Sunday, April 27, 2014

Mary, Mary Quite Contrary How Does Your Garden Grow?

As we are finally getting a few nice days here and there, I am spending more time outside cleaning up vegetable and flower beds (Andy is chained to the bathroom putting up some drywall).  Last summer, Andy made me four raised flowerbeds for a vegetable garden.  Unfortunately, it then rained and rained and rained so we couldn't get dirt in the boxes or plants planted.  I experimented with a little garden, right next to our house where I planted some lettuce, peppers and sweet potatoes.  This spring, I was excited to get out and get some vegetables in my raised beds.

About a month before I could get planting, my mom sent me a book, All New Square Foot Gardening  by Mel Bartholomew.  After skimming through the first three chapters, I was convinced.  Bartholomew's whole concept is planting vegetables in square foot plots instead of the traditional row planting.  Row planting was one of the biggest reasons I was nervous about doing vegetables because I didn't like the exactness of it- I kind of prefer just throwing plants in the ground and seeing what happens.  Bartholomew's concept made a lot more sense and is a better use of space.  Space is not an issue for us- with 4 acres to spread out but nonetheless, I think it is genius.

My first step, following Bartholomew's plan was to prepare the beds with "Mel's Mix."  Bartholomew suggests building a 4'x4' raised box for planting then filling the entire box with Mel's Mix.  Since I already had boxes built- 4'x12' each and had filled them, I altered this a bit.  Mel's Mix is equal parts of compost, peat moss and vermiculite.  I bought as much vermiculite as I could find in Decorah (a few bags) and equal amounts of peat moss.

I then mixed in my own compost (though this was tough since a lot of it was still frozen!).

I spread this mix over my beds and turned the soil in with it to mix it throughout.  Not Bartholomew's suggestion, but it worked fine since I already had filled boxes.

The most important step in the Square Foot method is creating a grid of square foot squares.  I measures and marked my boxes and nailed a nail on the edge of the box every one foot.  I then tied twine on the nails and stretched it across the box, creating a 1'x1' grid.  After I had the grid completed, I pounded in the nails completely.

I did this for 2 of my 4 boxes- I left the last two gridless so I could create a trellis for climbing peas and tomatoes as well as a tower for potatoes.

For the pea trellis, I tied bamboo poles t-pee style on a stake- eyeing it the best I could to make it even.
trellis layout
Drill hole for twine in stake
Tie twine through stake hole around bamboo poles

I am trying a potato tower this year after seeing a cool idea in a magazine.  I used wire to tie chicken wire into a cylinder.

I then made layers in the cylinder of soil, compost and potatoes.

I ended up with 5 potatoes in each layer with 5 layers total.

I also saw some websites that used straw in the layers but I didn't have any on hand (which is kind of crazy considering our neighbor was up and down the road all day with bales of hay).  The payoff of this method is once the potatoes are ready to harvest you just kick it over and BOOM!  Potatoes!

I did all this preparation a few weeks ago and this weekend, I was able to get some seeds planted.  If you can't tell already, I have no experience in vegetable gardening.  I think I have a pretty good handle on perennial planting but vegetables are completely out of my realm.  For some reason, I have felt some apprehension about planting the seeds but this weekend, I finally decided to just throw them in the ground and see what happens!  With our last frost dates, I was able to plant spinach, snap peas, marigolds and onion sets today.  Looking at the spacing specs on the package, I knew I could plant 9 spinach plants per square.  In Bartholomew's method, you put a pinch of seeds in each hole and then pinch off any extras once they come up- hopefully wasting less seeds.  To speed up hole digging, I used my drill with the biggest bit I had.  In total honesty, I was not careful about the depth of my holes- I completely eyed it.  I have no patience for the precision of vegetables so we will see how it goes!

The marigolds need to have 12" spacing so I created one hole per square foot plot and added a pinch of seeds to each hole.  The marigolds are a suggested plants for companion planting because they deter pests.  They are also pretty, which is a plus.

For my climbing peas, I planted 3 pinches by each pole.  This is a total guess- I may end up needing to add some poles to my trellis for the beans.

Finally, I was also able to plant onion sets.  I liked planting these a lot because they feel more substantial than seeds.  Based on their spacing specs, I planted 6 per square foot.  I planted a mix of yellow and red onions- making sure the point was facing up.

An hour or so after planting, E checked on my progress and proclaimed vegetables were already sprouting!  No, we don't have the speediest seeds on the planet, just weeds but it did make me excited for the prospect of picking vegetables with the kids and preparing them for dinner.  Something to look forward to later this summer!

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