Square foot gardens pack a big punch
By Jenn Watt
Published May 11, 2017
When Gladys Fowler was growing up, her father grew vegetable gardens on their two-acre property. He arranged different crops in long rows, beans in one, peas in another, on and on. She remembers helping out with the garden and the hours spent doing one task over and over.
This is the concept of gardening that most of us have. However, there are other ways of growing food and it doesn’t take much space or as much repetitive labour as row gardens.
Fowler came to the Minden and District Horticulture Society’s May meeting to share her love of the square foot garden and the benefits it offers to those without much space or who cannot physically take pulling weeds for hours on end.
The retired teacher from Lakefield said that she learned most of her tips from Mel Bartholomew’s book, Square Foot Gardening.
Small gardens can be just as productive as traditional ones, she said. There are fewer weeds and no tilling. Because they are so small, gardeners do each task for a shorter period of time, so it’s less tedious and easier on the body. And it looks good.
Square foot gardens are planted on top of the ground. First, cardboard or paper is laid to kill off the grass and weeds below. Then a frame is set on top, much like the walls of a sandbox. It’s filled with a mix of compost, peat moss and coarse vermiculite. (An alternative mix of compost, coconut coir and perlite can also be used.)
Then the space is divided up using string or bamboo sticks or any other markers and within each square foot, veggies are planted.
Fowler gave prescriptions for how many vegetables can be planted per square foot. Small plants such as radishes, carrots and onions can be planted two inches apart, making 16 per square. Beans, beets, spinach and other medium sized plants need to be three inches apart, for nine per square. Large plants like Swiss chard, kohlrabi, head lettuce and corn need to be four inches apart and extra large plants like broccoli, eggplant and tomato need the whole square to themselves.
Because the plants are so close together, they will block out the sun to the soil beneath, effectively killing off weeds.
Fowler also encouraged gardeners to try vertical gardening, erecting trellises and other supports that climbing plants can use. Beans, cucumbers, pumpkins and squash (with enough support) can grow this way.
Local master gardener Carolyn Langdon also spoke at the meeting, talking about no-till gardening.
Langdon said tilling the soil didn’t do much to prepare the garden and could actually pull up weed seeds that were lying dormant below.
“Nature feeds from the top and so should we,” she said.
The horticulture society brings in speakers every month for their meetings in Minden.
Their next event is their annual plant sale at the Village Green on Saturday, May 27 at 9 a.m.
Their next regular meeting is Tuesday, June 6 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Minden Community Centre. The guest speaker is Gail Murray, who will talk about straw bale gardening, which is a kind of container gardening. Refreshments will be in the theme of “rhubarb rhapsody.” There is no charge to attend the talk. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.