Wednesday, June 22, 2011

beginners guide to beginning or something

Hi folks, this is my first blog post on my new gardening blog. I'm not really a gardener, but I'm learning and if you want to learn along with me or offer suggestions if you're experienced, please do, I'm open to learning more, just as long as it's not too complicated. My aim is to eventually, and I do mean eventually, become self-reliant, so a lot of my posts will be geared more towards learning how to take care of myself in a post apocalyptic world.

But enough about me, let's talk about my garden, I built a square-foot garden, which was easy enough. I found 2 old 2 x 10 x 10's in the rafters of my garage and cut them down to 4 4 x 4 sections. I pre-drilled holes to screw them together but the drill bit I needed for the job was bent, so I ended up supplementing a few nails for a few screws, which seems to work well. The next step was to staple a weed barrier to the bottom of the box to make sure my creeping charlie doesn't choke out the garden. You can add the weed barrier or not, I would recommend it because really, what could it hurt? You're going to need about 16 cubic feet of material to fill the bed, and I ended up using 12 cubic feet of garden soil I purchased at Menards and about 4 cubic feet of spaghnum peat moss, which some folks, I've learned, don't like to use because it depletes a natural resource found in marshes and swamps and keeps those fragile ecosystems functioning and growing. Personally, I can't see how harvesting peat moss really makes much of an environmental difference. I'm trying to make an environmental difference myself by growing a huge garden that will produce enough awesome veggies to take some of the load off our reliance on the trucked-in stuff. Remember, the best thing that you can do in terms of your carbon footprint is to purchase your produce at local farmers' markets. I don't think organic farming is a healthier way to farm than the alternative, but organic farming is almost always local, and if you buy at those farmers' markets, you won't be spending much more than if you bought from a huge megamarket, so weigh your options and be thrifty at the same time.

So again, I start with my 12 cubic feet of Schultz's garden soil and 4 cubic feet of spaghnum peat moss. The moss will help your garden retain moisture, but it will actually repel moisture if you use too much. Some gardeners recommend using a 2-1 mixture of soil to peat, some 3-1, some 4-1, I like to be in the middle just to be safe and hedge my bets. More of your snotty gardeners will look down on you for not using compost, well I'm not going to buy compost, I'm going to make my own for next year, we're still in year one of my garden experiment so give it time. We'll also talk about compost more in-depth in another post, but right now it's not important. Square-foot garden inventor and pioneer Mel Whatshisname will recommend using his mix, but you really don't have to get fancy when you first start out. I mixed the soil and the moss in the box in stages. I put in 6 cubic feet of soil, and then 2 feet of moss and used my metal rake to mix it up, then i did the same with the rest, you really want to make sure that you mix it well so some of your plants don't end up with more peat while others don't get enough.

Then some more fun stuff. You'll need a roll of gardening twine. Measure and mark yourself every foot on each side of the box, what I did was hammer a nail out at every mark, tied the twine, hammered the nail the rest of the way down, and then strung one piece of twine around every nail, making a perfect grid of 16 squares. It looks cool and you'll feel good that made something so mathematical-looking. Now, you're ready for plants.

After all of that, it was time to finally plant the fucking thing, so on 5/23/11, I planted 2 cherry tomato plants, 4 Roma tomato plants, 2 cucumbers, 3 habanero peppers, 4 bell peppers, a watermelon, a muskmelon, and an assload of bush beans. The only veggies I planted from seed were the beans though, I figured, why confuse and frustrate myself my first time out? Lets just get a head start and plant some starters this year. The bush beans I screwed up on though, I just kind of dug a hole and poured them in, not smart, I would have to dig them up and start over a couple days later and it was messy, so make sure you only plant about 9 bush bean seeds per square foot and space them out so what you get is well-ordered and not sprawling all over like mine are.

Now, you may notice after counting what I planted, that I planted a total of 18 plants and a 4 x 4 square foot garden only has 16-square feet for planting, how brilliant! No, it's not. I thought, due to room constraints, that it would be okay to put the watermelon in with the muskmelon and combine 2 of the roma's in the same square. Don't do it. They won't grow, I dug up the muskmelon shortly after, put it in a big pot and have started from there with it. The watermelon has done well, I plan on training it to grow up on a vertical trellis, next to the cucumbers which I'm also hoping to train up. If you grow watermelon vertically, you'll end up having to use slings to support the fruit, but it gives you a lot more room to mess around, so I'm going to try it. As far as the roma's go, I separated the two and planted one in a pot, I'll get to the separated twins later on in another post, because the simple act of separating them has convinced me that the square foot gardening method is very effective and definitely the way to go, if that tells you anything.

When you transplant the starters, you'll need to break the root balls a little and try to get some of the roots to unravel so they're actually growing out. If you don't do that, I think you'll just get a much slower starting plant and you could be waiting around forever for some sorry ass-looking cherry tomatoes. Use common sense when judging the depth at which you'll plant them, it's not rocket science, it's........more biological science, I guess. The soil I bought was already fertilized pretty well and enriched with nitrogen and all that good stuff. I bought a simple 10-10-10 fertilizer to spread around on them every 2 or so weeks, this should fit most beginner gardens and works for flowers too. The tomatoes are super aggressive eaters and will just soak that crap up like slurping a milkshake. Also, save your egg shells. I say this because tomatoes and peppers LOVE calcium and egg shells have it in bunches. Save the shells and put them in an old milk jug and fill it with water, leave it out in the sun for a few days to get it nice and steeped and then give your peppers and tomatoes a little drink. You can keep filling it with water and egg shells all summer. It may stink like shit, but like I said, the plants love it. Don't drink it yourself, I'm pretty sure it would kill you.


  1. love it! 2 things...the egg and water thing...if left open will be messy and a mosquito breeding ground. While you have a great garden you might get malaria or something. Keep us posted with the water melon. I have tried growing this before and it didn't work...apparently they need a boat load of water. I am very interested in the growing up and sling thing.

  2. I will, definitely. I'm not super optimistic about the watermelon, it's going to be hard, but as of late it has taken off. as for the water and egg shells, I keep the lid on nice and tight. don't need the kids drinking it or pouring it over their heads.