Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Axing the Square Foot Garden?

This year will mark my third season with a fall Square Foot Garden and I'm seriously contemplating scrapping the method...or at least semi scrapping the method. Do I believe certain things can grow well in less space than advocated by traditional row methods? Yes. Do I buy into all of the SFG planting spacing? No, and as a matter of fact, I think most of us who would say we practice SFGardening would say we use a modified spacing at best.

I generally find my yield is either lower as with beans or the size of the plants shades out others as with broccoli or regular sized cabbage, whereas peppers, eggplant, zucchini and okra seem to do relatively well with the SFG spacings allotted to them.

Take lettuce for instance. SFG says it can go four plants per square. It can, and it does grow relatively well if you want to harvest the leaves individually, but they don't make decent heads in that spacing. I've taken my lettuce for the fall and planted it one per sqft in this picture below, but this is obviously too much space.
The answer lies somewhere in the middle, but this was all I had to plant at the moment, so one per sqft worked out well. I'll be interested to see the difference in the yield from the spring where I planted two per sqft in alternating corners. That spacing seemed to work out very well.

So, am I abandoning SFG? No, not necessarily. I like neat rows and the grid lines fuel my neurosis, but will I space things out a bit more? Certainly. It's going to eventually turn out to be a bit more of a modified SFG, but the concept is still the same.

I'm wondering if the SFG as depicted is for the "perfect" garden with the perfect soil, sun, and temperatures, which in reality, not many of us have.

I do, however, love, love, love my raised beds. Never will I give those up or go to a different method ever, ever again. They're incredibly easy to maintain and so free of weeds and critters and mess, it's wonderful. The fall is only just starting and already I'm getting anxious for next spring!

Now, my question is how do I amend my beds to make sure to get that calcium back in the tomato beds so they don't get BER again. Towards the end of the season, there was no saving a single one and they HAVE to go back in the same bed. Compost alone doesn't seem like it will do the trick. Is there anything else I can add to make sure I give them what they need before the plants exhibit the signs of BER next year? I've never seemed to be able to stop it once it starts.

The morning comes early....except for Erin whose kids catch the bus in full daylight. Our school starts at 7:10. Sunrise here tomorrow, not full daylight mind you, isn't for another 10 minutes. Sweet gardening dreams.


  1. I did the string spacing the first planting in my new beds - never did it again! I just plant, plant, plant, it's all random now LOL, but you're right, raised beds are awesome! I don't know where I'd be without them, probably the Farmer's Market :)

  2. haha, my kids get on the bus when yours are in school! But is that for before-school care? We have an earlier bus for that. And when do yours come home? Ours come home @ 3

  3. I'm a modified SFGardener! If I was you, I would stick with your lettuce one per square and add something small around them. Maybe something like a root vegetable. I don't know. A companion plant! You could add lime(?) to your beds for tomatoes, but I think I would test the soil first, even if it is just with a store bought tester. I have only had a few tomatoes with BER this year, but I also spray them with Epsom Salt a few times during the growing season. I have done that the past 3 years and I feel like it makes a real difference, but some ppl don't.

  4. No, the kids have to come with me to the HS in the morning. The girl goes to pre school and the boy catches the elem school bus at my school at 7:50.

    Poor kids have to get up at 5:45 to get to school with me by 6:45 and our first period starts at 7:10.

    The HS lets out at 2:10 and the elem school lets out at 3:30.

  5. I've heard adding some crushed egg shells into the hole for your tom plant will help eliminate BER. I have no hard data to support such a statement though, sorry. I think Daphne adds egg shells.

    Good luck!

  6. Well, I guess I abandoned the method, and didn't even realize it. The grids are gone, the spacings are too, and i'm just a raised bed gardener now. I feel that it doesn't matter how much calcium you apply for tomatoes - if the watering isn't ideal/consistent, the roots will never be able to take it up into the plants.

  7. Guess that I'm a SFG purist. Has worked out fine for the past 2 years.

    Daphne talks about saving her egg shells then crushing them and adding them to her garden.

    My tomato plants were doing great until I went on a mini vacation... they didn't get enough water... and then zap... BER!

  8. We are going to try SFG next year. It will be our first time, so I am excited about the experiment.

  9. I never really thought that the SFG concept made much sense. That's me though. I really love raised beds. When I moved from the farm to here in the city. I switched to raised beds. They are a lot more productive...and I will never go back to a conventional row type garden. Did you ever read "The Vegetable Gardeners Bible" by Edward C Smith? His idea of planting makes a lot of sense and you get a lot more in a space.

    With regard to BER, I put crushed egg shells in the hole before planting my tomato plants. It has worked well for me the past two years.

  10. I have to agree with E.G., I have always kept a big baggie for my crushed eggshells above the sink and am religious about putting them into beds and planting holes, but this year BER took hold in a big way, and we had an extremely HOT summer and the water evaporated quickly, I think it does hinge on the water aspect or all your amendments can't be used by the plant.

  11. That has always been my complaint about SFGardening. You can't force plants into your foot square. I like lettuce at around 8-9" apart. They grow nice heads that way without a lot of wasted space. I agree with the raised beds too. I love raised beds. They make life so easy.

  12. There are many amendments out there for calcium, but sometimes the calcium is there, and something else isn't. Soil temperature, pH, fungi, bacteria, and other trace elements all influence what a plant has available to it at any given moment. And then of coarse there is the water issue that everyone has mentioned. I think if you keep up with the compost, and add an all purpose mineral supplement you are heading in the right direction. Azomite is a great product if you can find it.

  13. I haven't tried it, but one of my coworkers who has a FANTASTIC-I'MTOTALLYJEALOUSOFIT veggie garden said she adds Tums to the beds for a shot of easily absorbed calcium. I think someone on GW mentioned it, too.