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The Joys of Gardening

June 16, 2017

This year I have decided to try my hand at gardening. But just not any type of gardening. No, I decided that if I was going to try and grow some vegetables and spices, I was going to go about it the right way. Enter “Square Foot Gardening.” For the uninitiated, Square Foot Gardening is a method of gardening developed by Mel Bartholomew that promises to “grow more in less space.”

The basic concepts are pretty simple and can easily be summarized in several key points:

  • Plant in raised beds. Basically this means instead of trying to plant your vegetables or flowers in the ground, Mel suggests creating structures above the ground that hold your soil. The simplest structures are really boxes without bottoms constructed out of four boards that form a four by four foot square that has a total area of 16 square feet of growing space and are filled 6 inches deep with “soil.”
  • Use Mel’s Mix. He also advocates that instead of using simple potting soil or your garden’s top soil for planting, you should use a special mix of one-thirds compost, peat-moss and vermiculite as your soil medium. The idea is that this well-balanced “soil” will have all of the nutrients required to grow your plants, be able to retain moisture due to the high peat-moss and vermiculite content and still be friable enough for the plants to take root and flourish.
  • Space your plants according to his recommendations on a square foot grid system. Here is where the method gets it’s name. Mel proposes that to ensure optimal growth and yield, you should follow his carefully researched system of how many plants should be included in each square foot of your garden. For example, larger plants such as broccoli should each have an entire square foot to themselves- so one broccoli plant in the center of a twelve by twelve inch square. Smaller plants such as onions should be planted 16 to a square foot or spaced evenly 3 inches apart.

And that’s pretty much it. Sure, Mel goes into much more detail and provides expert advice about rotating crops, when to harvest and plant specific vegetables, how to create structures for climbing vegetables and a whole host of other useful information but the main ideas are surprisingly simple.

The benefits to this method are that you don’t have to worry about trying to improve your existing soil via fertilizer or tilling, weeding becomes much easier as it is readily apparent which plants are weeds and which are your desirable flowers or vegetables since the plants you are raising are all planted in a nice grid, and you have positioned your plants to produce the most yield without worrying about overcrowding or nutrient competition and it is much less labor-intensive than traditional row style gardening.

For my garden, I adopted his square foot gardening methods but instead of using a four by four grid, I used two waist high planters that are about 1 foot wide by 3 feet long. In this arrangement, I have planted 3 tomato plants, cilantro, rosemary, spearmint, chives, and oregano, as well as multiple varieties of peppers including tabasco, serrano, banana and ghost peppers. As you can tell, I went heavy on the peppers- mostly because I don’t care for many other types of vegetables but mainly because my wife really enjoys spicy food.

So what joys are there in growing your own spices and vegetables? I can count several. There is something inherently satisfying knowing that you can actually grow things that you can eat. It is also pleasurable to see the progress of your vegetables. I check my plants daily and watch over them like a mother hen over her chicks. Any signs of sickness or bugs cause concern whereas watching a pepper growing bigger day after day brings me a sense of accomplishment.

In this day and age of technology and instant gratification, it is nice to be able to slow down the frenetic pace and enjoy the simple pleasures of gardening. I would highly recommend this method to everyone that has an interest in growing their own vegetables.  It really is something that almost anyone anywhere can adopt to their own space limitations, whether you have just a few feet of outdoor space or an entire back yard.

Now all I need to do is water, weed, and wait. The magic of nature and time will do the rest. I’ll also keep you posted as to how it turns out when I secretly introduce a ghost pepper or two into a crock-pot full of my chili. Let’s just see how spicy my wife really likes her food…

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