Chicago Suburb Square Foot Gardening Plan

square foot gardening guest post

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My name is Erin and I was a newbie last year…  We tore out a big concrete pad in order to make these two beds. All of the pictures were taken right after we completed the project, so there are still some areas that are lacking sod surrounding the project. We built two 3’x7′ raised bed gardens. We also bought a large planter box that is 3’x18″ and about 2′ deep. They are filled with about 1/4 of each of the following: topsoil (from DuPage Topsoil), peat, compost (various types from Menard’s/Home Depot), and perlite & vermiculite. The vermiculite was a little pricy so I made some substitutions. We have since added a trellis along the sides and back of the eastern most bed. I have two large stakes in the western bed for staking summer squash. The beds are surrounded by rubber pavers which are not so easy to install and make level but are much nicer on the knees than concrete.

I would say I had decent results my first year and definitely learned a lot. My beets and carrots did awesome, they were configured a little differently than this year, I alternated beets, onions and carrots. This year I think I will keep them all together to make them easier to pick, etc. I might also stagger planting the beets, because we had so many and I like the beet greens a little more tender.

I started the tomatoes, peppers, and squash indoors. I did not have a grow light, only a southern facing window. My tomatoes did ok; they were kinda small but I think it was just the type I planted. I think I will try heirlooms this year in addition to some of the same plants I did last year. My jalapenos did well but peppers were on the small side. I bought an eggplant transplant and it did nothing. This year I got a grow light for the tomatoes/peppers/eggplant to start them indoors and will plant everything else from seed outside.

I staked my zucchini and summer squash, but they got some kind of bug and did very poorly.  The winter squash fared better (butternut and pumpkin) but got some kind of fungus on the leaves so didn’t produce much. The Acorn squash got buggy. Watermelon was a big fat fail, not sure if I will attempt that again. Cucumbers also got some kind of bug and died. Stems got borers and turned all mushy. How do you handle pests organically?

I also planted marigolds intermittently throughout both beds as we have lots of bunnies.

The small box all the way to the north I use for lettuce and spinach as it’s partially under the awning and up a little higher and the bunnies have a harder time accessing it. Oddly enough I still have spinach growing in it; it’s been a warm winter here.

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So here is this year’s plan:

square foot gardening chicago garden plan

I plan on planting the beds  more densely than last year. I didn’t plant anything between or behind the summer squash (same location as last year) but I think I could have done cool crops such as carrots and beets. Thoughts?

I’m assuming Lima Beans grow just like a bush bean???

I have a spin bin, but haven’t gotten much in the way of quality compost out of it yet. I think it needs more water and more rotating. Any advice on getting decent compost from one of these things is appreciated!!!

Thanks so much, love your blog…. I’d be lost without it!!!!

Happy Gardening!

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11 Responses

  1. Susan says:

    LOVE, LOVE, LOVE!!!!!!!!!!! I was very excited to see that you put your garden close to your house, because I did the same thing. My bed is 3 x 14 and I wanted to know where should I plant tomatoes? Along the wall of the house or one in front of the other? I will buy 6 plants….please help I’m a newbie

  2. ErinR says:

    Good point for those with an older home. Luckily our house is a bit newer and we have aluminum siding.

  3. I’m no expert but a co-worker is and she warned me of planting too close to the house. The apartment I was living in had lead paint on the exterior and the runoff from any rainstorms would cause it to run into the food we grew. That was without putting any plants next to the foundation. We were planning to put the garden a few feet away from the house.

  4. Emily says:

    If you are not going to trellis them, give bush cucumbers 2 squares per plant. If you are going to use a trellis, go ahead and plant 8 per square, two rows of 4 on either side of a trellis.

  5. Gale Karlin says:

    I am getting ready to do my first square foot garden. My garden will be 4 foot by 8 ft. my question is how do bush cucumbers do and how many can you you plant in each square? My second question is when planting the tomatoes do I understand it right that there will be enough room for one plant per square and does it work to plant the tomatoes next to one another or do you need to stager them so you can get to them?

  6. Kathryn says:

    Here’s another option for the little… well, I’ll remember that they’re all God’s creatures and not pollute here, but the squash vine borers that got my zucchini, pumpkins, gourds, and cucumbers last year just to your north in WI. Spray your cucurbits (cucumber- and squash-family) with Neem oil. It’s an organic control made of the Neem tree’s oil, and you do have to spray intermittently, but it’s supposed to do a great job. It isn’t toxic, but interrupts insects growth cycle and metabolism, and only effects things chomping on your plants- non-toxic to bees & other pollinators. It’s pretty cost effective- around here, a $10 bottle of concentrate will last all season.
    Good luck!

  7. Karen La Rue says:

    Hi—I haven’t done a Square Foot garden yet….but I’m anxious to start.
    The onions are UP in the basement. I just wanted to let you know that squash borers are a HUGE problem here in zone 6 [Kansas City, Mo]—they will do in both cucumbers and zucchini. If you plant these crops on August 1st, there is time for a harvest, and there are NO borers to be seen. [last year I started zucchini on July 15—and didn’t have as good a crop—I had to did two borers out of the vines—and those two never really recovered]

  8. KSterling says:

    About the bugs … there is an organic spray called spinosad, or something like that. It is sold under various brand names. It counts as an organic pest control – it’s actually a natural organism that kills bugs. I used it last year on the aphids that got all over my black-eyed peas, and also on the bugs that got on my beans and squash. Worked great. You can read more about here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spinosad Hopefully it will help. Also, when you plant squash and cucumbers, cut the bottom out of a plastic drinking cup, and let the squash plant grow up through the cup (in other words, the cup forms a ring around the base of the plant); that will keep bugs out of the vines when the plants are young, and I think it helps as they mature, too. I don’t usually have vine borers until late in the season – except when I plant the squash in the same place as the year before. The bugs overwinter and kill the plant pretty early. Rotating your plantings is the hardest part of gardening, esp. when your garden space is limited. Good luck!

  9. Andrea says:

    This is such a great site! It is my first time commenting.

    Erin, I live in the midwest and have troubles with cucumber beetles, which like cucumbers and all squash plants. They will spread diseases like powdery mildew between plants. They also carry bacterial wilt, which may be what your cucumbers had. Honestly, killing them by hand is your best bet for organic control. You can try the soapy spray too. Dill and radishes are supposed to repel cucumber beetles and other squash pests. I plant both around my squash.

    I find it very difficult to grow squash without getting powdery mildew. I wonder if it is the climate. Anyway, two years ago I pruned off leaves that showed signs of the disease as soon as I saw them (powdery spots on the undersides of the leaves). I’ve never read to do that anywhere, but my plants produced really well and the disease didn’t spread. I still had plenty of healthy green vines and leaves and lots of squash (butternut, spaghetti, and pumpkins). I am careful not to touch other plants and to immediately dispose of the leaves and clean my pruners to avoid spreading the disease.

    I hope this helps! Your garden plan looks great!

  10. ErinR says:

    Thanks for looking at my garden plan and for all the great tips!!!

    Our back yard is a bit sunnier but we have big crazy dogs that like to destroy gardens, so the side yard was perfect. The pavers warm but not hot. We got them from Home Depot.

    If I were to build this all again I would probably have made the beds narrower. It is difficult to reach the back row. I’ve gotten very good at balancing with one foot on each of the wood edges. So onions will definitely be put in the back row this year.

    I trellis the winter squash which worked out pretty well last year.

    I’ll for sure read up on the bugs, that seems to be the biggest problem for me at the moment.

    Thanks again!!!

  11. Emily says:

    Erin,

    This looks so great! I love to see that you tucked this on the side of your house, and I LOVE the idea of the rubber pavers. Do they get hot?

    *I agree that I prefer having all the same type of vegetable grouped together in one spot. Sometimes I scatter them if I need to separate two plants that don’t “like” each other. But it’s a little more efficient keeping things together.

    *Peppers: try feeding them with egg shell mix or Epsom salts. Mine LOVE it! In addition, I like to use a 9-59-8 fertilizer every 4-6 weeks.

    *Winter squash: it sounds like they got powdery mildew. Check out this recipe for an organic fix. To avoid squash borers, you can try chemical pesticides. I only do that as a last resort. I like Jerry Baker’s Giant Book of Garden Solutions.

    *Lima beans: they come in pole and bush varieties, just like bush beans. Make sure you get the bushing kind.

    *Tomatoes: You said you put in a trellis behind and on both ends of the north bed. I suggest growing the tomatoes on the ends. This is why–your beds are 3′ deep, which makes it a little tricky to get to the back squares. Growing tomatoes in 1 square on a trellis requires DILIGENT pruning. I speak from experience when I say you need access to them on both sides of the trellis or they will grow out of control.

    *Summer squash: Yes, definitely try planting beets, carrots, lettuce etc. right around the squash. Those veggies like cooler temperatures, and require less light. The partial shade will have them loving life! You can also tuck in radishes if you like them.

    *Onions and Carrots/Beets: I would trade the placement of these vegetables. Once you plant them, you won’t do anything with the onions all season. Set it and forget it. So put them in the back where it’s hard to reach. The carrots and beets will need to be harvested sooner (in about 6-8 weeks), and you can then replant those squares. Keep them easy to access in the front.

    *Pumpkin: train it to grow south, and it should be great.

    *Cucumbers: you can plant 8 cukes per square foot–two rows of 4 on either side of the trellis. This will give you plenty!

    *Winter squash: I’m worried about the placement, unless you trellis them. If so, they’re probably fine. If not, move them to the north end where you have some room to train them to grow away from the garden.

    *Planter box: If you ever get motivated to grow potatoes, this is where you would do it!

    Looks great, I’d love to hear how everything goes. I hope you have better luck with your squash and avoid the pests!
    Emily