My First Square Foot Garden (SFG)

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I haven’t posted for a few weeks and here’s why! I have been creating/building my first ever square foot garden (SFG). I have always liked the idea of raised garden beds and the concept of square foot gardening but I am a complete novice at all of this. This year, however, I decided to grab the bull by the horn and now that I have, I am eagerly anticipating and hoping for an abundance of home-grown vegetables free of pesticides, chemicals and fertilizers and any other nasties found in commercial crops.  

My original plan was to construct the bed myself or buy a kit and put it together. I had a spot in my back garden that was perfect for a raised bed – a spot that needed some work anyway (a rather unsightly spot, as you can see from the photo below) but as it turned out, there were some inherent landscaping challenges in this particular space, including a small tree that I didn’t want to lose, and I felt ill-equipped to handle these challenges myself. In the end I decided that I would rather pay someone with more experience and skills to build the bed, and it was the right decision. I now have two beautifully hand crafted, custom raised beds, and I was able to keep my small tree!

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The wood used to construct the raised beds is spruce. The beds were  built almost entirely off-site and delivered to me lined with plastic. The outside was coated with a layer of sealant for added protection against excess moisture on the wood.   

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To complete the beds, the contractor added the decorative top rim and a base for each bed on-site and then installed them where they needed to be. No pre-preliminary work to the existing spot was required.  The on-site finishing and installation process took about an hour and when it was done the beds looked beautiful. I couldn’t have been happier with the contractor’s workmanship or the quality of the finished beds. 

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One of my raised beds is almost 13’ long and the other is 6’ long. Both are 2’ deep and each is a little over 2’ wide. These are the measurements I needed in order to fill the space I’d chosen for them in my back garden.

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It means that not all of my squares are exactly 12”X12”, but that doesn’t really matter. The SFG method is really just a guide for spacing plants to achieve maximum amount of production in a condensed space. The size of each square is irrelevant as long as your plants are appropriately placed in each designated square. Most of my squares are in fact 12”X12”, but a few are not.

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I needed a little over 2.5 cubic meters of soil (yikes!) to fill the beds to about 5″-6″ from the top rim. That’s on top of a couple of inches of rocks and gravel in the bottom of the beds for drainage and a single layer of cardboard, which will eventually compost into the soil. This is a lot of soil, but the best part about the depth of these beds is that I do very little bending to maintain the garden, which makes pruning, thinning and picking a breeze! How great is that?  Better yet, some vegetables, such as carrots, whose length is dependent on the depth of soil, have the potential to flourish in this 2′ deep bed. 

I used the slats from a set of horizontal blinds to demarcate my squares (cheap set bought from local hardware store). The slats are sturdy enough to withstand unfavourable weather conditions and are completely removable, which means I can resize and rearrange the beds differently next year. I had to cut a few of the slats to fit but this was easily done with a pair of ordinary household scissors.  In the beginning the slats help to space the plants appropriately and for this purpose they work great.  As the vegetables grow and fill up the space, the slats will become less visible but by then it will be easy to identify where the plants are coming up. 

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One of the personal touches added to these beds were the planter labels that I made from a bag of corks, a permanent-ink sharpie and foot-long pieces of doweling.  When you are starting your garden, and especially if you start your plants from seeds, it is nice to have labels beside each plant to remind you of what you planted, and where.    

Cork planter labels are cheap and easy to make. Hand write the name of each plant on the corks. Then, turn the corks over and drill a hole in the back of each one, just large enough to hold the dowelling securelyBe aware that if you don’t use a marker with permanent ink, your label will wash away when it rains or when watering your plants. 

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So, what’s growing in these beds?

Deciding what to grow and how to set up my SFG was the fun part! I planted the vegetables I like to eat, keeping in mind the ones that tend to grow well in my area. For me, that means various types lettuce, bell peppers, squash, spinach, zucchini, cucumbers, broccoli, beets, onions, carrots, potatoes, cabbage, cauliflower and kale. Below are pictures of the first 2 weeks progress since planting. 

IMG_5169Snowball Cauliflower

paris green romaine_DSC_3765Paris Green Romaine Lettuce

DSC_3738 (1)Bell Peppers (If you look closely, you can see a few tiny buds right in the centre).

DSC_3764Red Sails Lettuce

In addition to the raised beds, I have also started container gardening for my most commonly used herbs – Italian parsley, cilantro, mint and basil. These I placed on the steps right outside my back door so that I don’t have far to go to snip a few herbs for dinner. I know I’ll be really glad I did this on the days that it rains!  

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mint_IMG_5161English Mint

IMG_5191Italian Parsley

And lastly, because in my mind the quintessential home grown vegetable is the tomato, I have planted 4 different varieties of tomatoes (Roma, Principe Borghese, Michael Pollan and Green Sausage) in extra large, deep pots (at least a foot deep and about 18″ around). These, I placed in the areas of my south-facing back garden that capture sunlight all day long. I can’t wait for these to mature and ripen! These tomato plants were all started indoors in advance of the season and below I’ve posted a few photos of their progress so far …

roma tomatoes_IMG_5212Roma Patch Tomatoes

pollen tomatoes_DSC_3743Michael Pollan Tomatoes

DSC_3768Principe Borghese Tomatoes

IMG_5256Green Sausage Tomatoes

So, that’s what I have been doing for the past few weeks! Wish me luck with this – I’ll keep you updated as the weeks go by! Oh, and feel free to share any tips and suggestions – I’m all ears! 

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