Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Review of the Square foot Gardening method

The squash have been beckoning me. I’ve never had such a large Sp
aghetti squash or Butternut squash grow in my yard and I’m eager to eat ‘em. So while the coming frost doesn’t thrill me, picking my squash may help me tolerate it.

1. The square foot pattern of planting, instead of rows, made it easier to keep track of how many plants I had, as well as easier to ‘companion plant’. I also think I was able to ‘design’ my veggie garden better than in years past; the aesthetic was much prettier.The first season of using Square Foot gardening (a type of raised bed gardening that Mel Bartholomew has advocated in his book by the same name) is behind me. If you remember, in my May article I outlined how we set up the gardens on our otherwise useless backyard cement pad. I planted a variety of t
hings, some I had tried before in my traditional garden while others were new, then I stepped back and waited for the miracle of huge, organic vegetables to emerge. Mel Bartholomew had promised this, as well as the elimination of weeding, fertilizing and tilling. Here’s a short review of the method:
2. While Mel promised weeding would be a thing of the past with Square Foot Gardening, I didn’t experience that! Sure there are less weeds, but perhaps thanks to my weedy alley, I still had to get on my knees and yank out chickweed.
3. More frequent waterings were required (case in point, I haven’t harvested a single cucumber from my growing vine because I can’t keep up with the watering). Reflected heat from the cement pad has no doubt added to this problem. Others might suggest it’s the drought!
4. A strange mold also grew in only one of the beds. After one week with lots of rain, there appeared some dark, hard piles of what looked like cat puke. I dug into them and they were the consistency of Styrofoam with a couple different layers of colour and consistency. My girlfriend, who works at Telus World of Science, did some sleuthing and emailed me back with the verdict: Dog Vomit Slime Mold!?!? Official title. No lie. It wasn’t harmful but looked gross. I aerated and it went away.

5. Most veggies grew as well in the boxes as in my traditional garden: Tomatoes, carrots, onions, spinach, corn, beans, peas and potatoes grew large. My basil and chili peppers didn’t seem to get as large in the boxes, nor did my beets. I wonder too if the squash would have grown bigger with more space.

6. Fertilizing was also supposed to be a thing of the past, according to Mel. About mid-July, I found my beans and corn turning yellow. Thankfully someone had commented on my blog that she found she had to fertilize. I added a little organic veggie fertilizer (I was out of compost) and the leaves grew green again.
7. Experimentation is still required in the planting design. For instance, I didn’t realize how big my potatoes would get, or how much shade the peas would give off. I found that by August, most of the produce I planted was gone (read eaten!). So I may move my peppers and basil into pots, and leave more space for carrots and beets.
Overall, there was less work and more yields from my garden boxes- if only because my gardens were more organized and I could keep track of produce and replant as needed (I have my third planting of spinach now growing). I am excited that I ‘reclaimed’ the wasted space of my cement pad. Now as the frost comes, I guess I can occupy my time with next year’s planting design; that and cooking up some buttercup squash.

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