.  Alas, that one will not happen, as the regulations here prohibit it with our parcel of land.  Maybe I can invest in my friends chickens when they move.  They are building a house and along with the three quail she currently owns, is looking to add chickens.

Does everyone get so delirious after reading Michael Pollan?  I’ve read The Omnivore’s Dilemma and am nearly finished with In Defense of Food, and have found that I already follow some of his suggestions, and have done so out of instinct.  Years ago, I gave up on margarine, somehow I just knew butter was better.  I’m currently trying to find sources for stuff like real yogurt (sorry Dannon and Yoplait, you don’t qualify) and local eggs.  I could get more local milk, but unfortunately with two growing kids, I can’t really afford it.  It’s twice the price of “regular” milk (but tastes twice as good as well).  My ultimate goal is to wean my family off of convenience foods full of preservatives and goodness knows what else, and back to more whole foods.  I’m sure there are still times in our busy schedule when McDonald’s really is the only option, but with some careful planning, perhaps I can wean us off of that as well.  Not surprisingly, we all feel better when we eat real food, and we tend to lose weight and be healthier as a consequence.  I’ve lost more weight using olive oil and butter, and eating good cheese than I ever did using reduced fat margarine, or low fat cheese.  After only once eating fresh shredded parmesan, I can never, ever go back to the stuff out of the can.

Interestingly, I think the whole catalyst for this shift in thinking sprang from my trip to Paris a year ago.  My husband and I ate very well there, and after the second day we noticed something.  We noticed that the food tasted so good.  Better than anything I had in a long time.  Not only that, but we noticed that after a meal we felt good.  Not just good, but great.  Too many times after eating out here at home, we leave the restaurant overfull, bloated, and headachy.  Some of that I’m sure is from the huge portions, but I suspect it is more from lower quality food.  Since that trip, I am still in search of the perfect baguette.  I’m thinking I may have to learn how to bake bread and make it myself.

Will It Never End?

Apparently we got a dusting of snow overnight. I’m so sick of it. Knowing what I was going to find, I went in the backyard yesterday to check my soil in the SFG closest tot he house. The soil is still frozen pretty solid. I even had it covered during that last storm when it rained buckets the entire day. The other SFG’s soil is still loose and fluffy. I think the difference is in the amount of sun. I’m just hoping that it will get warm enough for long enough in the next couple weeks so I can work it and sow my peas. I NEED to get something in the ground. I guess it doesn’t help that the tines of my pitchfork are all wonky. A few years ago when we moved in, I removed English Ivy from a 6’x6′ square that is separate from all the other landscaping. It was well established and the network of roots under the soil was incredible. Some of the roots were thicker than my thumb and strong as hell. I managed to hook a couple tines under a root and bend them. It’s surprising I didn’t break the handle of the pitchfork.

What do you use to work your soil if it gets hard and/or clumpy? I know if it’s frozen I pretty much have to wait, but I’m tempted to keep at it to try to break it up and encourage it to thaw. I still need to work in the peat moss. I couldn’t find it in the fall (most of the garden centers were bare bones at that time) and I didn’t find it until fairly recently. I think if I could get even one day where it thaws, once I work in the peat and vermiculite, it will be fluffy enough to not freeze as easily.

Go Grow!

Finally got my rear in gear and planted my seeds. Part of my ghetto set up is a heating pad for the seeds. I’m going to keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t get too hot, but I think it will be ok. I have it sandwiched between some ceramic tile so it’s not directly in contact with the plastic seed flat.

For whatever reason (probably that last snowstorm), I haven’t been in the gardening mood. Today I figured I need to bite the bullet and get started. I never really put much thought into starting seeds before, so I usually got these spindly things that didn’t do well. This time I have a heat source AND a plant light, so we’ll see how that changes things.

Looking at my plans, I made a last minute substitution and threw in Sugar Baby Watermelon instead of the zucchini. If it does well, it will get a much better reception in the household than a vegetable type crop.

Peas are supposed to be planted outside soon. It was actually snowing a bit this morning and I haven’t tried to work the soil that was frozen last time (where the peas need to go). The weather is showing it’s usual schizophrenia for this time of year and I’m not quite willing to suffer the cold to try to get that soil ready. Maybe today….maybe.