The early Spring months usually bring abundant rain and cool temperatures. There is always the risk of frost at night and the occasional late snowstorm, so you have to proceed with caution. Vegetable gardens are usually planted with tomatoes, peppers and zucchini, which are not very tolerant of cold weather. Generally in this area of Central New York, most gardeners wait until Memorial day to plant. The ground is warm and there is virtually no danger of frost that would kill young plants. But this time of year there are vegetables you can plant that are quite hardy.
Last weekend I planted the Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower in the East Raised Bed. Today I planted cabbage, kohlrabi and leeks in the Center Raised Bed, planting both beds using the Square Foot method.
The Square Foot Gardening method.
The concept was created by Mel Bartholomew back in the 70’s as a more intensive form of gardening. It basically means to grow more in less space, using less resources.
“Why follow an anachronistic linear pattern derived from commercial farming that was meant to leave room for mules or tractors… plant so many seeds and then have to thin the plants… waste fertilizer and water on all that empty space between the rows when all it produced was weeds?” He concluded that 80 percent of a garden was wasted space — “space that doesn’t need to be fertilized, watered or improved, but does need to be weeded.”
My variations of the Square Foot method.
I don’t use a permanent wooden grid to frame out the squares. I used string (yarn) and thumbtacks last year to grid the beds, but the tacks kept popping out and the yarn would get dislodged. This year I am laying in temporary grid lines as I plant. I have markings at every foot on the top of my raised beds, so I can draw in the grid on the soil. I’ve got a pretty good eye, but gridding did make it a bit easier. I also plant in multiple sections, instead of a different plant in each square.
The first thing is to amend and loosen up the soil if you haven’t already. Lay out your grid on top of the soil, dividing the bed into one square foot sections. The 4×8 foot raised bed becomes 32 sections, a 4×4 foot bed would have 16 and so on.
Planting seeds by the Square Foot method of gardening.
The number of plants per square foot varies with each vegetable you are planting. The easiest way to figure this out is to look at the back of the seed packet. If it says to plant a seed every 3 inches, you divide that number into 12 (your squares are 12×12 inches). 12÷3=4. So by this, you can plant 4 rows of 4 seeds per square foot. In the next picture you can see that I further divided each square into quarters, and made 4 indentations for the seeds in each one. Not entirely necessary to divide it up, but it makes it easier to get the seed spacing more even.
You can purchase square foot planting templates with holes that are color coded for planting with different spacing requirements.
The kohlrabi seeds that I planted used the 16 per square foot spacing. I made the indentations 1/2 inch deep, planted the seeds and covered them with soil.
The leeks required 4 inch spacing. 12÷4=3, so 3 rows of 3 plants per square foot. I used a dibble to push down 6 inches and turned it a few times to enlarge the top of the hole. The leek seedlings were then placed in each hole, tucking the roots down gently into the bottom. I watered these in well, checking to make sure that the water washed in a little soil to cover the roots. Each time it rains, a little more soil will be washed in around them as they grow. This keeps the lower parts blanched and milder tasting. When they get larger, I will start mounding compost up around them.
So these are the basics about the Square Foot method of gardening. You now know how to grid the bed, and you also know how to determine how many seeds or plants you can grow per square foot. This is a very intensive form of gardening. Don’t locate shorter vegetables where they will be shaded by larger ones. Make sure you start with a healthy growing medium, full of organic matter, and feed regularly with a good organic fertilizer. Another idea that I use is Companion Planting, which does help to reduce the impact of insects.
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