Square Foot Gardening: Once You Grow Food, You Never Go Back

We did it! We finally have our very own vegetable garden. With our first season coming to a close, I feel confident saying that the days of rushing to the farmer’s market every Saturday morning have come to an end. I can now make the family a garden fresh green juice AND follow it up with my favorite gluten and dairy free pancakes without stressing about getting there before all of the kale and butter lettuce is gone! This is bliss.

It hasn’t been all puppies and rainbows, but pretty darn close.

Getting Started on a Square Foot Garden

square foot garden

Our first Square Foot Garden starting to take shape.

The thought of getting a garden started was so overwhelming to me. I knew nothing about gardening and was unsure about our land’s ability to grow good food. A friend had tackled Square Foot Gardening and was growing more vegetables than she knew what to do with. With green beans and kale coming out of her ears, I heeded her advice and got the book, Square Foot Gardening.

The book is almost too easy to read but walks you through everything you need to know to start a bountiful garden. I built two 4′ x 4′ boxes with the help of no other. Built and secured a trellis on the side of one of the boxes for our pole beans and cukes. Mixed the soil with the help of my mother one day, and my husband another. Planted seeds and watched our beautiful garden blossom into edible goodness. Everything grew magnificently! And our cherry tomatoes grew far too well…

The book suggests not overdoing it your first couple of years as to not overwhelm yourself and feel frustrated by your garden. It should be your space for absolute zen! Taking the advice, I grew only vegetables that I eat regularly: carrots, beets, cucumber, green beans, lettuce, kale, and of course, the narcissistic cherry tomatoes (I’ll tell you more about these in a minute). I planted these all by seed beginning on May 20th, a little late in the season. When I realized it would be a couple of months before I would be harvesting our veggies, I cheated and got a couple of kale seedlings. These things took off and began providing daily greens within a couple of weeks! This tide us over until the rest of the veggies caught up.

Starting in July I began a regular morning routine of going out to the garden barefoot and picking some vegetables to make a fresh green juice. I chose not to wear shoes as an opportunity to ground myself for the day and appreciate the lush grass beneath my feet. I would pick a huge pile of kale, beet greens, a cucumber, and on some days a beet. The only thing that had to be sourced from a grocery store was the pineapple that allowed the juice excite my two year old son’s tastes buds. I realize that having the same foods every day is not the most ideal solution for nourishing our bodies; however, this juice combination was quick, easy, and absolutely delicious! Some days I would add in a little cilantro for its amazing heavy metal detox effects. Not only did our daily juicing contribute to our good health, it was an activity that we would work on together–I would pick and wash the veggies and he would throw them down the shoot and plunge the life out of them. We got more use out of our Omega juicer in a couple of months than we had in the whole year prior to mothering a garden.

With all of the gardening success came some important learning lessons: cabbage worms, despite being green and cute, are not your friends; and indeterminate cherry tomatoes will easily overtake your SFG.

Cabbage Worms Will Eat More than Just Cabbage

One of the Square Foot Gardening principles I followed was to stagger the variety of plants throughout the garden, rather than having each crop in a row. The idea behind this method is that it helps to reduce pest infestations. Most crops have their very own pest. When you have a full row of a single type of vegetable, it makes it very easy for the little critters to mosey on from one plant to the next–essentially destroying all of the plants

cannage worm

An unwelcome guest, the cabbage worm.

unless their in some intervention. What I failed to realize is that cabbage, broccoli, kale, and cauliflower, have something majorly in common; they are brassicas and cabbage worms will dine on any and all of these. Although I had these vegetables staggered throughout the garden, the kale was next to the broccoli, which was next to the cabbage, which was next to the kale, and so on. This resulted in a serious cabbage worm party!

It wasn’t the cabbage worms that I first noticed, it was their strikingly green poop. I originally thought that they were some type of egg that needed to be carefully excised to prevent a millions bugs hatching and completely overtaking my garden. I would pluck the kale and rush it into the kitchen where I would rinse the “eggs” down the sink. After a couple of days of this madness, I spotted a cabbage worm for the first time. I had a strange sense of elation that I was not dealing with eggs, I was dealing with worms. I began by amicably relocating these cute green caterpillars to a new home in our backyard. After finding the 29th worm, I concluded this gentle gardening method was not going to work.

It was a matter of saving my garden or these green caterpillars that would eventually turn into boring looking white moths that would just lay more eggs and start the cycle all over. Sadly our daily juicing routine now included a daily dose of massacring little insects, less zen than originally planned. I began collecting all of the cabbage worms I could find and then stepping on them when my son wasn’t looking. I didn’t like it but knew it had to be done.

Cherry Tomatoes Ate Our Garden

square foot gardening

The cherry tomatoes were planted in the furthest squares to the left. You can see how they crept all the way over to the second box.

Our two little tomato plants complete overtook a whole 4′ x 4′ box. What we came to learn is there are two different types of tomato plants: indeterminate ones which can grow up to ten feet in height, and determinate ones which will only grow to be much smaller plants. We unfortunately planted the former and the rest of our garden suffered as a result. All was fine until about early August. This is when the plants grew over the entire box despite efforts to try to tame them by tying them up toward the outside of the box. When you see little flowers on a branch, you know they will eventually turn into juicy ripe tomatoes–the difficult task is trimming branches when you know they will yield perfectly good food. This is where we failed. We left them to grow which blocked sunlight to almost all of the other plants in the box. Lesson learned, don’t cry over losing a few healthy branches full of tomatoes, you will still have plenty! Or, keep your garden looking well tended by planting the determinate variety.

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