Foray into Square Foot Gardening

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Happy New Year to the loyal few who haven't given up on me ever posting another weblog entry.  One of my New Years resolutions is to be more organized in documenting the changes and progress I see in my garden.  Not all of that is likely to get posted on this site, but some of it hopefully will!

In October, 2007, we built our first raised bed, a 4' x 8' x 10" box of untreated pine, in the back yard, so we wouldn't have to fight with our dense clay soil and the weeds that continually sought to overtake our vegetable garden.  In January, 2008, we added a pair of 4' x 4' cedar boxes.  In general, I love my raised beds.  I love that I can dig into them with a trowel, that they're largely weed free, that the soil is rich and well-drained. 

We've been growing veggies in our raised beds with fair to middling results.  We've had enough produce to be able to taste a bit while we're wandering around in the garden, but not enough to really use or give away or save for later.  Gardening is, even at the best of times, a moving target.  Each year is different from the one before it, and it can be hard to pinpoint what factor made the difference.  Are our beds getting enough sun? Are they being watered sufficiently? (Goodness knows there hasn't been enough rain for them in the past year! 2008 was the fourth driest year in recorded history in the Austin area.)

We've concluded that our back yard beds aren't getting enough sun, and that we haven't been organized enough to maximize the potential of the beds.  I've been researching square-foot gardening for the past few months, as a  way to better organize our planting efforts, and over the holidays, we've been working to put together a couple of boxes in the front yard.

Thankfully, we don't have an HOA.

We decided on the front yard for two reasons:

1) We get much more sun in the front yard.  We have a couple of live oak trees, but they're young enough not to block the sunlight on the beds for several years, at the least.

2) We want people to know what their food looks like when it's growing.  Kids ride their bikes up and down the sidewalk all the time, and I suspect most of them don't get the chance to experience much gardening.  We decided that sharing some of the produce with passers by was a fair tradeoff for locating our new raised beds in the front yard.

So we built our two new 4'x4'x6" beds out of cedar.  We originally went to Lowes to get the lumber, because we had a coupon for a discount, but... well, either their saw couldn't cut 2-inch planks, or the employee operating the saw didn't know how to use it.  We have a small car, and fitting 8-foot planks in it isn't a viable option, so we went to McCoy's in Georgetown and got our lumber there.  It was a bit of a drive, but it was a good excuse to have lunch at the Monument Cafe with my friend Claudia, so it was well worth it. 

Scott used 3" wood screws to fasten the planks into 4'x4' squares, and then we used bamboo staking to make the permanent square-foot grid.  We filled the beds with Hill Country Garden Soil from the Natural Gardener, and then we top-dressed with farm-style compost, for extra rich soil.  We used several layers of newspaper as weed barrier, both in and around the beds; you can see some sticking up that needs to be mulched over.

And then we started to plant our squares!  Two beds give us 32 squares for planting, and most of the squares can be subdivided for maximum production in minimal space.  It turns out, 32 is a lot of squares.  We definitely aren't using our square-foot garden to its maximum potential yet, but having extra squares gives us a way to pace our veggies; we have a couple of squares of lettuce and greens seedlings, and a couple more where we've planted seeds for various kinds of greens, which will be ready to be harvested in several weeks.  I interspersed several squares of pansies with herbs and vegetables, to keep things pretty and colorful, and I plan to transplant some of our strawberry offshoots from the beds in the back yard. 

And from there, we'll see how it goes! There's a chance for rain tomorrow, so we're keeping our fingers crossed.


Lori said:

Man, I feel like the only Austin garden blogger without a vegetable garden, and I really need to do something about that. I really like the simplicity of your raised beds and how they seem pretty easy to assemble (which means I don't really have an excuse, do I?). I just wish the neighborhood dogs didn't act like my front yard is their toilet! Like you, I'm not sure my back yard is really sunny enough for prime veggie production.

Anyway, good luck and kudos for putting your veggies out in the front where everyone can see them! I'd love to know how the whole square foot gardening thing pans out.

Leslie Kuykendall said:

Looks great!

I finally got around to creating a raised bed vegetable garden last fall for exactly the reasons you listed: tired of dealing with the clay that never became nice soil no matter how much organic material was amended...the tree roots just suck the life out of it. Unfortunately I have almost no sun in my yard anymore except in the winter time. So I may be limited to a fall veggie garden.

It's fun to compare notes. Don't worry about the frequency of your posts...that's what RSS is for. With RSS people can see when you post and check in rather than checking your blog every day and getting discouraged. (I've become more discouraged with people who post constantly...who can keep up with them? Not me.)

Jenny said:

Your sfg beds look great. I hadn't even heard of sfg until this summer when I bumped into Mel Bartholomew walking round Temple Square in Salt Lake City. We started chatting and he mentioned this method of gardening Then low and behold I saw his book on sale at a garage sale for 50 cents. Now I have converted my beds to his method with great success. It will be interesting to see how growing tomatoes by his method works. I used string to divide the squares but think that packing tape might be a better answer. Good luck with the crop.

Hi Rachel,

We do have an HOA but I don't know if they'd complain about such neat structures as your square beds. My front is all shade and tree roots anyway so there's no point in seeing if front yard vegetables would tick off my neighbors.

The Square Foot TV show used to be on back in IL, but our soil in IL was good and we didn't need the raised beds. In Austin it seems we all need them. Good luck with your 2009 crops and Happy New Year!

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Zippy said:

Hi Rachel, and thanks for your site! Good to see other Austin bloggers out there working with square foot gardens! I had a question on my blog from a fellow Austin gardener about using the Hill Country Garden soil in an SFG. I remembered that I had come across your site last spring when I was researching using SFGs in Central Texas, and how you talked about using the Hill Country rose soil in your raised beds, and now I see you're doing the SFG with the HC Garden Soil and compost. I referred her/him to your site, but thought I'd ask you myself: why did you decide not to do the traditional Mel's mix of compost, vermiculite and peat moss, and how is the Hill Country Garden soil working out for you? I used Lady Bug Revitilizer compost, perlite and peat moss in my two SFGs last spring, but if the HC Garden soil + compost works well, that would be a heck of a lot easier than mixing up stuff for the new SFGs I will be planting this spring.

Anyway, great blog!

  • I had a pretty long answer to this question, so I made it a blog entry.

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