30 May 2008

DIY - A Square Foot Garden

I took on a project this week, and I'm really glad I did. I'd talked for 3 years about my desire to have a vegetable garden in our yard, but there was always something that kept me from making it happen. Well this week I finally made it happen. Mandi had heard about these container-type gardens called Square Foot Gardens, and she spent some time researching it. She found numerous resources, but her favorite (for obvious reasons) was a site called Frugal Dad . I read through the instructions, we decided on a good spot in our yard, and the decision was made to make this happen. We figured that we were better off doing it now, because next year when we've got an infant to chase around we wouldn't make the time to get it started, but that we could much more easily maintain it if the basic framework was already in place.

One thing we decided to vary from the typical plan for a square foot garden was that we'd start the majority of our stuff from plants, rather than seeds. This added quite a bit of cost, but since seeds are not widely available at the major retailers this late in the season, it was the best option. The one package of seeds we were able to find was for peas, which will probably not tolerate the heat they're likely to encounter this summer, but they were high on the MWI index, so I planted them anyway. If you're not familiar with that particular behavioral indicator, it stands for Mandi Wants It. What Mandi wants, Mandi gets. Anyway, between the wood, twine, soil, seeds, and plants the cost of our 8'x4' garden was approximately $80. If we get a reasonable amount of production from it, it will pay for itself quickly. Plus, there's something to be said for the opportunity to show the girls what really goes in to producing the food we take for granted will just be there at the grocery store when we want it.

The first step was to build the enclosure for the garden. I purchased (3) 2"x6"x8' untreated pieces of lumber from Home Depot. I cut one of them in half and fastened them into an 4'x8' rectangle using 3" deck screws, 3 at each corner. I chose, for uniformity, to alternate inside and outside on the corners. It made the inside width dimension about 3" shy of a full 4', but that was neither here nor there. Then I screwed 1 1/2" deck screws into the top of the box at 1' intervals from each other around the entire circumference. I used basic twine strung between these screws to create the grid pattern for the garden, which give it its 'square foot' appearance.

Next, I selected a site that would get full sun exposure. It just happened to be that the best spot was against a section of the fence, which allowed me to save the expense of adding a trellis for the plants that will climb. Then, in what was easily the most difficult and time consuming step of the entire process, I removed all of the grass. It hurt me to do this, because this was some of the best grass in our yard. But I salvaged most of the good soil below it and used it to level the area. I believe that's Avery's right arm making a guest appearance in the bottom left corner of the photo.

Then I placed the framework of the garden in the spot and leveled it with the soil. I had to make sure to fill all the gaps along the fence with the harder clay to prevent excess erosion of the garden soil.

The next step was to line the ground with something to prevent weeds from infiltrating the garden. I could have gone with a weed-preventing cloth available at Home Depot stapled to the frame, but in the interest of saving cost I decided to go with newspaper. I'm not afraid to pull a few weeds (it's an inevitability, in my opinion), so cost won out over substance in this case.

Next came the addition of soil. My options were to create my own mixture or go with a pre-mixed Garden Soil product like the one made by MiracleGro. I, again in the interest of cost, chose to mix my own. I went with a combination of top soil, mushroom compost, and manure. Most resources I looked at recommended Vermiculite instead of the manure, but I couldn't find that at HD, so I went with the cow poo. My garden's dimensions required about 12-14 cubic feet of soil, so I went with 5 bags of top soil, 2 of manure, and 2 of compost. That amount gave me a good fill, and left 2 inches or so of space from the top of the frame.

At that point the most difficult work was done, and it was time to plant the seedlings. Again, I placed the climbing plants in the row closest to the fence to eliminate the need for a trellis. Those included peas, zucchini, straightneck yellow squash, and heirloom tomatoes.

The next row included cayenne, poblano, and green and red bell peppers, as well as cucumbers. I allowed some space to one side of the cucumber plant for it to creep, and then added one okra plant at the end.

The third row includes two watermelon plants at the ends and three cantaloupe in the middle. I'm really looking forward to eating homegrown melons. There's just something magical about picking a 2 pound melon off of the plant and taking it inside to enjoy it with my girls. The front row of the garden has 2 strawberry plants at one end, and the 6 other squares were left empty. This will allow the cantaloupe to take up more space than their allotted square foot.

I finished up by evenly watering all of the plants and seeds, as well as the empty soil. It was a fun project, and from start to finish (including the shopping), it took about 6 hours of work. 6 hours and $80, and the promise of a bountiful backyard harvest. It feels good to have finally put in the garden I've dreamed about for three years. You can count on updates and photos when I start to see my first results.


Carolyn said...

YEAH Corey that looks awesome!!! What a great job you all did...can't wait for Squagwa to spend his afternoons in the garden eating home-grown heirloom tomatos and fertilizing the place himself...hahaha...he will take after his Aunt C!!!
xoxox Godo job!!!!

MileHighDad said...

Hmmmm. good job!
I hope it works for you.

Don't be surprised one day. maybe in July it'll be a sandbox! It looks just like the sandbox I made for my son this spring, sans string grid and plants.


Mary said...

Congrats! We moved to Huntersville almost 3 years ago and I've been blabbing about a small garden. Haven't done it yet but now I'm inspired. I just want some home grown tomatoes, really.

Good luck with! Let's hope for rain, too :o)

Anonymous said...

That is fabulous! The pictures were a bit blurry...you may have to build one for me at the lake so I can really get the concept!!! I bought some blackberry bushes yesterday...figured the birds could eat what ripens when we're not there! Good job.