As I began my forays into gardening a few years ago I researched and chose to go with a gardening method called Square Foot Gardening. Square foot Gardening was founded by Mel Bartholomew. The key difference in SFG and raised bed gardening is the use of “Mel’s Mix” as apposed to dirt…. Mel’s Mix consists of a blend of vermiculite, peat moss, and compost. This blend is created to maintain and retain moisture while providing optimal nutrients to plants. SFG is great if you have a small space or are an urban gardener such as myself.
What I love about SFG is the division of your beds into a grid system with each individual grid supporting a single type of plant. For some reason this appeals to my need to have a place for everything. Also it makes it real easy to weed a space because you know where everything should be. And the added plus is you can grow a greater variety of items within a smaller space. The utilization of growing vertically as well as horizontally allows for such beautiful and versatile garden. So when I joined the community garden I was totally overwhelmed with the prospect of actually growing in the “dirt”. LOL so of course I created my own little square foot garden in my plot. But the beauty of the community garden was that I could grow what I wanted in my own plot and experiment with growing the traditional way in some of the community plots. It was a great learning experience to grow some of the same veggies using the different methods.
My first planting in the real dirt was to plant sweet potatoes. I had research and researched how to grow sweet potatoes in a SFG but I think because sweet potatoes need depth to grow you would need to grow your sweet potatoes in a high rise. I did not have the time, space or money to make high rises for 24 sweet potato plants, but I did have some great nutrient rich dirt to grow it in. Oh my, if you never have had the chance to grow sweet potatoes you really should try it this year. We had such a great yield in the fall and really it was the healthiest and easiest plant to grow the whole year. I am still eating sweet potatoes grown in the garden last year.
I also did a side by side comparison of tomatoes, eggplants, watermelons, cantaloupes, and variety of squash. Overall I think the plants liked growing in the dirt (they grew faster) but the plants in the Square foot garden did not have weeds, disease or pests as much (or they were the last to fall to these issues). I believe that my plants in the Mel’s mix would have done much better if I had watered my plot more regularly. I fell into the trap that I did not need to water as much because of the Mel’s mix.
When growing the cantaloupe and watermelons, I trellised the melons in my SF plot and did the traditional mound planting for the community plot. As I stated above the melons planted in the dirt grew much faster. I think melons preferred to be trellised it not only kept them healthier but they also produced more fruits. My plants did eventually develop the powdery mildew but it was months after the other plot was gone due to the same thing.
An added bonus of the SFG is the versatility of my plot. When having to rotate my crops I have many different options available to me. For example lets look at my tomatoes. I can either plant them in a different box than I did last year or I can chose to empty a box and just plant them in the ground. I choose to do the latter this year. I took out two boxes and moved the Mel’s Mix into my other boxes picked them up dug up the dirt added com compost and the ground is ready for me to plant my tomatoes, eggplant and peppers in this year. Who know what I will do with them next year, the options are almost endless… ;)
I love Square foot gardening, it is just SO easy, but I am also learning to love growing in real dirt… it is just taking me a while to fall “in love” ;)
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