Posts Tagged ‘square foot gardening’

The Great Sunflower Project – free seeds!

March 4, 2009

Do you have a sunny space where you can plant a few sunflowers?

They are tall but not too wide and can even be planted in large pots on your deck. All they need is full sun and  water.

Lemon Queen Sunflowers

Do you have 30 minutes twice a month look for bees on your sunflowers?

The “project” is all about pollinators…bees. As you may have heard, bee populations worldwide are declining.  This is an effort to track urban bee populations and determine areas where bee numbers are critically low. You can help and get free seeds in the process.

“One of our main goals is figuring out where bees are in trouble.”

Sign up by March 9, 2009

Go to the Great Sunflower Project website and sign up for your free seeds.

Four Easy Steps

  1. Sign up and plant sunflowers.
  2. Describe your garden
  3. Record time it takes 5 bees to visit sunflower (up to 30 min)
  4. Enter data online or mail it in
Bees on last years pumpkin flower

Bees on last year's pumpkin flower

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Four Steps to Perfect Boysenberries

June 3, 2008

Grandma’s Thornless Boysenberries

We picked our first boysenberries today!

I’ve picked my fair share of blackberries and boysenberries but I’ve never grown them before. As a kid we used to pick blackberries by the gallon in a huge vacant lot near our cabin in Monte Rio, California. The plastic buckets hung from strings around our necks so that we could pick with both hands.

The berry patch was massive with tunnels and rows made from old planks that were smashed down over the vines. It was hot and humid. Our hands were purple, itchy, and sticky by the time we finished. We kept wet washcloths in the car for afterward.

At Phipp’s Country Store and Farm near Pescadero, CA, you can pick olallieberries and strawberries then cap it off with a day at the beach.

Our Thornless Boysenberries berries were given to us by Grandma Rita who lives with Grandpa Ed up in Washington. She occasionally brings us goodies. The lillies she gave us are just beginning to bloom.

A couple years ago she brought a hunk of thornless boysenberries from her wonderful garden. It was in a one-gallon can. We didn’t have a place to put it at the time, so I proceeded to abuse the poor plant. I moved the can around the garden and often forgot to water it. That berry plant died and came back to life many times before we finally planted it.

Eventually, we bought a trellis at Costco and set it up in the garden. I split the vine in two and planted one on each side of the trellis.

We don’t have the room to plant the berries in the “proper” manner, namely a one or two-wire trellis row as outlined below. Given this year’s production, I’m not too worried about it. Our thornless boysenberries are watered regularly and get VF-11 plant food weekly during the growing season.

To properly maintain boysenberries, you need to learn two new words: primocane and floracane. Primocanes are the new stems that grow this year. They do not produce berries in year one. The Floracanes are last year’s growth and produce this year’s flowers and berries.

PRUNING IN A NUTSHELL

1. After fruiting in the summer, cut floracanes down to the ground.

2. Tie this year’s primocanes onto trellis and prune to 6-8 ft.

3. Thin semi-upright varieties to 4-8 canes.

4. In early Spring, cut side branches back to 12 inches.

More blackberry tips: Pruning and Training Thornless Blackberries

3 Steps to the Perfect Vegetable Garden (Part Three)

May 26, 2008

Step Three: SQUARE FOOT GARDENING

If starting a garden seems like more work than it’s worth, read on because square foot gardening will change your life. And if it doesn’t change your life, it will make gardening much easier and more fun.

I first learned about Square Foot Gardening from a PBS television series in the 70’s hosted by Mel Bartholomew. I picked up Mel’s Book years ago but only recently put his techniques to practice.

“Square foot gardening will save you at least 80 percent of the space, time, and money normally needed to garden, and at the same time will produce a better and more continuous harvest with less work.”

Mel Bartholomew

Why it works so well:

  1. Garden design is simple…just fill in the squares.
  2. Weeds do not overtake a square foot garden.
  3. Soil is not compacted by foot traffic…plants flourish.
  4. More plants in less space.
  5. Most important: You will actually enjoy and succeed at vegetable gardening.

Those of us who love gardening can’t wait for Spring. We have high hopes of planting a variety of vegetables, perhaps some flowers, and maybe even a few odd-looking vegetables just to see how they turn out (last year it was purple carrots). I’ve always taught my kids that gardening is an adventure. We may be doing battle with some pests, or encounter a few setbacks, but we will be rewarded as well. The square foot gardening method eliminates the drudgery of rototilling and grading each year lets get right into planting.

Lush garen

The three basics steps of square foot gardening are:

  1. Build a box
  2. Fill with planting mix
  3. Make a grid

I covered the box-building in my earlier post. Today I want to touch on the planting mix and dive into the grid and planting techniques. While I have been purchasing bags of “garden soil” buying bulk garden mix, Mel Bartholomew suggests the following mixture:

Mel’s Mix

  • 1/3 blended compost
  • 1/3 peat moss
  • 1/3 coarse vermiculite

I’ll probably give it a try next year in one box and post the results.

Lettuce bed

The magic is in the grid. Start with a 4 foot by 4 foot raised bed. divide the box into 12 inch squares. You must do this to make it work. In the box above, I painted a few old wooden stakes and cut them to size.

Now you just plant according the the specs on the seed packet EXCEPT that you plant in a square foot rather that a row. For example, you can fit 4 lettuce heads per square, 9 bush beans per square, 1 broccoli per square, 2 cucumbers per square, 16 carrots per square, 1 eggplant per square, 1 muskmelon per square, 16 onions per square. Are you getting the picture? You can pack a lot of plants in that small space.

In the garden box above, we planted:

4 watermelons (4 squares against trellis)

Scabiosa (1 square)

Zinnias (2 squares)

Chocolate Flower (1 square)

16 lettuce (2 varieties, 4 squares)

Pansies (1 square)

Aster (1 square)

18 spinach (2 squares)

In this box…

We planted:

6 cucumbers (4 Straight Eight, 2 Japanese Soyu Burpless)

2 vining squash (Trombetti di Albonga)

2 acorn squash (Table King)

8 Thai Basil

4 Italian Basil

4 Purple Basil

4 Savory

32 Carrots (Tondi di Parigi)

32 Carrots (French Baby)

Since larger plants require more than a single square , cut your grid markers into one and two-foot sections so that you can improvise like this.

Back Row: We’ve got sugar snap peas on the fence. I just planted pole beans in there (Scarlet Emperor) to take over when it gets too hot for the peas.

Next Row up: Tomatoes require 2 square feet, so I’ve planted two of them in that 3×2 area.

Next Row: Eggplant (Rosa Bianca & Black Beauty) requires 1 square foot, so we planted one on either side of the bush beans (Tavera).

Next Row: 2 strawberries (everbearing) and 1 zucchini (Clarinette Lebanese). This squash actually requires 3ftx3ft, so I’m pushing it with the 2ftx2ft space. We’ll see how it goes.

Front Row: 3 everbearing strawberries

For more information, planting guides, trellis ideas and more, pick up Mel’s Book. If you have any square foot gardening tips, tricks and success, please share them.

3 Steps to the Perfect Vegetable Garden (Part Two)

May 23, 2008

Step Two: RAISED BEDS

Raised Beds

This one tip can make your garden grow lush, with better seed germination, fewer weeds, and higher vegetable/flower production. Soil prep is also greatly reduced, saving you a ton of prep time and effort each Spring.

Why it works:

  1. You never compact the garden soil by walking on it.
  2. Rototilling is eliminated.
  3. Weeds come out effortlessly.
  4. Vegetable roots spread quickly in the loose garden soil.
  5. Plants grow and fill out rapidly.
  6. Gardening is compartmentalized.

For years I planted our vegetable garden in rows in the existing clay soil. I did amend our soil each year but it became compacted as I walked between the rows to pull weeds, water plants, or harvest. Winter rains further compacted the soil. In the early Spring I’d pull out the rototiller and go to work. I don’t know about you, but in the spring I want to plant, not rototill. I typically avoided the tilling until late in the season. Some years, the Bermuda grass and weeds took over and we never got around to planting a garden at all.

Then I decided to bite the bullet and build a few raised beds and fill them with garden mix. I used old lumber I had collected over the years from past projects or tear-downs. The boxes don’t have to be pretty, just functional. You don’t even need nails. Some of our boxes are made up of a few 4x4s laid on the ground with a couple stakes hammered into the ground to hold them in place.

Raised Bed

Craigslist is a great place to find free lumber and keep it out of the landfill.

I used 2×6 and 4×6 boards for other boxes…whatever I had on hand. I recommend that you fill the bed with at least six inches of good planting mix or garden mix. Most vegetables will root into the top 6″ of soil. The underlying soil will help retain moisture and give aggressive roots a place to go. If your lumber is only 4″ high, dig out 2 inches of existing soil before filling the boxes.

Add planting mix

You can buy planting mix bags at your local nursery or home supply store. If you have a truck, call landscape supply yards and see if they have a “garden mix”. You can save a lot of money if you buy the soil mix in bulk. They will deliver large loads. If you go this route, you may need to add compost to the bulk mix. In my experience, the bulk mixes don’t contain quite enough organic material. The loamy soils are nice but can form a “crust” on top and hinder water penetration. I’ve remedied this by mixing compost into the top layer or adding a product like Soil Moist when planting. Check the soil quality before you buy. The mixture will vary between landscape supply companies. If you want more organic material in the mix, see if they will mix more compost into it for you before they load it into your truck.

Strawberry Patch

You can make boxes in any size but, ideally, you should be able to reach the veggies without stepping inside the box. This keeps everyone from walking on the soil. A good size to start with is four feet by four feet.

TIP: If you have to go with larger boxes (like I did above), add stepping stones or planks to avoid soil compaction. I put three stones in the (far) pumpkin patch above.

In the winter, cover the unused boxes with a 2″ layer of leaves or straw to keep weeds in check. I leave the mulch in place until I am ready to ready to plant each box. If you only get one box planted, no problem. The weeds don’t get out of control in the other beds and they are still waiting for you when you are ready.

Rototilling is not needed. Just add a layer of compost on top of the garden soil in the Spring. Mix it in with your favorite hand tool. A hula hoe works well too.

Garden Tools

Start small and test it out. Build a 3 or 4 foot square and see how it goes. I’d love to hear how this works for you.

It’s time to Plant the garden

May 20, 2008

Look at that squash! (2007)

Well here we go. I’ve been thinking about blogging for awhile now and the garden seems like the perfect place to start. This is Chris (Dad). I’ll be the primary voice here for awhile. Hopefully, one of the kids will chime in from time to time. Mom isn’t much into gardening, but she bears with the tracked-in dirt and the “compost bucket” under the sink.

We’ve had a lot of fun out there over the years. Our garden has seen its share of success and failure, and we’ve learned from it all.

We’ll share with you what works for us and what doesn’t as we plant our garden this year. We will include reviews on our favorite products (like VF-11, and Ladybug Land), gardening tips (like composting and square foot gardening), and share our struggles & successes. Last year’s challenge was pumpkins that never matured. This year we have what looks like verticillium wilt attacking a patch of pansies.

The bottom line is that it’s an adventure out there. If you haven’t started your garden this year, take a day this weekend and spend it in the garden. If the task seems too daunting, start small…very small. Clear enough space for one tomato plant and a few marigolds. If you don’t like tomatoes, how about bush beans?

THIS WEEKEND:

Buy a container and some good potting soil and start there. I’d suggest a depth of twelve inches or more on the container so that it retains moisture. Short boxes dry out too quickly and the plants will suffer if they dry out. Promise yourself that you’ll plant at least one veggie and one flower this weekend. And if you have kids, get them involved!