Jacki’s Square Foot Gardening Plan
- Gardening year: 2011
- Location: Langhorne, Pennsylvania
- Planting By Color: Yellow
I cannot tell you how excited I am to share Jacki’s garden plans with you! She is using some awesome techniques to extend her harvest.
“This is our boxes from the south side of the yard, with their dome lids that we created. The idea of the domes was to be able to transplant our seedlings earlier, keep in warmth at night as they established themselves, and then in the fall to expend our growing season.”
The row covers allow Jackie to start seeds outside earlier, transplant earlier, and then HARVEST earlier! The same is true in the fall–she can continue to harvest well past the first fall frost. Keep in mind that plants grow more slowly in the fall, and must be mostly grown by the time frost comes. By protecting the plants you can continue to harvest them for weeks, and in some areas, even months.
If you can believe it, the big concern with row covers or cold frames is making sure the vegetables don’t get too hot. During the day you may have to prop them partially open to allow the air to flow.
Here, Jacki has them fully open during the day, and just closes them at night for protection from the cool temperatures. This will help tremendously with tender and very tender vegetables like tomatoes and peppers.
Aren’t you jealous? I know I am!
Here is Jacki’s history and her square foot gardening plan:
“Last summer was our first year doing any type of gardening at all. We had soil delivered, and it ended up being very poor quality. It was mostly clay, and had a lot of stones in it. After the expense of the build and the soil, we couldn’t afford to amend the soil properly, so we just tried to work with what we had.”
“In addition to having terrible soil, we also did not know when to plant things. We started our tomatoes and peppers inside in February (we were too excited, got a little ahead of ourselves), so by the time we put them out they were spindly and ragged, having spent 3 months trapped in tiny little containers. We directly sowed spinach and various greens in May, so by the time they grew to anything they basically just bolted right to seed. Our peas sprouted and immediately withered and died, same with our beans.”
“After a disastrous growing season, where really we got only lots of hot peppers, we gave up on our plans to plant greens in the boxes at the end of the summer and try to grow them into the winter with the dome lids on. Instead we took the compost we had been making all spring and summer and used it to amend the soil as best we could. We dug out the top 6-8 inches of soil, and replaced it with a mix of compost and peat moss. We were only able to do that in the Left and Center boxes on the spreadsheet, then we ran out of compost. We left the Right bin as it was. We added a layer of shredded leaves on top of each box and left them to sit over the winter.”
“We decided to grow the salad greens in the Right box this summer, as we think they don’t need to have as extensive of a root system as the other plants do. We’re planning to add some soil-free mix or potting soil or something to the part with the trellis at the very least.”
“I think the most important thing we’ve done this year is to subscribe to your newsletter, so we’ll actually know when to plant things!”
And finally, her questions:
- Have we done a decent job with the companion planting? Will the things we’ve chosen to grow actually grow well next to each other?
- We’re planting marigolds in each box, in hopes of luring the bunnies away from our carrots. All of our carrot tops were eaten by bunnies last year. Have we put enough marigolds in that we may actually get some carrots? Also, when do we plant the marigolds? Should they be from seed, or should we buy transplants?
- Are all of the things we want to plant going to be part of your newsletter? If not, which ones are we going to be on our own for?
- Do you think we did enough to fix our terrible soil problem? If not, what else can we do before planting time? (Keep in mind that our budget is very tight at the moment; I’m 7 months pregnant with our first child and our business is very slow due to the economy.)
- We’re using marigolds for rabbits, but what can we do about squirrels? We have a lot of them here, and last summer almost all of the surviving tomatoes and bell peppers were eaten by them. Any suggestions?
- Is there any other advice at all that you can give us as very new gardeners? I fear that if we have another year of utter failure it’s going to be tough to keep my husband interested enough to do it again next year. It’s tough to come up with the right questions to ask when I hardly even know what I’m doing!
Leave your comments and advice below!
Learn how to create your own square foot garden plan.
I was wondering if you had plans for your covers they look great, really like to try them on my boxes as it is my first year gardening with SFG. Would love it if your post the instructions for building the covers? Thanks
Your boxes look great! As I was reading Emily’s suggestions…I noticed that she spoke about the zucchini and squash. She’s right about the space…I dedicated a whole 4×4 box to it last year and my pathways were completely covered around it. But when I did do with one of the plants…was grow it up through a tomato cage. I had a few extras..and they were the larger ones (not the tiny 97 cent ones). And by doing that, I was able to save a lot of space! The fruit is so much easier to find and pick that way. With my others, I was finding that I was missing one here or there and then it was a foot and a half long by the time it started to stick out from under the leaves for me to see more readily. I am planning on doing this method with all of mine this next year!
Celery is more successful if transplanted instead of started from seeds. I’d go ahead and plant something else, or buy celery transplants if they’re available.
Here in Texas it has been very hot this year. I have my fall garden put in already. I have 8 4″x4″ and 4 3″x6″. The 4×4’s I started in early spring using the layered method. The 3×6’s I started in early August using Square foot gardening Mel’s mix. The layered was much more cost effective but I wanted to try both to compare. Every thing I planted in August is really doing good in all the beds but celery. It has been a month and still no show. I have never grown celery before so I don’t know much about it. I am about to plant another veggie in it’s place. Do you think I have given it enough time? Should I wait more time for it?
I was also curious about what you used to attach the pvc pipe to the wood. and handles is a great idea
I never knew that marigolds would repel rabbits. …what baffles me is how that can work? I just this morning bought timothy hay for our pet rabbit, it was mixed with marigold flowers. Apparently rabbits love marigolds?! 🙂
So did your husband come up with a solution to the plastic dome laying on the rocks? Also, how did you attatch your plastic? Is it stapled on? Are the poles attatched with something like a dishwasher hose mount? Thanks for the step by step!
squirrels… ugh. I know they don’t like cayenne pepper. I’ve only grown things in pots on my porch and i would pour cayenne pepper on the soil. It kept them away. This year I have a garden (we bought a house!) and I bought some cayenne pepper seeds. I don’t know if the pepper itself is enough to keep them away but I’m going to try, otherwise I will buy ground cayenne and dump it all over the soil. 🙂 Maybe that is worth a shot?
love the domes… maybe I can convince hubby- IF this growing season goes well enough 🙂
Erica: Thanks for the idea! That really would have helped last year. This year we’re growing a yellow tomato and a red tomato, so those will look different, but maybe it’s still a good idea because we’re planting just 1 type of bell pepper plant.
Jenna: I already ordered the marigold seeds, so I think I might give it a shot anyway. Maybe just in one spot, though, rather than in every box. I’m definitely going to look into some sort of fencing. Any suggestions for squirrels? We have lots, and they just climb up and over everything, I don’t think fencing will help with them at all.
Shreela: One of the beans we ordered is a Japanese variety, so hopefully we’ll have good luck with it like you did! With the terrible slope of our yard we certainly don’t have a flooding problem. Hopefully our soil will work out better for us this year.
Radical or not, I think your teacher had some good points. My husband and I are hoping to homestead at some point, and are working towards the goal of being able to almost all of our food. Clearly not on a slope like that, or in those boxes. It’s a starting point, though, for two people who have never gardened before and want to be gardening near full time within 10 years! And yes, the sweet baby girl I’m carrying will know how to garden, because by the time she’s old enough to learn I should actually have some knowledge to impart. 🙂
Jacki, I commend you for your problem-solving ideas, and hope they work to give you a better harvest this year. I didn’t grow up gardening, so I could almost count the number of veggies we actually ate my first try LOL
My fall garden produced a bit better after I worked in leaves and manure (aged) before planting, but not everything produced (hard gumbo soil).
The following spring I put in leaves and manure again, and got a lot of squash and long Asian green beans (because I heard they tolerate hot summers better – they do), and actually got a few tomatoes.
But overall, the amount of work I put into it did not produce enough veggies to get my husband to help me anymore – he considered it a waste of time with our poor soil, and is too tired after work to put in the effort to improve it properly (we’re considerably older than you). Also, we flood kind of easily, so another reason why not to put in a lot of effort.
So this year I’m starting container gardening to get around the poor soil and possible flooding problems.
Please don’t give up, keep trying even if your husband stops helping. One of my high school teachers was considered a bit radical, but he taught us about what might happen should we live long enough to see resource-shortages as the world became more populated. I’ve seen some of what he taught us come true a few times, thankfully we’ve recovered from the disasters and panic-driven shortages. But it makes sense that the shortages could continue with such frequently occurring major disasters, and other populations’ high birth rates.
Imagine how much decent food will cost when the sweet baby in your tummy turns into an adult! S/He’ll thank you for teaching them how to grow their own food if current times are but a preview of the future. By then, you’ll be an old pro at it ^_^
The idea of planting marigolds is to repel the bunnies but seriously they only thing that will keep bunnies from eating tasty veggies is a fence or barrier of some sort. IMHO marigolds are a waste of good gardening space when you can just fence off and KNOW that your garden is safe. If I were you I’d scarp the marigolds and go for a few more tomato and pepper plants, two of each sure isn’t enough for me!
The compost you added was a good idea, that will do a world of good for your soil. The more the better so you could start your own compost pile!
Thanks for the feedback, Laura. I’m going to dig out Mel’s book and see what we can do about the chicken wire. Maybe we can build a small “fence” around each box. We can’t replace the dome plastic with chicken wire, though, because the domes can’t be shut once we put the trellis netting up. That’s why we took them off entirely once our trellised plants started getting big.
I did blog about the building of the cold frames, but I did it over the course of 3 posts about our boxes in general. Here’s the links:
If you have any questions that aren’t answered by those posts, just let me know!
I think one thing I would change is alternating your tomato/pepper row. If you grow 2 tomatoes next to each other depending on the varierty, they may look like one big tomato plant! It might be easier to harvest if you alternate with pepper, tomato, pepper, tomato.
Could you post how the details of how the tops are constructed and attached? That is a great idea!
Very cool boxes! I think this is the first time I’ve seen anyone address the whole boxes on a slope sort of thing and they look fabulous! In Mel’s book from page 65 to 70 on making chicken wire cages. Animals detest the metal. That way you can leave out the marigolds (unless you love their beautiful color) and add more veggies – more bang for your buck. You can keep out the rabbits and squirrels that way. I noticed that my romaine lettuce did great in my bad soil. And so did my early girl tomatoes. Also my jade bush beans, my sweetness carrots, oh and my oregon sugar pod snow peas. My onions, pumpkins, bell peppers, and corn did terrible. Consistent even watering is the key with my bad soil which has a lot of clay like yours. Your cold frames are too cool. I bet you could add on the metal cages easily since it looks like someone has mastered their tools.
1. The companion planting looks great!
2. Marigolds–don’t dedicate a whole box to them. Just grow one or two here and there. They will look beautiful, but won’t take up any space. Just plant them between plants. I’ve never grown them, so I can’t give advice on seeds vs. transplants. Transplants always work, seeds might.
3. The only thing not listed currently is parsnips. If I get the time I’ll add it. 🙂
4. I think you did the right thing by amending your soil. If you can, purchase and add more compost. Sometimes you can get it in bulk, which might be cheaper, especially if you have garden beds in the front to use it on.
The other thing to do is get some fertilizer and mix it into the soil before planting. This is a suggestion for the more alkaline soil out west–I’m not sure how it applies to the soil there: Mix 4 cups 16-16-8 fertilizer with 1 cup Ironite. Apply 1/3 cup per 4×4 square foot garden (16 square feet) and incorporate into the soil 6-8 inches deep.
5. I agree that you may need a physical barrier to prevent the critters from getting your harvest. Check out this example of using chicken wire.
6. My advice–find out what food from the garden your husband likes best (mine loves home canned salsa) and grow that. Serve it often, and rave over the benefits of a home garden. Honestly, I would go as far as deceit to keep my hubby interested–if my garden failed I would buy home-grown veggies to make the salsa, and never tell him! My husband hates gardening and has NOTHING to do with it (except eating), and that’s one of the reasons I use the square foot method–no tilling, hoeing, etc.
Some more feedback you didn’t ask for:
It looks like yo plan to grow a lot of salad mixes. If there’s just two of you, I think 8 squares would be plenty to eat EVERY DAY! And be sure to stagger the planting by 2 weeks or so, so you don’t have more than you can eat, and then none the next week.
Salad greens are usually fast growing, so you might even start with spinach, and when it’s harvested move on to lettuce. You can plant beets just for the greens–sometimes it’s nice to have a variety.
Another trick I use–I don’t dedicate a whole square to basil, but I plant one between each of my tomato and lettuce plants. They ward off aphids.
If you scatter your marigolds among the plants, you can gain 6 more squares! I would dedicate that to tomatoes–move your bell peppers back a row, and have one whole row of tomato plants. If you put nylon mesh on the trellis you can train them to grow up-but you will need to prune the tomatoes regularly.
Generally, you will need WAY MORE space than 1 square for zucchini and summer squash–they normally require 9 squares each. However, I’m hoping to (finally) write a post about a way to prune them that saved tons of space. But plan on at least 2 squares minimum.
Those are all of my ideas–if you update you plan be sure to send it to me so I can include it!