Square foot gardens past, part 1

Square foot gardens at Heritage Prairie Farm, Elburn, Illinois.

For many years, I have wanted my own vegetable garden. I used to grow vegetables as part of a 4H program back in Cortland, so perhaps I still had the bug. I also liked the idea of growing some of my own food, especially in the hectic rat race that life tends to be.

Growing a garden also sets a good example for how to address some of the world’s larger problems. A single garden won’t solve the problem of world hunger, but if enough people do it, it will mount up and at least alleviate the situation. Also, if people in less-developed areas saw examples of small, sustainable gardens, they may be inclined to try it themselves, and at least help their own situation.

When I set out to make my own garden, I selected the Mel Bartholomew’s square foot garden method. I don’t know if Bartholomew invented this approach, but he definitely refined and perfected it. He wrote two books and several articles on the subject, and hosted a television show, all using and promoting this method.

Today, the Square Foot Gardening Foundation promotes this style of gardening. They also sell supplies and offer instruction classes. It is also possible to take classes to become a certified instructor for this style of gardening. This is something that I plan to attempt, hopefully in 2017.

The summer of 2014 was my first attempt at a square foot garden. I chose a section of my property that receives a lot of sun, and was close enough to the house to be easy to check and maintain. I tried a cross-section of crops, hoping to find out what grew well and what didn’t.

SFG, 2014

This single box garden was about as simple as they come. The walls were made from cinder blocks, and the base was lined with old cardboard. I planted a mix of Roma tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, corn, shard, spinach, lettuce, carrots, red radishes, and bush green beans.

I planted on Memorial Day weekend, which turned out to be a little too late. We had a blistering heat wave that June, and I think that killed several of my plants. The shard, spinach, lettuce and radishes never sprouted. The cucumbers, corn and green peppers all grew, but never bore fruit.

The tomatoes and green beans, however, did very well. Over the course of the summer I was able to harvest them multiple times. The beans went over very well at the dinner table, and the tomatoes were brewed into home made pasta sauce.

I was disappointed at how this garden turned out. But I did learn a lot, and wasn’t deterred. I decided to make a better garden the following year, and hopefully avoid repeating my mistakes.

One of the problems I had with this box was placement. It was very close to the septic tank, so the weeds in the surrounding grass were constant and relentless. My box was flat to the ground, and that layer of cardboard proved ineffective against most weeds. I was constantly plucking crabgrass and other intruders.

I also had problems with wildlife. I found rabbit tracks in and around the box, so I’m pretty sure that the “McHare Clan” was poaching my veggies. I like small furry animals as much as the next guy, but I don’t want them eating my garden! Why couldn’t they eat the wild strawberries that are all over the area?!?

Ironically, when I disassembled this box during the winter, I was surprised to find some good sized carrots in the frozen soil. Apparently the carrots grew after all, though I never saw evidence of them. I suspect my furry neighbors ate the green tops of the plants. Regardless, the carrots tasted great!

Next year’s box would use a different approach.

Square foot gardens past.
[Part 1][Part 2][Part 3]