veggie seedlings and a spring salad

All the veggie seeds I planted back at the end of April are coming up nicely.  This week I’m eating spring salad greens (purchased) with beet thinnings and homemade rhubarb vinaigrette. Yum!

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2018 vegetable garden layout

I didn’t have a veggie garden last year because we moved in late 2016.  So in fall 2017 we built a raised bed and now I’ve filled it and I’m ready to go.  I didn’t get an early start this year so I direct-seeded all the veggies yesterday (everything except the beans, which need warmer soil) according to Square Foot Gardening guidelines.

Here’s what I planted (and this is what my map looked like when I was done):

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more vegetable gardening notes for spring – square foot gardening

Copied from a post on my old blog, Calgary Garden Coach:

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I recently re-read Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew.  I recommend it to any vegetable gardener, by the way, even if you don’t plan to grow things in squares, because it has tonnes of useful information.  The technique, invented and made famous by Mel, was developed to maximize garden production as well as minimize work.  Vegetable gardens aren’t low maintenance by any means, but using these methods can certainly minimize your work with maximum success.  Here are some of my notes:

Why have a vegetable garden?

  • once you have tried homegrown flavour, you can’t go back!
  • you get great satisfaction from growing your own
  • you can save money
  • it is a very pleasurable hobby
  • you have control over what you eat
  • you can’t get any more local than your own yard or community garden!

Benefits of the “square” design

  • divide your garden into square sections – Mel uses 4ft x 4ft squares with paths in between but my raised beds are 4ft x 8ft
  • mark and plant each 1ft x 1ft square with different plants
  • this places limits on how much you grow so you’re not overwhelmed at harvest time
  • a well-designated spot for veggies prevents you from walking on the soil
  • planting density is easy to calculate (see below)
  • each square can have a different vegetable, flower or herb
  • it is easier to maintain
  • it looks well organized and attractive

Planting and maintenance techniques

  • rather than overseeding and then having to thin later in the season, only plant exactly as many seeds as the number of plants you intend to grow (or if you’re worried about germination rates, perhaps plant 2 seeds per hole and then you only have to thin a few plants at most)
  • for each seed, poke a hole with your finger, half fill the hole with vermiculite, place one seed (or two, as above) and cover with vermiculite
  • how many seeds to plant in a one-foot-square depends on the full-grown size of the plant (see below)
  • interplant fast growing crops such as radishes, scallions and leaf lettuce between regularly-spaced slow-growing plants and harvest the former before the latter get big
  • make a depression around each planting hole to direct water to the roots of the plants
  • after harvesting a square, add a trowel of compost to rejuvenate the soil, then plant with something different – this takes care of crop rotation and interplanting (two techniques for pest & disease prevention) automatically!
  • once a week, take note of what will be ready for final harvest in a few weeks, and start seeds for a new crop (of a different vegetable) at that time, so they’ll be ready to transplant when the other crop is finished (tomatoes, chard, parsley, chives and flowers need only one planting in spring and will grow all summer)

Tools required

  • once the garden is prepared, all you need is a trowel, spade, bucket and watering can!

Plant density and placement

  • to fill up one 1-ft square, plant 4 plants that get about 6″ wide, 9 plants that get about 4″ wide, or 16 plants that get about 3″ wide
  • this typically means per 1-ft square:
    • 16 beets, onions, radishes, or carrots
    • 9 bush beans, spinach, garlic, chives
    • 8 peas, pole beans
    • 4 swiss chard, lettuce, parsley, annual flowers
    • 2 cucumber
    • 1 cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, pepper, eggplant, potato, tomato
    • a typical zucchini plant will take up a 3ft x 3ft square
  • plant taller plants on the north side of the garden
  • plant tomato, cucumber and squash on trellises to maximize space
  • pole beans can be planted in a double row, 3 in. apart in each square
  • typically, smaller growing varieties of vegetables will give you a bigger yield per sq. ft. of gardening space

Planting times

  • in general, cool weather veggies are fast growing and can be planted both spring and fall (eg. lettuce and greens, root vegetables, cabbage family)
  • in general, hot weather veggies are slow growers and get planted in late spring (eg. bush beans, zucchini)
  • beans can be planted one new square every month over the summer

If you’re really energetic and serious about organic gardening and extending the season, there are also lots of tips in the book about building cages, covers and cold frames, as well as building your own vertical supports out of 1/2 in. pipe, etc. If you’re preparing a new garden bed, you’ll also find the information on soil preparation and amendments very useful.  I could go on, but why don’t you just get the book?

notes on preparing and amending raised bed vegetable garden soil

As I get ready to plant the newly-built raised bed at my new-to-me house in Edmonton, I keep referring back to notes I posted on my old Calgary Garden Coach blog.  So I’m copying them over here.  And here is what my old veggie garden looked like in its first year:

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Excerpts from Calgary Garden Coach, April 2011:

According to Mel Bartholomew, author of Square Foot Gardening, a good vegetable garden soil should be made up of at least 25% (up to 50%) of soil amendments such as compost or leaf mold.  Another good rule of thumb is to add 10 – 20% by volume of coarse vermiculite to a new vegetable garden for good moisture retention – vermiculite is like a sponge.

But once you’ve prepared your initial soil, how do you keep amending it each year to maximize production?  Mel Bartholomew has lots of recommendations.  He says (and I agree), “trying to grow crops in any kind of soil without constantly adding organic matter is sheer folloy and a waste of time, no matter how much fertilizer you add to it.  On the other hand, to garden in soil that is rich in organic matter but contains no added fertilizer is not only possible but also very practical.”  He recommends:

  • add a trowelful of compost or other organic soil builder after you harvest each plant in your garden – this will probably mean you are amending at least 2x per year, maybe even 3 or 4
  • supplemental fertilizers to use during the growing season need only be of 2 types: a high nitrogen fertilizer for leaf crops (eg. lettuce, spinach, chard) and a high phosphorous and potassium fertilizer for root and fruit-bearing crops;
  • you can add dry fertilizers when the soil is prepared for planting, plus once a month as crops are growing, in the form of a pre-packaged organic mix, or make your own, see recipes below
  • heavy feeding crops (eg. brassicas) will also benefit from supplemental watering with compost tea, fish emulsion, or seaweed/kelp solutions

Basic, all-purpose fertilizer recipe

  • 1 part bloodmeal
  • 2 parts bonemeal
  • 3 parts greensand
  • 4 parts composted leaf mold
  • approximate NPK value: 2.6 / 4.9 / 1.8

High-nitrogen fertilizer recipe

  • 3 parts bloodmeal
  • 2 parts bonemeal
  • 3 parts greensand
  • 4 parts leafmold
  • approximate NPK value: 4.6 / 4.3 / 1.6

I haven’t been nearly as diligent as I should have been in the past and still got decent results, but this year I am vowing to follow his recommendations to try to maximize my harvest. What do you do in your vegetable garden?  Please share in the comments section below.

Earth Day 2018: filled the new raised veggie bed with soil

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Today I filled up the new veggie box, which was built last fall. It was SO GOOD to be outside!

Because I’m sorta cheap and because I had a lot of suitable materials lying around, I filled this box with half kitchen and garden scraps (last fall), and then today added a mix of newly purchased and recycled (previously used) potting soil.

I won’t add any homemade outdoor compost because it won’t be ready yet, but this week I’ll add some worm compost from my basement worm bin.  And probably a few worms inadvertently, too.  Then I’ll be ready to plant.

By the end of next week-end I plan to have the following seeds planted using the Square Foot Method:

  • arugula
  • beets
  • carrots
  • kale
  • snow peas
  • spinach
  • swiss chard.

P.S. For the record: frost on April 23, …