Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Garden Technique: Square Foot Gardening

Square foot gardening is the (often edible gardening) technique where a garden's area is divided into squares, often 1' by 1', hence the name, and plants are assigned to a square plot. In comparison with more traditional row gardening, plants are packed together as closely as possible.  I started gardening this way last year and love it for it's efficiency, yields, and simplicity. 

If you're limited on space, square foot gardening a great way to pack your annual edibles into smaller areas. While there is some criticism that this "crowding" of plants will limit root production and thus plant production based on competition for water and nutrients, I didn't find this to be the case. You do, however, have to be very diligent about adding compost and organic plant food throughout the season; I would recommend using a cover crop such as fava beans to add nitrogen and loam to your soil. Planting so many plants close together will be more intensive on the soil, but plan for this by prepping and feeding your beds accordingly.

How to Create a Square Foot Garden
  1. Measure your garden plot(s), rounding down to the nearest ft. Determine how many square feet you have available for you.
  2. Test your soil to see what nutrients your soil is lacking; you can either send your soil away (we sent ours to UMass Amherst) or use a home kit. Based on results, determine what nutrients your soil is lacking and how/if you need to adjust the pH (I recommend a pH around 6.5).
  3. Consider the plants that have been in your garden plot(s) in the previous years to determine what could be good to plant this year. Planting the same species of plants in the same area year after year isn't the best for the health of your plants; at the end of a growing season, plants are more susceptible to pests and diseases, and the soil underneath those plants absorbs them, where they remain for next year's crops. Thus, growing tomatoes in the same spot isn't your best bet for tasty red fruits. Rotating your crops, a bigger conversation for another time, is the process where you change the location where you plant your crops each year. 
  4. Based on the number of sq feet you have, plan out your garden. Planning out your garden in advance is always helpful but for square foot gardening in particular, where you are using every inch, it's especially important. I found Gardener's kitchen planning tool to be especially helpful in my layout process. Beyond soil health and what had been planted in previous years, I also considered co planting (plants that do or don't like to be near to each other); similar light, heat, and water needs; and future crop rotation. Using the tool, I also realized I had more space than I initially thought (I would call this a gardening win!) and promptly ordered more seeds. 
  5. Start planing your starts and seeds! Larger plants like peppers, tomatoes, melons, cucumbers, etc get a square foot of their own while smaller plants like kale, chard, beans, and basil share one of the squares. The gardener's planning kit was especially helpful as it already had these values preloaded into the tool.
And what am I planting this year? You'll get an idea in the post's photo, but I'll post later with the specific varieties I'm growing. 

Happy (square foot) gardening!

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