As a kid, we had several gardens in our yard – roses, flowers, vegetables and even a grape vine that grew along the fence. I didn’t always like to water and weed them, but it was fun to watch them grow and even get to eat some of the fruits (and vegetables) of our labor.
When we bought our first house, I wanted to remove some unsightly bushes and install a vegetable garden. As often happens, several projects took precedence and my garden waited and waited and waited. It wasn’t until my daughter wanted to plant a vegetable garden that we got the project underway. Not knowing exactly where to start, I referred to a book on square foot gardening: All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew.
Mel is a retired engineer who focused his energy on how to make gardening more efficient and enjoyable. His book and blog provide step-by-step instruction on how to create your own garden in a small space. He advises gardeners to think small, no larger than 4’x4’ for each raised bed, because an average adult can comfortably reach two feet into the garden. You will not walk in this garden as you can access all the plants from the walking path at the perimeter of each bed (he recommends the path to be three feet wide). Mel is adamant that a true square foot garden is divided into 1’x1’ squares; this organizes your garden and helps you determine how many plants will fit in your raised bed. You will only need 6” of soil mixture, but don’t use the dirt from your yard—you’ll want to refer to Mel’s mix to feed your plants well.
Armed with this information, we built two, 4’x4’ raised beds out of cedar boards, mixed the soil (compost, vermiculite, and peat moss) and planted our first seedlings. As they grew, we continued building paths and some additional smaller beds (2’x4’ and 3’x3’). Our small garden produced a lot of produce last year—approximately 472 cherry tomatoes in fact!—and my daughter and I loved to “harvest” herbs, greens, and vegetables for our dinner.
We’ve all enjoyed the planning, construction, and planting process, especially my daughter. She checks on the garden before she leaves for school in the morning and when she gets home in the afternoon—even before she enters the house. It’s been a great family project to share and expand on. The past winter has been filled with research and planning for the new growing season. We can’t wait to get this year’s plants planted, and watch it grow.
Images courtesy of Kim Sosalla