Saturday, November 9, 2013

Square foot gardening

Hello all! Since school is back in I’ll be going back to my posting schedule of four posts a week – at least most of the time. :) Some weeks get crazy but for the most part you’ll see one more post a week again.

I know, calm down. Awesome.

I should have really talked about this earlier this summer but the months just got away from me. I did want to mention it so you can prepare for next year if you are interested in gardening.

Thing is, we used to have way more of a backyard, but even then it was kind of odd, with a big slope. So we didn’t have a great spot to put a large garden. When I blogged about my desire to grow a garden years ago, many of you were so helpful and I learned a ton.

So a few years ago I started a small garden – I used the square foot gardening technique – loosely. I say loosely because I didn’t segment the garden out like a true square foot garden. I just kind of planted stuff in there and hoped it would do well.

And it did. :) That’s when I learned that you don’t have to have a large, perfect spot to make food grow. It needs water and light and the space doesn’t matter as much, in my opinion.

Since then we had the patio put in so a couple years ago I moved the garden to the only good spot we had left – right next to our air conditioner:

square foot garden

It wasn’t ideal and I didn’t know how everything would do. Before this everything had been in full sun. This area gets morning and some afternoon sun, but not the super hot late afternoon sun and it’s actually done really well.

I could have DIY'd the garden set up, but it comes in a kit at most hardware stores and it was super easy to put together:

square foot gardening

I have taken it apart and put it away for the winter and I’ve left it out – it’s cedar so it holds up fine to the elements – at least for the next few years.

We back up to land with woods and a creek so we get a lot of wildlife. TONS of bunnies. Because of that I knew I wanted something to deter them from eating everything and I use that lattice stuff. I found it in the dumpster at hubby’s high school years ago. (I didn’t DIVE in the dumpster – just picked it up off the top.) ;) And I’m kind of surprised but it works great. They don’t nibble on anything. I actually think having it by the air conditioner may help too – the noise maybe?

So there’s some things I’ve learned over the past years that I thought I would share. I’m not an expert by any stretch but I’m learning more every season.

I planted a strawberry plant and blueberry bushes years ago – blueberry bushes need to be planted in multiples because they cross-pollinate. But the bushes didn’t do well – we needed to move them and never replanted them. Each one only produced a few blueberries total. Now I know I should have been more patient -- I think they just needed a few years to get established. I mean, we have a farm nearby that we pick blueberries at that has hundreds of big blueberry bushes, so I know they can do well.

And the strawberries are one of those I think I’ll just keep going to pick somewhere else:

strawberry plant in garden

By this time of year the plant is big and kind of sprouting out – I didn’t realize strawberry plants did that. It shoots off and plants itself in another spot, so I think in a warmer climate it would kind of take over. But for years now it’s only produced maybe a handful of strawberries each year. I know that would increase over time too, but I’d rather use the space for something else.

I like my garden foods like I like my flowering plants – producing all season instead of once. Strawberries produce for one month and then they’re done. I’d rather have more room for my beloved cukes:

growing cucumbers

Isn’t that funky? I don’t know what kind I got this year but they are long and skinny. I prefer a chunkier cucumber but these still taste great. A few folks warned me years ago about the cucumbers – they said they would take over the garden and they are right. :) But I love my cukes so I insisted on having them. Thing is, they are vine plant, so yes, they do go everywhere, but they don’t hurt anything. At least in my experience – they mix in with the tomatoes and stuff but not too bad.

I lean some of the lattice up against the house so they can work into that, but they prefer to stay low. It’s kind of cool to see how they grab on to stuff:

cucumber vine

They do pretty well in this spot but I think they prefer full sun. My first year growing them it was out. of. control. there were so many. It was awesome. :) Then the first year I planted them on this side of the house I didn’t get one cucumber – but it was a super hot summer and it turns out it had something to do with the bee population. Crazy, but they weren’t being pollinated by the bees so they never produced.

This year they are doing much better, just not producing a ton like that first year. I don’t know if it’s having less sun or just the version I got.

My other favorite garden plant is tomatoes. This year I did three versions – regular tomatoes, romas and cherry:

growing cherry tomatoes

The cherries always do well for me and this year they are mad crazy good. Like, I can’t even keep up. But I use them all the time – salads, in my eggs, for caprese salad…I love them.

The romas are doing incredible too – they just started maturing a couple weeks ago and they are coming so fast I can’t keep up:

growing roma tomatoes roma tomato plant

My only disappointment this year is my regular tomatoes – I got a container plant this year to try to fit more into the garden and I should have just done a regular plant. I got two little bitty tomatoes off of that all season. There aren’t even anymore coming – kind of a bust. Next year I’ll just go with a regular plant.

There are seasons to what you plant too – early summer crops and late summer. If you love lettuce you’ll want to grow that early. It does better in the less intense heat of the early summer months. I’ve done a few different lettuce varieties and they all do well – almost too well. When they start to mature they do so fast so it’s kind of hard to keep up.

I planted three arugula plants this year and with all of the rain we got in May and June they exploded – I didn’t even get that much off of them because they went to seed so fast. (That means they grew flowers, which often will change the taste and make them bitter. Same goes for many herbs like basil.)

Some of the late summer bloomers are melons – this year I couldn’t find any watermelon so I went with cantaloupe:

growing cantaloupe

I looked for weeks to see something and finally a few weeks ago this showed up. Man, these are sloooooow. It hasn’t grown much in the past week or so. But I’ll keep an eye on it – I’m not sure it’s going to get much bigger really. :)

In my little garden (I think it’s about four by four feet?) I’ve had ten plants growing this summer. As I mentioned, the arugula is now gone but everything else is still there. This year I planted my herbs in a smaller container by the back door so I’d have more room here. I do have my rosemary planted in the bigger garden though, and even with the cucumber vines all around, it does great.

A few years ago I picked up this book after many readers recommended it to me:

square foot gardening book

If you are new to gardening it is a wealth of information! Before I heard of this method I thought I needed a huge spot to grow my own food, but it’s so not the case. Many plants you can grow in containers too and they will do really well (tomatoes, strawberries, herbs), so space shouldn’t hold you back! My garden isn’t pretty, but it produces. That’s what matters!

As far as keeping them alive – just water them when they look hot and wilted. Other than watering I don’t do any upkeep with my garden at all. I don’t even mulch which I probably should. Pretty low key, just how I like it!

Do you garden? Do you use the square foot technique? What’s your favorite thing to grow?

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