If you’re anything like me, then you love having lots of fresh vegetables to eat. When I have access to fresh crunchy vegetables, I will often bypass the bag of potato chips or the bowl of ice cream and cut up some green pepper or a cucumber instead. Unfortunately, with my vegetable addiction, it’s hard to keep lots of fresh veggies on hand and, let’s face it, veggies can get expensive when you buy them from the grocery store.
The obvious answer to my dilemma would be to grow my own vegetables but, as many of you know, this isn’t always an easy thing to do – particularly if you live in a mobile home park. While you might envision a cute country garden, complete with string dividers and a little scarecrow, your neighbors might not appreciate your country charm…and chances are that the landlord won’t appreciate you digging up his property either. So what’s the answer? Square foot gardening.
What is Square Foot Gardening?
Instead of tilling up rows in your yard, square foot gardening utilizes 4-foot squares, which can then be divided up into smaller units for planting purposes. Planted in wooden squares, which sit on top of your existing ground, these blocks resemble flower boxes and are much easier to upkeep than a traditional garden. Additionally, a single 4′ block can produce enough food for a single person, keeping you from going overboard and making them ideal for small households.
Preparing the Area
Before you get started planting, you need to decide where your blocks will go and prepare the area a little bit. Keep in mind that you want to find a place that corresponds to the kind of vegetables that you’re planting; when I first moved to Florida, I made the mistake of planting in areas that received a lot of sun. While this is alright if you live up north, Florida’s direct sun can wither a plant away in no time. I found this out the hard way!
Now once you’ve decided where to put your 4′ block, make sure it’s clear of any shrubs or trees (roots can be a real pain to work around) and prepare the ground. While you don’t have to till or spade the ground under where you’re going to put your block, it’s advisable. The grass will die anyhow and by working the ground, you can ensure you have a nice level area to work with, once it comes time to set out your block.
Setting Up Your Blocks
Your block is simply constructed of four wooden boards, 4′ long each, nailed together to form an open box frame. Just be sure to nail them together while standing on their sides, as you want to create a box from the boards, not a flat picture frame. Remember that you need that depth as you’ll be putting more planting material inside of it.
When setting out your blocks, also keep in mind that a single block can usually produce enough food for a single person, so don’t feel the need to go overboard. If you want to plant something that takes up a lot of growing space (squash is a good example), then it’s alright to dedicate an entire box to this vegetable and make a second box for peppers, onions, ect. Just don’t think that you need to set up 10 blocks right from the start. If you feel you need more, down the road, you can always add on with the square foot gardening method.
Weed Control For Your New Garden
The next step is to create a little weed-blocker for your garden, just to keep things nice and tidy. You might choose to put your weed blocker down prior to setting up your wooden block, burying it just under the ground that you’ve tilled, or you may choose to fit it to the size of your box and just lay it down there, prior to adding planting material. It really doesn’t matter which route you take, so choose whatever is easiest for you.
Weed blocker is very simple. You can go out and purchase the heavy gardening plastic to lay down, or you can go the simpler route and either put down some old carpeting or, my favorite method, simply lay down a nice thick layer of old newspapers. Talk about an awesome way to recycle!
Getting Ready to Plant
Now that you’ve laid down your weed blocker and set up your boxes, it’s time to add your growing material. I usually just opt to buy a couple of bags of gardening soil, but you can try some different mixes and see what works best for you. I like adding a little vermiculite to my gardening soil as well, since it’s good for holding water. Go ahead and fill the box up until it’s about 1 inch from the top or, if you’re growing squash, follow the directions on the packet and build your mound in the center of the box.
If you like to mark off your plots, you can do this easily by running string back and forth across your block, then securing it with a thumbtack or a small nail, partially pounded into the wood. This is especially helpful if you need to plant your vegetables so-far apart. Measuring out your plot and sectioning it off with a string grid can help things looking neat and organize, plus it will prevent over-planting your plot.
The Finishing Touches
Once you’ve planted your seeds or seedlings, you’ll want to water your plants with a gentle spray and then get ready to watch them grow into delicious and nutritious vegetables. If you want, you can even tack up a little garden wire, attaching it right to the block for a sharp look and added protection from pesky bunnies.
Building a square foot gardening system is quick, easy and looks very pretty. Landlords don’t usually mind them, as they are much like decorative flowerbeds and are easy to weed-whip and trim around them. You’ll love the convenience, the taste and the money that you save by growing your own healthy vegetables at home.
Horticulture and plant science experience/classes
http://www.squarefootgardening.com/ – Information on Square Foot Gardening