Experiments in Square-Foot Gardening

This month the mini-challenge is localizing our food.We’re paying attention to where our food comes from at the coop, choosing Minnesota or Wisconsin-grown, rather than California or Mexico. At our last trip, 24% of our purchase was local.

raised bed garden box

One of our square foot garden boxes

The other big effort – especially this time of year – is in the garden.

Last year we worked with the Permaculture Institute for Cold Climates and had an urban farmer create and work our veggie garden. This year we’re back to doing it ourselves, but with a twist. We’ve planted several square foot gardens in addition to a more traditional vegetable plantings directly in the dirt (the circular bed). The square foot layout is intended to maximize yield while minimizing space, to virtually eliminate weeding, and to generally simplify gardening.

Peter built five 4′ x 4′ boxes using untreated wood from a local lumber yard and lathe that he scavenged from a dumpster. We used an online tool to plan the garden, though I have to admit we didn’t follow the plan too exactly because the boxes weren’t all built at the same time and we bought our vegetables in batches. (We tried to grow seeds indoors but something went wrong and nothing sprouted.)

Crops include tomatoes, lots of lettuces, spinach, collards and chard, radishes, carrots, eggplant, garlic, peppers of all types, broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi (new to us), rhubarb, lemongrass, potatoes and sweet potatoes (not sure if those will get through the season because they say they need 145 days), parsley and cilantro, dill and 5 types of basil, strawberries, peas and pea pods, pole beans, zucchini, 3 types of squash, beets, and cucumbers. We had to move our raspberry patch from its happy spot – crossing our fingers that they will survive. Peter planted an apple tree in the front yard that we got through a a special city-wide tree sale. And we planted currant bushes. Maybe we can make some jam in a year or two.

We’ve got quite the experiment going on. Three of our square foot boxes have the special Mel’s Mix soil recipe (peat moss, compost and vermiculite), two boxes have dirt we needed to move from the garage/rain garden, and then we have an area where we planted directly in the ground.

We got most of our plants at the Friends School plant sale. They have all proved very sturdy. We lost only one of those plants. Maybe 10% of the plants are from the Southside Food Hub. We lost 4 of those soon after planting. Most of the seeded plants are from the Food Hub. They gave us just the right amount of seeds so next year I won’t buy any seeds apart from theirs.

The garden is looking quite beautiful. We’ve got tomatoes on the plants already, larger than cherries. And we’ve got several green peppers! The garlic (from Mother Earth Gardens) is fantastic (it’s planted in the fall and overwintered). Our new roommates are vegetarian so we have high hopes that this year all of our produce will be eaten. This fall we’ll be learning how to can, freeze and otherwise store our food more effectively.

Step by step, square foot by square foot, we’re transforming our yard into an interesting and edible landscape.

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