North Alabama Square Foot Gardening Plan

Hello, my name is Diane and I have been learning a great deal from everyone on this site. I live on Lake Guntersville, in northern Alabama and I would love any input on my SFG plan. We built the raised beds last year and ultimately got off to a slow start on sowing due to the build and the fact that my indoor planting was in a sunroom that did not get UV light! So this year we are going full guns and planting nothing but heirlooms with grow lights.

The View of SFG and Yard

The details: we live on 3 acres in the South with a family of 4. So, all our plants must withstand the hottest, humid weather and must be liked by all. We also live on a hill looking over a large lake so when the weather turns bad, we get massive winds up the slope from the lake. To assist our garden survivability, we built a picket fence for wind reduction and keep the dogs out of the garden. I also am trying to grow ‘up’ when I can, hence the trellises. They also provide shade for the lettuce/spinach during the heat of summer. My husband built me a wonderful raised bed garden with seating along all the edges of the beds. Each bed has chicken wire bottoms and are lined with commercial grade landscape material since we used scrap wood to build and also stained the wood. I still need to finish the pathways in an affordable manner and install drip irrigation, but last year we had our first crop.

During the build last year,

I try to stay organic, but sometimes I have to pull out the big guns (BT for example) for the bigger pests that refuse to die. But I want to try to focus on companion planting and year-round growing if possible and will add more physical bed covers this year to protect our crops.  We loved the beans and tomatoes most from our garden last year. But then again, so did the chipmunks. I wondered why I had such beautiful soy bean plants that never had enough pods to harvest. Well, upon inspection, all the ’empty’ pods were covering the soil. Little critters were sitting under the shade of the plants eating away. Needless to say, my husband played ‘plink’ with them a bit. I was horrified when I got home and my son came running in saying he got his first kill that day with his BB-gun. After, I also realized that the Chipmunks weren’t the only mammals eating my beans and tomatoes. My son and husband would go pick playing the “one for the basket, two for me” game. About the only time I could catch my son away from his video games during the summer was when he was sitting with his friends in the garden chowing down on soy beans. I wondered why they always kept coming over so often. So, a bumper crop enjoyed by others.

Completed garden 2011

Tucker the Great Pyrenees!

We compost outside and also have two worm factories in our basement.  Then worms have provided us with some excellent tea and planting mix.  Those little guys really can populate quickly.  I want to try to move them outside this year to enahnce our pallet compost bins.  I also learned about a way to add them to the raised beds and provide a feeding box in each corner to give them something to much on in the bed.  Still researching this.  Of course, they can’t go anywhere due to the bed lining, so I will need to make sure they can survive in the heat of a raised bed.

The lettuce took off and never bolted because it was under a cattle fencing angled trellis with melons growing and shading it from the intense Alabama summer sun. I am moving the okra to the main yard…WAY too big and actually got tired of eating okra from four plants. I will let them serve as a yard annual this year. The luffa took off and we actually have sponges. This year I want to actually fry some up to eat! But the ultimate success were tomatoes and peppers. I had to purchase actual plants due to the misstep in seed sowing.  I would water my tomatoes with miracle grow and powdered milk mixture once per week. My trellises were loaded and kept climbing up to the lower deck. Peppers will be limited to single plants this year. WOW, we actually got tired of eating peppers. So did our friends! My pole beans also covered the deck railing!

The bean trellis. I have one for tomatoes as well. The wire can easily be removed at the end of the season.

Trellis works perfect down the middle of the two foot deep beds.

Leaning trellis over the beds to shade the lettuce/spinach.

The arbor. The gates only open out to keep the dogs out of the garden.

Needs cleaning up. Amazed that the parsley is still going strong.

I will take more photos this year of the plant growth. Last year it was hot, humid and health took a toll. We did suffer a bit of damage from the tornadoes that whipped through Alabama and had tornadoes pass on both sides of us within 1-mile away. Once we took care of damage, we were able to focus on completing the beds.

Below are the pictures of the other garden areas.  The herb garden will actually be called the Biergarten.  I have been saving beer bottles for the path and will be using the bottle caps for making the stepping stones and hypertufa planters.  This will be the ‘big’ project this year.  We also happened upon 350 eye screws for $5.  So we will be adding them at the 12″ marks in the beds to tie wire that will divide my beds!  Great find!

The herb garden project for this year.

Our orchard in progress.

I would love any input from others who grow in the South.  Would love to see some other ideas as well for bed covers and paths.  We definately need to get the Kitchen Garden path completed.  Money is tighter this year, so we are thinking outside the box.  Can’t wait to hear your responses!

2012_Garden Plan.xls go here to download the Excel version and see all the charts.

Happy Gardening!

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9 Responses

  1. Ladydy8 says:

    Thanks! Beer bottles require lots and lots of digging to ensure they are even along the top. You bury them in a trench and use a level. There are lots of ways to put them, just search and you will find directions. Also, use bottles that are flat on the bottom (top). Otherwise, the indentations (like wine bottles) will fill with dirt and water. If water…then ice…then cracking bottles. I would not recommend using concrete to set the bottles, just in case they break in-situ. If you don’t want to bury them, you can also set them on edge to make a small wall. Then you could use concrete. But there are other things you can use for edging and paths that may be better. They also get REALLY hot in the summer here!

  2. Jennifer says:

    Wow….I’m really impressed. You have done a great job planning and executing! I’m also a bit envious of your space and sun :-)
    I’m curious about using beer bottles for paths…how does that work?

  3. Deb Owsley says:

    I am loving your design. We live south of Birmingham and I was wondering how the vegetables would handle the heat. We have not started yet, so by the time we get set up, we will be doing winter crops.

  4. Ladydy8 says:

    Thanks Linda for the suggestion. I do use pine needles in some areas, but they tend to get slippery and my elderly Mom doesn’t feel secure walking on them. And, I actually have to go in search of the pines to get enough for my paths and beds. Unfortunately, we have many bricks available with so much tornado damage. So I will likely be using that now.

  5. Linda Heckman says:

    You asked for ideas for your garden paths. Since you live in the Southeast, I would suggest that you use pine needles about three or four inches deep. Rain would drain through and also keep you out of the mud. It looks good, is free or else extremely cheap and is easily renewed. I have a golden retreiver who is a mere 80 pounds but also a digger. I am starting raised garden beds this year in our chainlink concrete dog run. I plan to use the fence as my trellis and also to keep the dog out of my garden. Happy gardening!

  6. Diane says:

    Thanks for the comments! I have definately been reading ALL my books on gardening over the past few years and really learning things I did not know. I am also amazed at the different opinions out there on starting/transplanting/harvesting. But I will continue trying new things to see what works best here.

    Emily, I am not putting strawberries in the SFG, but have purchased a tiered planter (Gurnee’s and Burgess both have them) for the yard. I think that way I can leave them in place and let them continue year-to-year. I am definately trellising the vines in the SFG because I find that the provide excellent cover for my lettuce during the heat of the summer. I was able to harvest some excellent lettuce last year. I was even able to grow Sugar Baby watermelon and Hales Best cantelope last year in the SFG, but I did find that the fruit tended to get in the way as it dropped through the grid over the lettuce.

    I appreciate all your comments. I will definately take more pictures this year and show you how it all works out. I will take pics of the ‘Biergarten’ during the construction process as well. I can’t wait for that! Just need to figure out how to keep the dogs out of there too!

    And YES, Tucker is 135 of pure muscle. He gets much exercise on our little hill. His sibling, Sugar, is just 110 pounds! Together they would destroy my garden. I have to design around their established paths worn in the grass and their desire to make beds in the cool parts of the yard. Unfortunately, my shade garden gets the brunt of their activity! I am constantly replacing the concrete bird bath that has been toppled. And Sugar loves to pull up newly planted shrubs/plants/trees. Especially, my blueberries! She also loves to play with garden art! So, I have my struggles not only keeping plants alive, but keeping them safe from the yard terrors!

  7. Richard says:

    I’m in North Alabama also, in Huntsville, I’m trying to start a square foot garden in my backyard (3 4×4 plots). Your garden looks great!


  8. Emily says:

    First, everything is beautiful! The view, the fence, the beds, even the dogs! Second, I loved the dog sleeping in the garden bed. Looking at the two pictures together was so funny because at first, I thought he was lying in one square of your bed. Then I realized he was in an entire bed, nearly filling it!

    Some thoughts on your garden plan:
    *Strawberries are a perennial plant that will spread, so you may find that you need to dedicate an entire bed to them, or move them. They make a great ground cover and can be planted in flower beds. For me, they are not worth planting in square foot gardens, because they don’t give you much “bang for your buck” or “harvest per square.”

    *If you want to do some succession planting, veggies like broccoli, cabbage, kale, and spinach won’t grow well in the summer heat. Once you harvest them, add some compost to each square and replant with bush beans, beets, carrots, or green onions. They take between 6 and 10 weeks to mature, and will grow well in the heat. That should leave you enough time to plant the cool-weather veggies for harvest in the fall. Also, radishes are a quick harvest (30 days), so you can plant those anywhere you have an empty square mid-season.

    *Broccoli and cabbage are going to need more than one square per plant. I plant 4 in 9 squares, or 6 in 12 squares, staggering them to give them room to grow.

    *If you stake and prune the zucchini and yellow squash, I find you can grow them in about 2 squares. The leaves are SO BIG I find it gets crowded to limit them to just one.

    I can tell you have put a lot of time and thought into your garden plan–it and your gardens are so amazing! I’d love to see your herb (beer) garden when it’s done–be sure to take pictures this year and share them with us!

  9. Melody says:

    Beautiful garden! I hope everything goes well for you this growing season.