This is the year I will finally have a substantial amount of veggie growing space. Since I moved from a house with a large vegetable garden almost 7 years ago, I have been without much space for vegetables because of my heavily-treed lot (veggies need sun!) In 2010 I finally got around to cleaning out the "parking pad" in the back corner of our yard, built some raised beds, and got ready to plant in 2011.
I must admit I've been a fairly lazy vegetable gardener in the past. I only grow the things that are super easy to grow in Calgary and that truly taste much better fresh from the garden: peas, beans, beets, chard, lettuce, spinach, squash, carrots and of course, tomatoes. But I typically have done only one spring planting of each vegetable, which is not enough effort to maximize a garden's production. This year I am feeling greedy - I have much more space and I'm going to use it, dammit!
And so, I recently re-read Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. I recommend it to any vegetable gardener, by the way, even if you don't plan to grow things in squares, because it has tonnes of useful information. The technique, invented and made famous by Mel, was developed to maximize garden production as well as minimize work. Vegetable gardens aren't low maintenance by any means, but using these methods can certainly minimize your work with maximum success. Here are some of my notes:
Why have a vegetable garden?
- once you have tried homegrown flavour, you can't go back!
- you get great satisfaction from growing your own
- you can save money
- it is a very pleasurable hobby
- you have control over what you eat
- you can't get any more local than your own yard or community garden!
Benefits of the "square" design
- divide your garden into square sections - Mel uses 4ft x 4ft squares with paths in between but my raised beds are 4ft x 8ft
- mark and plant each 1ft x 1ft square with different plants
- this places limits on how much you grow so you're not overwhelmed at harvest time
- a well-designated spot for veggies prevents you from walking on the soil
- planting density is easy to calculate (see below)
- each square can have a different vegetable, flower or herb
- it is easier to maintain
- it looks well organized and attractive
Planting and maintenance techniques
- rather than overseeding and then having to thin later in the season, only plant exactly as many seeds as the number of plants you intend to grow (or if you're worried about germination rates, perhaps plant 2 seeds per hole and then you only have to thin a few plants at most)
- for each seed, poke a hole with your finger, half fill the hole with vermiculite, place one seed (or two, as above) and cover with vermiculite
- how many seeds to plant in a one-foot-square depends on the full-grown size of the plant (see below)
- interplant fast growing crops such as radishes, scallions and leaf lettuce between regularly-spaced slow-growing plants and harvest the former before the latter get big
- make a depression around each planting hole to direct water to the roots of the plants
- after harvesting a square, add a trowel of compost to rejuvenate the soil, then plant with something different - this takes care of crop rotation and interplanting (two techniques for pest & disease prevention) automatically!
- once a week, take note of what will be ready for final harvest in a few weeks, and start seeds for a new crop (of a different vegetable) at that time, so they'll be ready to transplant when the other crop is finished (tomatoes, chard, parsley, chives and flowers need only one planting in spring and will grow all summer)
- once the garden is prepared, all you need is a trowel, spade, bucket and watering can!
Plant density and placement
- to fill up one 1-ft square, plant 4 plants that get about 6" wide, 9 plants that get about 4" wide, or 16 plants that get about 3" wide
- this typically means per 1-ft square:
- 16 beets, onions, radishes, or carrots
- 9 bush beans, spinach, garlic, chives
- 8 peas, pole beans
- 4 swiss chard, lettuce, parsley, annual flowers
- 2 cucumber
- 1 cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, pepper, eggplant, potato, tomato
- a typical zucchini plant will take up a 3ft x 3ft square
- plant taller plants on the north side of the garden
- plant tomato, cucumber and squash on trellises to maximize space
- pole beans can be planted in a double row, 3 in. apart in each square
- typically, smaller growing varieties of vegetables will give you a bigger yield per sq. ft. of gardening space
- in general, cool weather veggies are fast growing and can be planted both spring and fall (eg. lettuce and greens, root vegetables, cabbage family)
- in general, hot weather veggies are slow growers and get planted in late spring (eg. bush beans, zucchini)
- see my previous post: when to plant vegetable seeds in Calgary
- beans can be planted one new square every month over the summer
If you're really energetic and serious about organic gardening and extending the season, there are also lots of tips in the book about building cages, covers and cold frames, as well as building your own vertical supports out of 1/2 in. pipe, etc. If you're preparing a new garden bed, you'll also find the information on soil preparation and amendments very useful. I could go on, but why don't you just get the book?
From the archives:
- what you need to know about building raised bed vegetable gardens
- seeds I've ordered for 2011
- herbs for Calgary gardens
- estimating viability - how long do seeds last?
- sun ray vegetable garden design
- successful home vegetable gardening by the Renegade Gardener
If you would like a beautiful and successful vegetable garden that nourishes your body and soul, view My Services for consultation details.