Square Foot Gardening – Post Mortem November 1, 2012

Filed under: Food,Gardening — VisibleBlue @ 10:29 pm
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Last weekend, Hurricane Sandy brought a cold front through my neck of the woods, and with it, an end to my gardening season. Sure, I still have a few squares of lettuce and the kale and nasturtium are going strong, but pulling down yards and yards of (still flowering!) tomato plants broke my heart. Still, with the end of one season comes the planning of the next, so here’s what worked and didn’t work for me, and what I’ll do differently for next year.

For the record, I live in zone 6a.

Garden, late June. You can see the tomatoes on the left side, already at the top of the trellis, and pumpkin on the right side, already invading the neighbor’s yard.

General setup: Two 3′ by 4′ boxes, each 6″ deep, filled with the Mel’s Mix recipe. Two 4′ by 6′ trellises, on the east side of the boxes, against a fence. (I know, I know, horrible placement for a garden, but I have a small yard in the city, and not a lot of choice on where to locate!) I did not add fertilizer or anything other than water throughout the season. When replanting squares, I replenished with compost.

Spring Planting: 

  • 2 squares red onions (variety unknown) – 30 small-medium sized onions harvested. Next year I will do a smaller variety or plant the larger ones 9 to a square, as well as plant a sweeter yellow variety.
  • 2 squares ‘Super Sugar Snap’ peas – Harvested occasionally until hot weather, but never enough at one time for a side dish. Next year I will do at least 4 squares. Peas are my favorite!
  • 2 squares ‘Winterbor’ kale – Still going strong, in November, and nearly 3′ tall at this point! They have escaped the box and are annexing the sidewalk.
  • 2 squares ‘Short ‘n Sweet’ organic carrots – around 25 harvested.
  • 1 square ‘Salad Select’ spinach – A handful of leaves harvested. This was one of my bigger disappointments, and I’m not certain if it was lack of light or something else, but I will try at least one square next year.
  • 2 squares ‘Rainbow Blend’ microgreens – I never really ended up using these, but I could have harvested plenty…
  • 3 squares ‘Burpee’s Looseleaf Mixture’ lettuce – Very prolific, and I was able to harvest well into the hotter days of summer. I will do at least 2 squares of this next year.

Summer Planting:

100% garden-sourced salad.

  • 2 squares ‘Jewel Mix’ nasturtium – 50/50 results on this. One plant limped through the season, producing really weak foliage and just a few flowers, while the other plant did great and is still going. I’ll probably do these in containers next year, but it was nice to have some color in the garden beds.
  • 3 squares ‘Bush Blue Lake 274’ organic beans – These did horribly. The cucumber beetles devoured them and I never got a single bean. If I have some open squares next year I may try again, but these will not be a priority.
  • 2 squares unknown squash – One turned out to be a pumpkin, and the other never produced fruit. This was a fantastic example of why not to plant volunteer squash in a square foot garden, though. The two plants completely overtook my trellis, started in on the other trellis, ended up over the fence in my neighbor’s yard, and sprawled about 12 feet into the rest of my yard. We had every pest imaginable, including squash vine borers, cucumber beetles, squash beetles, and what I think was powdery mildew. It was a mess, but for my trouble I got 5 cute small pumpkins, which were actually fun to carve instead of the tedious giant ones we usually do at Halloween. These plants also completely blocked the light of the surrounding squares, essentially rendering that box unusable until fall.
  • 1 square basil – I only had one plant left after something ate the other four. It did okay, but didn’t get much light after being shadowed by enormous tomato plants.
  • 1 square cumin – Never sprouted (thanks, giant squash plant.)
  • 1 square dill – Ditto above.
  • 1 square serrano pepper – Harvested about 20 peppers. I probably would have been able to get more, but the plant produced one pepper, and didn’t flower anymore until after I harvested that one. I wish I had cut it sooner. The plant was still flowering when I pulled it over the weekend.
  • 1 square ‘Rose de Berne’ tomato – Least favorite of the tomatoes I planted. Harvested a handful around mid-summer, and just a few since then. I’ll pass on this one next year. Still, even the smallest and least prolific of my tomatoes was over 6′ tall and still flowering at the end of October.
  • 1 square ‘Valencia’ tomato – We loved this one, and got a lot of tomatoes off the plant. They look so pretty in a salad or salsa!
  • 1 square ‘German Johnson’ tomato – Very prolific, very HUGE. This one went all the way up the trellis, then folded over the top and went all the way back down, and started going up again! We got some nice fat tomatoes, at least 6″ in diameter, as well as some smaller ones.
  • 1 square ‘Sungold’ cherry tomatoes – Definitely my favorite garden item this year. I could not believe how big this plant got, and we’ve been swimming in cherry tomatoes since before the fourth of July! They are so juicy and sweet, my son ate handfuls every time we went outside.

Side view of garden in mid-July.

Autumn Planting:

has pretty much been a failure this year. Everything went in kind of late because I had to get rid of the squash first, and everything’s getting eaten up by animals of some sort. (I hope it’s not my dog!) Still, here’s what went in:

  • 2 squares carrots – Maybe I’ll see them next year?
  • 1 square looseleaf lettuce – 2 plants survived.
  • 1 square ‘Tom Thumb’ butterhead lettuce – Still holding out hope for this one.
  • 1 square spinach – Another miserable failure.
  • 2 squares (8 heads) hardneck garlic – So excited about this one! See you in 2013…

So what will change for next year? First of all, I plan on putting in 2 more boxes, on the other side of the yard. (Yes, next to a fence on the west side. Sigh.)

One 2′ x 4′ box will be only for tomatoes, and I’ll do a taller trellis (using the entire 10′ length of conduit, I think) perpendicular to the fence. I’ll be making this change for several reasons: first of all, the foliage of the tomatoes shaded everything in the box except the kale, which escaped onto the sidewalk. Secondly, 6′ was just too short for even the smallest tomato plant I grew this year! And orienting the trellis perpendicular to the fence will make harvesting easier – on a few occasions, I had to have my monkey-armed husband reach the tomatoes on the very inside of the plants. I need to be more careful with pinching the suckers – I was very good about it, until we had to abandon our house for a powerless week. When I came back, it had grown so much that I just gave up and let them go. I’d like to do 6-8 different plants next year, and add a paste-type tomato or two.

I will also be building one deeper box, for root vegetables. I really want to try growing potatoes next year! I’ll put the carrots and onions in there as well.

With the squash out of the picture, I’ll have room for cucumbers on my trellis. I grew a few of the ‘Homemade Pickles’ variety in a pot, but I’d like to see how they’d do in the SFG, with proper support. I also want a bell pepper plant (we got tons of these in the CSA this year, but we won’t be joining next summer) and possibly another chili pepper. I’ve also got  a whole list of herbs I’d like to try, though I’m not 100% sold on doing these in the boxes if I don’ t have room. Even though space is an issue for me in my yard, square foot gardening helps me to get a ton of different crops into the limited area I have!