Saturday, February 4, 2012

Laying Out the Details

My Section
Today, I thought I would focus on how I plan to use my 4' x 4' section of the family garden bed. In Square Foot Gardening, you space your plants based on the recommended spacing for the plant type, only in a grid pattern instead of a single row. So, for instance, if the planting instructions say to thin to 6 inches apart in rows that are 3-4 feet apart, you ignore the part about the row spacing, and plant in a grid, where the plants are six inches apart laterally and six inches apart front-to-back. Also, to do things the true SFG way, you would set up a physical grid as a guide. (It's also ornamental.)

I began by drawing out the layout of my section. Graph paper is very handy for this! Four feet by four feet, doesn't sound like a lot, but when you start to plan it out, you quickly realize how big it can really be. For example, the recommended spacing (after thinning) for spring radishes is 1 inch between plants. So, if you were going to plant an entire one-square-foot sized area of them, you would plant twelve per row, and have twelve rows of them, giving you 144 plants. I don't know about you, but that's more radishes than I think I need! Fortunately, you don't have to plant the entire square foot in a single crop.

As I said in my last post, I have chosen to plant carrots in my section. I looked up the spacing recommendations for carrots and found a wide variety of opinions. Also, there are quite a few varieties to choose from, some of which are fatter than others. I still haven't chosen which variety I want, but I have decided it will be a thinner sort. Even so, there is still no consensus on spacing. So, I will experiment with two different spacings and see which (if either) gives me better results.

I laid out one square-foot area with 3 inches between plants. This gives me 16 carrots (12 inches divided by 3 equals 4, and 4 times 4 equals 16). I decided to plant the neighboring section with a two-inch spacing. This gives me 36 plants (12 / 2 = 6, 6 x 6 = 36). So, I plan on having 36+16=52 carrots in a two-square-foot area. I still have fourteen square feet that are still available!

I quickly realized that, although I like carrots, my garden might be more appealing (visually and culinarily) with several different plants. Heather and I like beans. They are fairly easy to grow, they're versatile in their uses, and we know how to can and preserve them, so we are both planning to include them in our sections. Also, beans love to be picked, so as long as you keep picking, they will keep producing throughout the growing season, barring any unforeseen problems. We prefer pole beans, so I am going to build a trellis for mine that will span a row of four one-square-foot areas. Heather has a different idea for hers, so it will be interesting to see how things go. I plan to use a four-inch spacing, which will yield 9 plants per area. Since I will be using four areas, I will have 36 plants, altogether.

Okay, so now I have six areas planned (that's P-L-A-N-N-E-D, not P-L-A-N-T-E-D...yet!), ten more to go. I like spinach, both fresh and cooked. (I know, I'm weird, but I grew up liking it, especially boiled, and flavored with vinegar. Yum!) However, even I can't eat it all the time, so I'm only planning three areas, using a 3-inch spacing. That will give me 48 plants. I saw on one website where they recommend 30-40 plants per household member. I don't know about that, since they didn't give a reason for that number. So many questions come to mind, like, "Who will eat it? How often will it be eaten? What ways will it be prepared? Do you want to use it all up, or preserve some? If so, how do you preserve it?" You get the picture.

Without going through any more nitty-gritty details as to how I arrived at it, here is the complete list:
  • Carrots - 2 sq. ft. (52 plants, with different spacings as outlined above)
  • Pole Beans - 4 sq. ft. (36 plants)
  • Spinach - 3 sq. ft. (48 plants)
  • Onions - 2 sq. ft. (72 plants)
  • Garlic - 2 sq. ft. (32 plants)
  • Romaine Lettuce - 2 sq. ft. (8 plants)
  • Turnips - 1 sq. ft. (16 plants)
Sixteen square feet, fully planned. Well, not quite "fully." As I looked over which sections contain which plants, I realized that I may have to change the layout a bit to make sure I don't block the direct sunlight from plants that like it. But that's a minor fix. Now I need to get the rest of the family to plan their sections. Then we'll need to get the building materials, soil components, and seeds before we can get to the real work!

A Word on Thinning

I hate thinning. I think it's useless and dumb. In my experience, I have had the best success (and the least unnecessary work) when I have done my initial planting based on the thinning recommendation. In other words, if the instructions say to "thin to 2 inches apart," I just plant two inches apart to begin with. I only plant one seed in a spot, not 2, 3, 5 or whatever they say. Yes, occasionally I have a plant that doesn't do well, but that is rare. Almost all of my plants have done well with this method.

Some people get impatient with my method, though, when the seeds are really tiny, but I find a couple minutes of patience now saves me extra labor later. I usually start my plant in peat pellets, so when it comes time to plant them in the soil, I just move the pellet. Transplanting is easier. If I plant a seed and it doesn't germinate, I can just start a "late bloomer" with another seed, and I'm good to go. Or, I can just call it good with the ones that did come up. As I said, this rarely happens, anyway.

Well, that's it for this week. It's only the first week in February, but it's been so warm, that I feel I'm getting a late start! It seriously feels like late April. We have ant hills developing, trees that are budding. One tree is in full bloom! I'll see about getting a picture and posting it here. In the meantime, happy gardening!

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