Square Foot Garden

In the past, I’ve written briefly about my attempts at keeping an allotment. I loved having my own little (quite big really) plot of land to work on and to begin with, things were going well. Unfortunately though, it was too much to keep up on my own with Fibromyalgia and eventually, I was asked to give up my plot, because I wasn’t able to work on it after a big fibro flare.

The Bean Teepee on the old allotment

There wasn’t room at home to do much growing, other than some fruit, and so I gave up on it all. In 2019, I fancied giving it another go, and was offered another allotment by the council. It was totally overgrown, the weeds taller than the kids, but it was a good plot. We talked it over, the kids and I, and eventually we decided (with Bean sitting me down for an honest talk) not to take it – it would still be too much for me.

Fast forward to this year. Our new home has a much bigger garden, and one area of it is pretty useless for much of anything – sloping in two directions and covered in gravel, it’s neither use nor ornament. It does get a lot of sun though. So our gardening adventure is beginning again. 

With more research, I decided on using raised beds to eliminate some of the problems I was having with previous attempts – a smaller area to work with, well prepared, would cut down on the amount of digging and weeding, and having it at home means I can do a little and often, rather than having to travel a mile or three to get to the allotment. And then I saw a friend in the States explaining her Square Foot Garden and it sounded intriguing. And since she also has chronic illnesses, I knew this was something I might be able to manage. Another good friend mentioned SFG to me quite separately, as a way of overcoming some of my limitations, and so with more research and another book under my belt (I do like a gardening book full of pretty pictures and tips and tricks!), a plan was made.

The first bed is constructed!

At the beginning of January, I stated creating the plots. Now I know that many people would be able to do this job in an afternoon, a couple of days at most. It took me a month. But that’s OK. I knew it was going to be slow going, and so I started early. I bought some raised bed kits from B&Q to start with. Again, I know there are other ways of doing this, and many people make their own, either cobbled together from scrap wood, or beautifully constructed. But I went for the kits, because they slotted together easily and I knew I could manage them. I bought six kits, and created two double sixed beds using four of them. The other two kits were used as they were, because I didn’t have a good space for another double size bed. And a further bed was created from the pieces left over from doubling up kits.

The “leftovers” bed, before all the gravel was removed

Now for placing them. Remember that bit of garden that slopes and was covered in gravel? Yeah. Well, I’m not daft enough to try and clear it, so I put the beds on the gravel, in the position I wanted them, then shovelled the gravel out and levelled up the ground (ish) that each bed was sitting on. This was a harder job that I had imagined and took me many sessions to get all five beds in place.

Next was filling the beds. I’ve read lots of info about what to put in raised beds, and the lasagne method had been my favourite. But SFG is intensive and calls for a particular mix of growing medium. Nicknamed “Mel’s Mix” it requires equal parts of compost, vermiculite and peat (or coconut coir). And the compost, if not home made, should come from several different sources, preferably five different brands!  I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to buy compost in the middle of a global pandemic, but let me tell you, getting my hands on 450l of compost, from different sources, was no mean feat! But eventually, I had all the ingredients and was able to make the mix and get it in the beds.

Three of the five beds, all ready for Mel’s Mix. Try to ignore the mess in the garden – it was tidied up afterwards, I promise!

Next job on the list was making the grid. For SFG, you literally create a grid of squares, a foot each side. Traditionally, you have 16 in a bed, so that you can reach every square from outside the bed and never have to step inside it. Only one of mine is that size – the one created from leftovers! The two main beds are 20 squares each, but still work the way they should. The smaller beds are 8 squares each.  Some people create a grid from wood, some from bamboo cane. I made mine with garden twine, in my efforts to go with what was easier. The smaller beds are not having grids on them – I’m using one as a herb garden and one will be completely filled with strawberries.

Ready for planting!

And finally, 5 weeks or so after I started, I finally had the beds ready for planting. In the third week of February, which is generally too early for much of anything to go in the ground. Except garlic. The garlic would probably have liked to have been in at the end of last year, but now is OK. It likes cold earth, and I confirm that the earth is still cold – after making the holes to plant into, I couldn’t feel my gloved finger! Mind you, the snow had only melted a day or two before! So, 30 cloves of garlic have been planted (we use a lot of garlic!) and I’m feeling excited about what’s to come.

Garlic, ready to plant

My plan is to grow all the veg we’ll need and I’m growing a huge variety, especially considering the kids are picky about veg! I have visions of getting all homesteady – lots of batch cooking, preserving etc. More on this in another post!

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