Saturday, March 17, 2012

Garden Party - Planning Where It All Will Go

Green gardening for St. Pat's Day!

So how does it all fit together?

I made some pretty diagrams for you today.  We're going to combine what we've learned in Square Foot Gardening and the Louise Riotte books.

Let's say, for sake of example, that you've made a true Square Foot Garden, which is 4 feet x 4 feet.  You've built the boxes, and even gone so far as to fill them.  Here's how you can combine the two principles, easily I might add.

Here's example one - a tomato bed.  Everyone loves to grow tomatoes.  They are easy to grow.  Everyone eats them, and when grown in your own backyard their flavor is so superior to what you'd buy in a store.  By the way, if you've never gardened before, this is a bed I would HIGHLY recommend starting with.  These are all plants that are pretty easy to grow.
This looks almost like a pizza, doesn't it?!  Allow me to explain what you see, and put things in perspective for you.  The big brown box is your Square Foot Garden.  The smaller squares within it are 2-foot sections, roughly halves.  Tomatoes need a lot of space and sun, and they are the big red circles.  Cage them.  You'll thank me.  SFG recommends trellising them.  Cages are easier and cheaper.  Cage your tomatoes the day you transplant them (these plants all prefer transplanting over direct seeding).  Put a tablespoon of epsom salts in the bottom of the planting hole because tomatoes love the extra magnesium.  Then, we have the dark green circles.  These are peppers.  Stick to either sweet or spicy - don't do both.  They will cross-pollinate each other and you will have all spicy.  Our pretty polka-dot border is where we are getting some natural pest protection.  The gold circles are marigolds, which keep pretty much anything out of the garden (there are a few exceptions, but VERY few).  To add interest, and to maximize our space, the bright green circles are basil.  You can also do parsley instead, or do both.  Think of how beautiful this will look mid-July!

So here's another one.  These are brassicas - the cabbage family.  You'll notice that it looks pretty similar.
The large, dark green circles are head cabbages.  The smaller green circles are collard greens (which are so healthy for you and easy to grow).  Our pretty polka-dot border is alternating onions and zinnias.  The zinnias keep out cabbage worms.  I watched this happen first hand at the community garden.  The beds that had zinnias in or near them had practically no worms.  No zinnias - stalks.  Like almost to the ground stubs.  Really.

So here's what we do with our beds when they are potato beds for a season.  Remember our beds are 4 feet x 16 feet.
The brown ovals are the potatoes.  The pink dots are geraniums.  Now here's the really neat part about this bed.  While the geraniums are growing up, the potatoes are growing down.  When the potato plant starts getting really tall, it's usually the dead heat of summer, and the geraniums are glad to have the shade to get a break.  To thank the potatoes, the geraniums scare away the Japanese beetles, which also seem to appear nearly the same time.  See how this works?  And isn't it so cool?  Direct plant your potatoes, but transplant your geraniums.

So let's make you a bed that you can start with in Northern Illinois, in early spring.  Just remember - be ready to cover at a moment's notice!!!!!
Wow - that'll get your attention!  So many colors!  Here we go:  the red dots are beets.  Most beets finish by 60 days, so if you plant them mid-April, you will have beets by mid-June.  You can do  16 beets a square foot.  The purple dots in with the beets are kohlrabi (we grow purple kohlrabi, so the dots are purple).  They require roughly the same spacing as the beets.  The neat thing about the kohlrabi/beet interplanting is that the beets bulb below the soil, while the kohlrabi bulbs above the soil.  Ok, moving on.  The magenta dots are chard. Rainbow, Swiss or green - you choose.  We eat a LOT of chard in my house when it's in season.  It requires about the same spacing as the beets.  The bright green squares are snow peas.  Grow them in a tomato cage.  That will contain the vines.  When you consider a standard tomato cage that has 3 posts that go into the dirt, you can visualize this a bit better:  plant 6 sets of peas/cage.  One set of three goes next to each post individually.  The remaining three go between the posts.  In early June, when these babies start to put on pods, we eat them for breakfast.  They are that sweet and delicious and healthy. Last, but not least, those little white dots are radishes.  Now, I'm not a huge radish fan.  But Bubba is.  And so is Grandma.  He takes her radishes that he grows.  They crunch away contentedly and bond.  Life is wonderful.  Before I forget - all the plants in this configuration prefer direct seeding.  Also, in an early spring bed, you can start spinach and lettuces - direct seed.

Did I set your head spinning with ideas?  Well, the best rule to remember is to only plant and grow what you know your family will eat.  Start there, then look for ways to interplant to conserve space and benefit the plants.  Start seeds now for planting in your summer garden, and in a few weeks you can start your early spring garden right in the dirt.  When your summer is hitting its peak, start thinking about what will enjoy the cooler weather of fall before frost.  Spinach is a good choice, and so are lettuces.  Both will grow quickly because of the warmer soil, but the cool nights and shorter days will keep them from bolting (going to seed).

Here's your fancy word of the day:  succession planting.  That's what it's called when you follow this type of crop rotation.  You can now impress all your neighbors and co-workers by telling them you are developing a crop rotation schedule for your garden.  And trust me, they'll be impressed!

Something else to remember - add plenty - as in lots and lots - of organic matter (i.e., compost) to the soil between plantings.  You can also use organic fertilizers, applied per package directions.  Here's why:  your beets will "eat" the nutrition from the soil, and whatever they use up is now on your plate.  The plant going in the soil behind those beets or snow peas or lettuces needs that nutrition, too.  Be sure to work it in thoroughly so you get good production from those that come behind.

To make your own garden plans, use some graph paper and a PENCIL (have an eraser handy).  Think about how much space each plant needs, then sketch it out.  Read the books to determine which plants will play nicely with others.  Add visual interest and pest protection with flowers and herbs.  Put larger, taller plants in the center, then work down and out.  Have fun with it - embrace it as a creative challenge, not a chore.

So instead of dreaming tonight in black and white, or in color - dream in dirt!



Linda said...

Loved the information and it is going to be very helpful. You covered so much and so precisely. Thank you for doing this.

Amanda said...

This is great! My garden is not quite that well thought out... Maybe next year I will actually plan it out better!! Thanks for the inspiration. :)