Squarefoot Gardening

Steve took me to the RBG where they had an interesting 100 Mile Veggie Village display. I made the local veg pledge online “to grow a smaller global footprint by using locally grown produce in at least one meal a week for a year.” With my preserves and commitment to market fresh foods all summer, that’s no issue.

The display itself was very engaging – both in it’s unique design and the interactive aspects. There were several gardens, each inspired by someone who had different land/growing space. One man had only lettuce (and nasturtium) while another had a deck with containers. It got me thinking, and in my research, I discovered Square foot Gardening.

Square foot gardening.

It is a technique that stems from the four-square or French potager/kitchen garden. The concept is quite simple: build a raised bed, fill it with a good mix of equal parts vermiculite (used in potting soil), mulch and peat moss. Then section off the top of the bed with dividers in 1 foot squares and fill each square with the appropriate number of vegetables, fruits or flowers. Top the soil with mulch (but not bark) to protect it from weeds and drought. Weed as necessary and water according to your plants’ needs. Harvest and enjoy! The following year, rotate your crops by family or types (i.e. legumes → root → fruit → leaf) each year to nourish the soil and minimize disease.

Sounds simple, but there was a lot of research involved and considerations I didn’t even know I needed to think about! I spent a good 4 hours learning about this online and I think I have the hang of it. Here are the key points that I learned (in no particular order of importance):

  • figure out what you want to grow to eat (i.e. what you will use most, or is most expensive to buy relative to the ease of growing), then sort them into family types
  • top it up each year with lots of fully composted material and overwinter with leaves
  • set aside space in your plans for perennials (i.e. rhubarb, asparagus, mint)
  • give berries their own raised garden (blackberries in one, raspberries in another). Strawberries can go in a square
  • you need to plant 2-3 seeds in each “hole” and it should have a high success rate of one of them growing
  • it takes a lot of planning to do this 😉
  • you need to understand the orientation of the sun across your property:
    • set up your garden in space that has at least 6 hours of sunshine (or more)
    • orient your boxes (if longer than a square) along the most convenient direction for drainage and space; however traditional rows usually run from north to south to take full advantage of the morning and afternoon sun
    • taller plants should be at the north and east ends of your boxes; the sun always stays in the Southern sky as it moves east-to-west, so if you put your short plants at the southern and western ends or the plants with smaller leaves, which are not as sun tolerant
  • the edges of the raised garden should be at least 6″ to 12″ deep and it should be marked with dividers. You can build the edges with cedar or a man-made materials but not pressure treated wood.
  • you can add flowers and herbs (most common are in the mint family, plus parsley and thyme) for ornamentals and beauty to your garden.
  • the shape of the squares can have variety: squares, rectangles, T-shape in anything from 4 foot and up. Any wider is hard to access for weeding.
  • the spaces between “boxes” should be at least 30″ to accommodate wheelbarrows.
  • the frost dates for my town (give or take 2 weeks) according to Environment Canada are April 29 and October 15.
  • marigolds can be used to attract aphids and nasturtium is edible; Bishops (or Queen Anne’s) lace can be used to shade lettuce in the heat of summer.
  • corn requires a lot of fertilizer and carrots are prone to disease and not recommended for growing; pumpkin and watermelon take up a lot of space.
  • instead of digging up the grass, cover it with newspaper or landscape fabric. The following spring, it will die from lack of sun and can easily be turned.
  • consider not just rotated crop but also companion crops. These are plants that that benefit each other when in close proximity.
  • don’t plant root crops beside spreading tubers like potatoes or asparagus.
  • peas and beans should be sown directly into the grown, and require a trellis of sorts. Any trellis needs to be portable to rotate with the crops or plan well to rotate the different types of growing plants in the north-east edges of the gardens (i.e. tomato vines, peas/beans, cucumber/zucchini).

Final thoughts.

Do you have a space for a garden in your yard or on a balcony? Gardening can seem daunting at first. One of the easiest things to grow is a pot of herbs in the kitchen. The leaves can be snipped off, rinsed and added directly into any dish or salad. I recommend oregano, chives and sage, which are perennial plant and keep going even after a frost, as well as basil and rosemary which are sensitive to temperature and may need reseeding in the future. Mint will take over the whole pot so keep it in one by itself if you love mojitos.

AuthorBrooke Gordon

My name is Brooke and I love to cook, hence the nickname. I am passionate about eating for pleasure and nutrition, making jam, and supporting women who want to live a healthy life.