April 12th, 2013
If you’ve avoided putting in a garden because you don’t want to give up a lot of space in your backyard, or you don’t want to till the soil, or you don’t want to have to weed a huge amount of space, we have great news. You don’t have to. People are growing amazing amounts of food in bags, containers, and square movable structures.
Square foot gardening was coined by Mel Bartholomew in a 1981 when he released a book and television series. This method focuses on organic growing heavy on the compost and very densely planted crops. This is the next generation of raised beds. The founder felt that if the bed were square, like 3’x3′, you could reach into the center to water, and harvest crops. The bed is portioned out into squares, and you plant different fruits and vegetables in each square. You could have one tomato plant or six cucumber plants.
Weeds are easier to pull because the soil doesn’t get compacted by being walked on. Mel’s Mix is Mel Bartholomew’s unique blend of compost, peat moss, and vermiculite. Per Mel, you don’t need to feed or fertilize during the growing season because all of the nutrients are in this mix.
These raised beds can have plywood bottoms which would allow you to have the garden on a table or a movable cart. This is a great way for people with physical disabilities to garden as it can be raised to an easy level, and the square size allows them to reach to the center and tend to the plants.
You can grow flowers in the same bed as vegetables as well.
Self-watering containers are powerful if you travel or don’t want to remember to water every day during most of the growing season. SWC’s are a containern a container with a reservoir to hold onto water. They’re raised above the ground and don’t get the same amount of crawly bugs. They can handle large plants like tomatoes or many small crops like radishes and carrots. During the heavy production season, you will need to check the water level daily, but you’ll probably be out there picking tomatoes for lunch and dinner anyway. You will need to feed the crops, and can put the fertilizer directly into the reservoir.
Grow bags are better than using garbage bags as they have drainage built in. One of the reasons bags don’t work well is overwatering and poor drainage causing root rot. So you can use garbage bags or reusable shopping bags, just remember to build in good drainage. Also, use potting mix rather than potting soil as it tends to be better for the drainage and doesn’t compact down as much.
Upside down planters can be a lot of fun especially if you have kids. It’s easier to water and fertilize as the top is left open. Also, if you have dogs that tend to swipe your tomatoes before you can get to them, you can hang the upside down planters higher than they can reach. You can grow tomatoes and strawberries, and you can grow crops that usually require trellises like zucchini and cucumbers. The bonus is that you can train the vines more easily and you can keep your squash and cukes off the ground preventing rot or discoloration.
Ever want to grow potatoes? All you need is straw. Put the seed potatoes in straw, and water regularly. As they grow, just keep putting more straw over the top. This forces the plant to grow and create more potatoes. You can even take an inexpensive tall plastic laundry basket (the type that has a lot of holes in it for drainage), line with newspaper and put in 4″ of soil and plant your seed potatoes. Then just add more newspaper (to keep the soil in) and soil as the plant grows. Yes, you could also use straw for this method.
And maybe the most unusual is to buy a bag of garden soil, and cut a square out of the top, and plant your tomato right in it. You can read the blog post here and see how they planted the tomato in the garden soil bag.
The Mittleider Method was created by Jacob Mittleider in 1963. He developed a method of growing food in unusual ways like sawdust or sand because he wanted a way to produce more food in any condition without relying on the local soil or requiring a lot of farming tools. His foundation travels the world helping communities set up gardens. They feed the plants at regular intervals using a mixture of trace minerals, 16-16-16 fertilizer, and epsom salts. The beds are created with whatever wood or structures are available, and T-frames are built over to allow structure for vines, tomatoes, and corn. It can be a lot cheaper to grow in sawdust if you live near a source, and your carrots are a lot cleaner too.
Are you inspired to set up a garden this weekend?