Square Foot Garden Update and Lessons Learned

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It has been a while since I wrote about our garden, and Lynnae’s recent square foot garden update motivated me to snap a few pictures to share both our gardening successes and our failures.  I’ve learned a few lessons from the whole square foot gardening experience, and not all of them are positive.  I discovered that I am not, by nature, a gardener.  I did manage to produce a few crops, but hardly the quantity I desired.  One of the things that has scuttled my attempt at gardening has been the weather–it has been extremely hot and dry for months.  In fact, it looks like the southeast will be going through yet another long drought much like the one we experienced last summer.

Biggest Success:  Tomatoes

By far the biggest success from our garden has been our tomato plants.  They quickly outgrew our square foot gardening table so we transplanted them in the ground in our backyard, adding a couple rows of squash and cucumbers to fill in around them.  The Burpee tomato (“Early and Often” variety) has really done well in our little garden, and produced some of the tastiest tomatoes for summer salads.  The dry conditions have kept them a little smaller than we would have liked, but they have thrived in terms of flavor despite the tough conditions.

Cucumbers and Squash Were a Flop

Our cucumber crop has been anemic, producing only a few cucumbers of any size.  The ones that did sprout were delicious, but there were not nearly enough of them to satisfy my cravings for cucumber sandwiches, and cucumbers and red wine vinegar as an “eat-along” with salads.  The squash plants were equally unsatisfying, but I planted them a little late, so that’s probably my fault.

Will We Have a Square Foot Garden Next Year?

Absolutely!  But this time we’ll do things a little different.  Next year I plan to actually till an area of our yard and add the proper combination of additives to make our soil more conducive to growth.  I also plan to make a number of square foot garden boxes and dedicate a box for each type of plant that we are interested in growing.  We may also use containers for planting and growing our tomato plants because they tend to take over an area if not staked or caged.  If next summer is as hot and dry as this one has been, I will have to invest in some type of improved irrigation system, such as a drip hose on a timer.

All things considered, square foot gardening has been a positive experience.  It has introduced my kids to the idea of growing our own food, and has piqued their interest in fruits and vegetables, even if we still have to buy them from a farmers market.  They have helped me water the garden, double dig the soil in preparation for transplanting, and of course they were always eager to help me harvest produce.  Next season I will require even more help–I hope they are up to the challenge!

I’m interested to hear from fellow gardeners.  Have your crops produced this year?  What type of irrigation system do you have in place?  Recommendations?

Comments

  1. Congrats on a successful harvest! :)

    I grow my own herbs, as well as onions, garlic, and potatoes. The herbs (especially the basil) have been doing extremely well this year, as have the onions. Garlic yield is looking so-so, and it’s too early for the potatoes yet.

    Next year I’m thinking about expanding my space a little, increasing my crop and growing some lettuce as well. I’d like to have enough herbs to sell at the local farmer’s market once or twice a season.

    I really wish our climate would allow outside tomatoes- there’s nothing like fresh tomatoes right off the vine! Unfortunately, I would have to build a small greenhouse to tackle tomatoes or peppers, so that’s at least a few years down the road.

  2. Not bad for a first attempt. You have to learn what works for you. Our tomatoes also are doing very well this year, as did our broccoli, artichoke, strawberries, lettuce, squash and peas. Our corn is pathetic, however. What makes if worse is our neighbor has a huge patch of thriving corn!

  3. I put in a small rather haphazard garden this year. The results have been so so. Think I will try the square foot method next year. Will get a couple of books so I’ll be better prepared. Hopefully will have better results.

  4. As far as watering goes, you may consider a rain barrel. I know the local extention office here has held workshops where the participants made their own. I got mine from a friend. There would be up front costs if you had to buy one, but depending on how much you pay for water and how long you plan on using it, it may be worth the investment.

  5. I was thrilled to find your blog as I too have the SFG book and live in the Pacific NW. I also bought Steve Solomon’s book Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades and are combining the two. Just last night we completed our four 4X8 foot cedar boxes and I plan to seed a quick fall crop(I hope!) Did you use the SFG mix? I love rain barrels but I think they will be extremely time consuming with these plantings…looking at a drip system too. Thank you for navigating the way ahead of me!

  6. @Becca: No, I used an organic bagged soil (similar to Miracle Grow, but an organic variety). Next year I will make my own mix because it is cheaper, goes a little further, and is probably better for us than anything pre-mixed out of the bag.

    @Brian: Thanks for the great info. I’m anxious to give it a much better try next year, as this year was more of an experiment, really. I will spend more time preparing the space next winter/early spring so I won’t be behind the curve when it comes time to plant.

  7. @Brian: Great site! Will add it to my favorites list. Like FD, this year was an experiment for me. Realized I need more info and preparation for next year. Already looking forword to it.

    PS. Zoe is a good looking dog.

  8. Something we’ve noticed in several years of gardening – cukes and squash prefer cooler growing seasons. When our peppers and tomatoes do well, our cukes and squash usually aren’t so great. In PA, this has been a pretty good year for everything.

  9. We planted mountain strawberries, a small herb pot, and tomatoes. The kids loved it. Mountain strawberries are a bit hard to find, but if you can find them they are a blast: they’re bush plants rather than the viney standard types and the berries are about the size of the end of your finger (much smaller than commercial berries) but much more flavorful. The kids loved finding the really red ones. In our herb pot were dill, parsley, and chives. Every couple days we’d clip a bit of each (the longest bits), mix with a tomatoe or two, a little salt, and a drizzle of olive oil – the best summer salad ever!

  10. Before you do anything please check out lasagne gardening. This is by far the most cost effective and most productive way to amend your soil and garden. Whatever you do, don’t buy bagged soil – there are yucky additives in that soil — do it yourself with sheet composting (lasagne gardening is just a fancy term for sheet composting). You will recycle all organic matter, and your neighbor’s organic matter (even newspapers) this way and end up with a garden to die for. I live in a very short growing climate (zone 4) and I end up with tons of produce using this method. Anyway, give it a look-see. Lisa at eggsintomatoes.com

  11. My SFG has also kind of bombed this year, but that was mostly my fault. My poor tomatoes froze the night I planted them. They recovered, but I know the crop isn’t half as good as they would have been. My corn is doing decently. The beans are a total failure (just plants, no beans AT ALL!). I planted the cukes in containers so I could train them along the fence this year, and I have nothing. They did much better last year with the corn. (I couldnt eat the cucumbers fast enough last year. I miss them.) I am really disappointed in all of it, but know that I will miss it if I don’t garden next year. I also didn’t tend it as often as I did last year, due to various circumstances. It gets enough water, just not as much one-on-one time.

  12. You talk as if the growing season is over! I am jealous of your tomatoes. I have huge plants and large green tomatoes on them. Not a single red tomato yet, except some small grape ones, which I don’t count. I want one you can slice, a big juicy one. Ugh, I am depressed just writing about how it is august and I haven’t gotten tomatoes yet. My cucumbers aren’t doing much either. I am very much hoping for a large harvest over the next 2 months to make up for the lack of harvest so far. I hope yours improves too.

  13. Can’t wait until next year. Winters are not very severe around here (West Coast of Canada) so will probably try some winter crops.

  14. I have a worm compost bin in my patio that works great. It produces worm castings and worm juice that you can pour on your plants and the worms eat your garbage. My bin is made from recycled materials, has three levels so harvesting the castings is easy. Uses red wiggler worms and the castings can be put directly on your garden without burning anything. Lots of info on the internet. You can order everything online.

  15. Frugal Dad,
    Great post and that is something may wife and I talk about all the time. While I was considering asking this question for Sunday, I want to know what is the best way to to get started and also how to avoid the big dog we have from trampling things?

  16. I just restarted my square foot garden because my first attempt of the year was too early (April 1) and we had a super-cold spring. So I re-did it and planted fall crops. It is doing so well this time! I used the Mel’s Mix that you are supposed to use and I placed it in a sunnier spot this time. 3 weeks and I have neat little squares of a bunch of different veggies! My kids love to go out and see how its grown every day. PS: my neighbor uses the drip hoses and her garden is amazing, so definitely try that next time!

  17. Hi Frugal Dad–don’t laugh, but here in Southcentral Alaska we are having a very late, VERY cool summer. All the veggies, berries and flowers are about three weeks behind schedule. Since we usually have a short growing season (about 100 days), starting out with a cool spring that was also very dry made a huge impact.

    My outdoor square foot gardens are still doing great (watering is key) because I chose plants that I knew would be successful for our climate. My SFGs in the greenhouse have not done quite as well because I don’t have a proper ventilation system, and because it’s very difficult to grow tomatoes, cucumbers, corn and squash here in AK!!
    Try it again next year…water often and try making your own compost to amend your soil. I made a bunch last summer to enhance my soil this summer, and it helped a lot. I’m making a lot more compost this summer for next year right now.

  18. Your first effort looks great.

    If you are great at raising tomatoes it might be an idea to start a neighbourhood vegetable bartering service. One family one vege and then exchange with the rest.

    Looking forward to reading more about your next year’s bigger and more advanced version of SFG.

    Best regards

    Regards

  19. I can’t imagine you didn’t have success with squash. They grow like weeds.

    Last year we built two greenhouses and this year I am completing a third. We are up to our neck in summer squash, the tomatoes are a jungle, and we had great success with peas, lettuce, herbs and cucumbers. Our winter squash is also a great success, with perhaps 50 fruits that will help us make it through the winter.

    Check out my website under Build a Greenhouse, and you’ll see examples of our greenhouses and harvest.

    Every four days we are harvesting about 12 pounds of squash. The tomatoes are coming on now, and when they hit big, we’ll be in heaven.

    Part of our frugal freedom is to ditch the produce bill and get our food fresh from the garden.

    I can’t think of a better frugal thing to do.

    Clair

  20. Inspiring comments and article. Just moved to a house with enough room for a small veg plot, carefully hidden in a corner. Bit late in the year now but sweetcorn and tomatoes are well underway.

  21. We are growing stuff in containers on our balcony. So far the green beans have been the best success, we’ve gotten a lot of meals out of them even though they haven’t grown very high. We also have a ton of fresh lettuce.

    We have tomatoes but they are still all green. Our weather is opposite to yours, its been really cool and rainy all summer, and the tomatoes are large but not ripening.

    Squash was so-so. We only have 1 plant, and it produced 3 so far, but a lot of other fruit has fallen off and died before getting big enough to eat. We have added miracle grow and now things are doing better, but for while it was really sad.

    We also have broccoli, and that’s the biggest disappointment, just leaves, no florets.

    I’ve also learned a lot and plan on doing this again next year.

  22. This gardening idea is one of my favorites.

    I took a break this year from gardening, but I love Square Foot Gardening–the author’s terrific. I have extremely fond memories of vertical trellises I made out of wooden pallets so that my Blacktail Mountain watermelons could grow vertically–and I had organic watermelon into November in New Jersey that way. I also fondly recall double-digging 20 (count ‘em) 4 foot by 4 squares, with 2 foot wide paths in between, and composting. I also got compost from my organic food co-op, which was gladly provided, and turned up my nose at grass clippings if I couldn’t be certain that they were indeed organic. My gardening club supplied the leaves and the manure. No bags of chemically treated soil from the store for me–organic all the way.

    Whatever method you use, it helps not to walk on the aerated soil (use a plank if you must) and to plan no bed to be wider than four feet, so as to be accessible from all sides. Use floating row covers and an inexpensive hothouse (build yourself for under $100) to extend the season into the winter and spring.

    The only thing I can think of that is a better way than square foot gardening perhaps is Bio-intensive Gardening, created by John Jeavons. See his book, “How to Grow More Vegetables and Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops Than You Ever Thought Possible On Less Land Than You Can Imagine” and his Biointensive workshops. It’s like taking Square Foot Gardening to the next level.

    Happy gardening!

  23. I have acouple raised beds, but I didn’t implement the Square Foot Gardening thing this year. I plan to start a new bed with a fall planting next month using the Square Foot Gardening method.

    I can relate to Jennifer. Some of my tomato plants have died. Of those that are left, 4 are Supersweet 100s that produce one or two little tomatoes at a time and, one is a supersteak variety with a couple big still green tomatoes. I’m thinking my problems are not casued by not adequately amending the soil and the smoke that hung over Northern California for at least two months.

    On the flipside, my parsnips seem to be doing well. My first planting of carrots did okay, but the second planting never took off. Oh well, I’m excited to start the new fall planting…

  24. This was my first year doing a square foot garden. I did a 12″ deep bed despite his assurance that 6″ would be fine. I did tomatos (2 early girls, and 1 yellow pear), winter squash, green onions, broccolli, leaf lettuce, and carrots. All did very well. The tomatos grew 5ft tall. I ended up with 30lbs of green tomatos from those 3 plants so I brought them in to ripen as they were rotting on the vine otherwise.

  25. Update for my fellow gardeners. The fall harvest of winter squash has been taken in and weighed. We scored 175 pounds of winter squash from just one half of greenhouse #2. All from just 12 plants.

    Our summer squash provided us with nearly 300 pounds throughout the season from just 12 plants. These were planted in the other half of greenhouse #2. Our family and families in the neighborhood enjoyed fresh squash, and we canned, dried and froze some as well. Our turkeys and chickens loved the squash too.

    Our tomato harvest was also a big hit. Recently we brought in the green and ripening tomatoes to the sunroom so our first frosts wouldn’t nail them. These were the ones that we wanted to save at the end of the season. We brought them in using a wheelbarrow. That tells you how much we gathered.

    If you’re looking to pitch the produce bill, a greenhouse is the way to go. I recently visited with neighbors of mine that built a homemade PVC greenhouse, and others that built two kits; a high tunnel and a low tunnel.

    I’ve posted pictures and discussion on the website, so folks can see what can be done with simple greenhouse structures that are cheap and relatively easy to build.

    Clair

  26. Last year was my first year of SFG, and our cucumbers did wonderful! Cucumbers need to be heavily pollinated to produce a good crop. If you don’t have a lot of bees in your area, it will be a lot harder to get a good crop. Hope things go well this year for you!

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