Forget rows- it’s time to get square!
For many of us, planting a vegetable garden is habit, a process passed down from grandparents or even aunts and uncles long ago. My first memories of a large, tidy vegetable garden involve me peeping though chicken wire that was taller than my head at rows of melons, beans, tomatoes, and cabbage. Long rows of homegrown vegetables and herbs were guarded by a homemade scarecrow along with assorted plastic owls standing sentry on the corner posts. But what if, instead of planting in long rows- and spending hours weeding between rows- we instead planted in squares?
That’s the driving force behind Square Foot Planting, which began in 1981 and has now evolved to include a foundation and a mission- to get more families eating plant based diets. Goodness knows my kids are not fans of weeding, and by late summer I’m out there by myself stepping on squished tomatoes and trying to wrestle with whatever giant weed is spanning two rows, preventing the water from reaching my poor carrots. For square foot gardening, instead of rows, you build a raised 4×4 box. Seems simple enough, right? Start with your square, and place it on top of landscape fabric or mulch to prevent weeds from growing into your garden. The Square Foot Gardening Foundation (www.squarefootgardening.org) has an excellent how-to guide available, including their best bet formula for successful soil (a ratio of vermiculite, peat moss, and compost). Once you fill your square raised-bed garden with soil, you then add a grid, essentially splitting your big square into little squares. Then plant your seeds or transplant your seedlings.
This type of gardening is excellent for those new to vegetable gardening, or families wanting kids to get involved with growing their own food. I’ve seen it used on military bases, where gardening space is low among base housing, but a huge grow-your-own-food movement is happening. There are two keys to success here- one, use the right soil; and two, make sure you follow the directions on sowing the seeds, and do not plant too many in a single grid. All seed packets come with sowing directions, so pay close attention. One idea is to plant a few square foot gardens and make them each themed- one could be just for salsa, a great place to plant seeds from Gurney’s Salsa Collection. Or devote a grid just to salad ingredients and try Gurney’s Lettuce Blend Packets mixed with French Breakfast Radishes , Bloomsdale Longstanding Spinach, and Orange You Sweet Hybrid Peppers. Anything goes with your square foot garden- just plan accordingly, prep your soil well, read your seed packets, and get ready to enjoy weed-free gardening and, most importantly, a variety of vegetables fresh from your yard to your table.