Years ago I visited a friend’s parents who lived in Michigan. The mom was so sweet and hospitable, kind and generous. And she had a fabulous garden. I fell in love with her garden as much as her that weekend. When we arrived she summoned the dad to go grab some green beans from the garden “real quick”. He was back in less than 5 with a bag full of gorgeous green beans. I was in awe. Growing up in the south things like that didn’t happen. The harsh sun would have burnt them to a crisp long before they could produce something. She threw these delightful beans in a frying pan with some oil and salt. That was it. Oil and salt – 3 minutes. Then on a plate and in front of us in seconds. There they sat, a beautiful bright green color, crisp, yet warm and so, so tasty. The best green beans I have ever had. Ever.
That day I realized there was a different way to eat vegetables. They didn’t have to come out of a can all salt soaked and dark green, almost brown. They could be fresh and crisp and good in minutes.
I wanted a vegetable garden.
But I lived in Dallas where the sun scorches everything it can and not much grows except hot peppers. Oh, plus I lived in a condo with a 4×4 plot of garden in front. Not much hope for me.
But since that day I have had a desire to have a garden of my own where I could grow things and eat them. Sounds so simple. But to date, I have not lived in a place where I had enough yard to plant a garden.
Or so I thought. Until I went to a MOPS meeting this spring and our speaker told us about “square foot gardening”. A guy named Mel Bartholomew popularized the phrase square foot gardening in a book and a PBS television series in the 1980’s. This method is particularly well suited for areas with poor soil, beginning gardeners, children and small spaces. This is for me!
Here is a basic overview of what we did to build our garden using this method:
Here’s what you will need: peat moss, vermiculite, potting soil, ground cloth or weed barrier, 4 1×8 boards cut the same length, nails, hammer, scissors, staple gun, string.
1. Build your garden box.
You will need: 4 – 1″x8″ boards cut the same length. I had to use 2×8″ because my store didn’t have 1×8″ boards. And I used 2′ long boards but you can make yours bigger. Also, a piece of ground cloth to cover the bottom of your garden.
Nail the 4 boards together in the corners. I also used L-brackets to make it stronger. After that, staple the ground cloth on to cover the bottom. Then take some string and mark off 1 square foot sections by tacking the string to the side of your box in 1 foot increments. If you do this on both sides you should end up with a nice grid.
2. Mix your soil.
The soil mixture should be 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 vermiculite and 1/3 compost or potting soil. I poured it into the bed and mixed it up in there. The soil should last for about 3 years and there is no need to fertilize anything, it contains all the plants need. So, “just add water”.
You can get crazy and germinate your seeds inside if you want. I went to the nursery and purchased baby plants to use instead. Once you know what you want to plant you can look it up online or get a book on square foot gardening that will tell you how many to plant in a 1 square foot section. For instance if you want a tomato plant, you can get one in a square foot area but other things you can get 16. So you just have to look that up.
I was surprised at how much you can get in this tiny garden. I will keep you updated throughout the summer on how well we are doing here! This is my first attempt, so let’s not have high expectations, ok?
If you are interested in trying this method yourself, here are some other resources on square foot gardening:
All New Square Foot Gardening: Growing More in Less Space by Mel Bartholomew
Cubed Foot Gardening:Raising Vegetables in Raised, Intensive Beds by Christopher O. Bird