Square Foot Gardening

I was thrilled when I realized that This Old House came with a neglected garden plot and a huge mound of topsoil unceremoniously dumped in the backyard. I bought a few judicious purchases (gloves, hand tools, pruning shears) and uncovered a surprisingly healthy collection of gardening tools under the waist-high weeds in the yard, including a wheelbarrow, several hoes, a shovel, and–most excitingly–a hand held weed cutter that is shaped like a large, serrated putter.

DH gleefully swung and hacked away at a bunch of weeds, and I have to admit, for now, it beats pulling. I used it today to clear the rest of the yard, and it took me about five minutes rather than the hour it would have taken had I pulled by hand. Yes, I’ll still have to weed it, but we’re still trash-hunting and I’m uncovering a lot of interesting things. Like a beautifully sculpted border at the back of the property. And an old sinkhole that I might just turn into a pond.

The garden plot stayed pretty exciting, with the discovery that last year’s grasses had dried and mulched the plot like straw, and the soil underneath is moist, crumbly, black, and full of huge earthworms. (Note to self: Set up a worm bin for the winter.) There are also a dozen established strawberry plants. Probably seeded by birds, but they’re flowering, so we’ll see if anything comes of it.

The problem is the shape and location of the plot. It’s perhaps 8 feet on a side, and there are young trees growing at one corner of it and suckers encroaching on it. Not very good at all. I struggled to get a corner cleared of dead grassroots, then decided I wasn’t going to be able to reach the middle of the plot at all if I planted it all. Plus, there’s all those roots from the trees.

What to do? Well, raised beds are always handy in northern climes, so I started to research. There were some handy articles on starting new beds and building simple, movable raised beds. Nice, but the question seemed to be: “Where will these beds be located? More angst. Another article from an Alaskan gardener suggested Mel Bartholomew’s “Square Foot Gardening.” Oh, hey! What do you know! I had already picked that book up from the library and it was sitting on the windowsill.  One of those books I grabbed that I’d read years before but wasn’t sure if I was really going to review once I got it home. It was already in the “Return” pile, but it quickly went into the “In Progress” pile. Absolutely perfect, down to helping me choose site location.

There’s a large red conex car that’s been in the backyard for a decade or so. It’s supposedly full of books. Who knows if it’ll ever be picked up. It’s not in the way at all, and the landlord said we can paint it or do whatever with it. Most importantly, it’s on the north side of the property, and is the perfect length for three 4’x4′ beds with the suggested row of vining plants along the north edge. That red color will even help the plants along, and soak up the warmth from the sun.

My plan is to knock up some lightweight frames using 1″x12″ or somesuch, dig the grass and existing dirt up from the site to a depth of 1 foot, lay some landscaping cloth (another freebee from the backyard) and fill half with dirt from the garden and topsoil pile, plus some rabbit and poultry manure from Meadow Gates, and the suggested vermiculite. We’ll fill the existing garden plot and turn it into grass next spring.

Meanwhile, the square foot plots should be ready to plant this weekend. I’m obviously behind in my planting, but I anticipate being able to grow at least some lettuce, strawberries, carrots, and herbs for this year, others too if I start with transplants from local nurseries.

It feels good to finally have a plan.


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