Welcome to my gardening journey. This past month my family and I have spent many hours trying to get our garden plan ready. After learning about square foot gardening we decided this was the direction we wanted to go. We usually take a portion of our tax return and spend it on food storage but because our supply was at a sufficient level we decided to invest in a garden. I know a square foot garden is not in everyone’s budget, so if this won’t work for you that is totally okay! Find a method that is more suitable for your budget, yard, and needs. It can be as inexpensive as spending $10 to put together a few gardening pots with a few tomato plants in them. The important thing is to come up with a plan that works for your family and go with it.
In this post I will show you briefly what my family did and how we put together our garden. We really won’t know the outcome until the end of the summer, but for now, it seems to be working really well.
Step 1: Weed & prepare your garden area. Our garden had nearly a foot of solid weeds so we had to spend a couple days pulling out all of the big weeds and raking the ground until it was somewhat level. If your garden doesn’t have very many weeds you can skip this step, just make sure the ground is mostly flat so your beds will lay evenly.
Step 2: Purchase the wood for your square foot beds. We went to Lowes and purchased several long pieces of wood. It is recommended that your beds are filled with at least 6 inches of soil. This was our plan so we bought wood that was 8 inches tall x 8 ft. long x 2 inches thick. For every two long pieces of wood you can make one 4×4 square garden (or 2×8). There are several types of wood you can use for your boxes, we chose to use douglas fir because it was much less expensive than redwood. One board was around $8 at our local Lowes.
Once we had the wood along with 3 inch screws we were able to begin building our boxes. The boxes are easy to make. All you need to do is screw the boards into each other.
If you have a weed problem in your garden like we do, we decided to staple a layer of weed control fabric on the bottom of each box to keep weeds out of our gardens. This fabric was very inexpensive and worth the price for me to not have to weed as often.
Step 4: Decide which type of mix you want to add to your beds. Here is a link to Emily’s website where she discusses the pro’s and con’s of each type of mix. Because we were new to square foot gardening we wanted to do the recommended mix from Mel Bartholomew, the author of the popular books Square Foot Gardening. You can buy this mix already mixed together but we found purchasing the three components separately saved us a little.
Homemade Mel’s Mix: 1/3 part compost (idealy different types of compost. We used mushroom compost, steer manure, chicken/turkey compost, and another mixed compost) + 1/3 part vermiculite + 1/3 part peat moss. We purchased our compost from IFA by the yard, vermiculite was also the least at IFA and peat moss was the least at Lowes. We ended up needing about 8-9 cubic feet of soil per 4×4 box (3 cubic feet of each product per box). The cost per box seemed to be close to $50-$60 for each 4×4 square foot garden box.
Step 5: Mix the soil. We dumped the 8-9 cubic feet per box and mixed away. This was the fun part! I felt like I was in the kitchen cooking. We began by using a rake to mix and then all ended up in the soil up to our elbows. The mix is so extremely soft and airy it was super fun to play in. I was so used to our dirt we had to chisel at in order to plant things in, it was exciting to have soft soil. Once the soil was mixed we raked the soil level and our boxes were now ready to plant!
Step 6: Plant your garden. This is the fun part! I felt like it was Christmas trying to decide what to plant and where. I love Excel so I put together a spreadsheet on my computer so I could keep track of where and what I planted. Emily has tons of information of what to plant, where to plant it and what grows best in what conditions. I read over her website as best I could and came up with my plan for my garden boxes. One disadvantage to square foot gardening is if you don’t have a lot of room, you won’t want to plant large plants like tomatoes, zucchini, squash, pumpkins, etc. in a garden box because it will take over the entire box very quickly. Large plants like that (if you don’t have several square foot boxes) can just be planted in other parts of your yard or flower beds. Since we had the space I planted these in my boxes, but you will just want to do what you can with the space you have. Next to each plant I noted how many seeds or transplants I should plant in each square (example: carrots have 16 seeds per square foot where as cabbage only has one per square foot).
If you have time and extra money for more materials you can make the cute grid lines in your boxes. We ran out of money for our garden so we decided to pass on this step. I know the gardens look better when they have the grid lines, but will have to wait for those for next year. Before we planted we just drew the square foot lines in the dirt with the end of a rake and had a good idea of where to plant the plants. It seemed to do the trick 🙂
Bonus Step: Cover the ground around the garden boxes with some type of ground cover to cut down (or eliminate) all extra weeds. We picked up cheap bark chips from our local land fill (a large truck load and trailer full for $15) to cover the ground. It may not be the prettiest, but I don’t care as long as it keeps me from weeding 😉
Six easy steps and your garden can be up and running too! This method can also be used in smaller garden areas or in pots. The key is to have good soil (combination of those three products), sunshine and adequate water. Whether your garden is in a box or not, if you have these three basic elements of a good garden, yours will be successful.
(My favorite square feet–I think the carrots are so cute in a row and the beans are finally coming up.)
(Spinach is one of my favorite foods to plant, they come up quickly and are great in fresh salads and pasta dishes.)