This is an entry in our current non-fiction writing contest by Kelly H
Okay, so my wife and I have gotten into the self-sufficiency kick over the last few years. From food storage to stocking up on supplies for any unknown event to gardening. For the last few years we have tried to jump right into the gardening but have constantly failed due to various soil and weather problems. This year we decided to take on both challenges with square foot gardening inspired beds. Understand, we are not professionals, we just like the hobby and decided to jump in with both feet.
Okay, I know I’m not original, but I did put my own spin on Mel Bartholomew methods from his bestselling book “All New Square Foot Gardening“. For those few of you that haven’t heard, square foot gardening basically uses raised beds sectioned off by square feet and a matrix tells you how many of each type of plant can be planted in each square foot. The idea is to use every bit of your growing space without waste. The second portion of this method is to use a specific mix to create your soil, so that it provides the maximum amount of nutrients, aeration, and water retention as possible.
This is more expensive to start up than a regular garden, but for the benefits it promises my wife and I were willing to risk it. There are numerous ways to do this, but I’ll just go into what I did (right, wrong, or indifferent). I decided on 2 beds, measuring 8 foot long by 4 foot wide and 8 inches deep. This allowed me to make each of the beds from three 8 foot 2 x 8’s. For one of the beds I chose to make it raised about 28 inches off the ground just so it would be easier for my wife to tend. The other went on the ground at her request.
On the raised bed I built a frame from 2 x 4’s and a few recycled 4 x 4’s and added a sheet of 3/8 inch plywood to the bottom before sticking the 2 x8 frame on top. Each frame bottom was also covered in weed block cloth, (The raised bed just to help keep the soil from washing out the drain holes, and the ground bed to keep weeds from coming up into it).
Obviously there was nothing special or difficult about this construction. I managed to use several recycled pieces of lumber in the project so I did save a little money here.
Now, for the beds filler Mel Bartholomew calls for is a 3 part mix. He recommends 1 part compost (from 5 different sources), 1 part peat moss, and 1 part coarse vermiculite. The compost feeds the plants, the peat moss helps retain moisture and the vermiculite keeps the soil loose and prevents compaction. Sounds easy right?
We have never had a compost pile where I live, though I do see one in our future, and our local landfills idea of compost was chopped up lumber in long irregular slivers. I know I could have gone here and there and found some but I chose the easier and more expensive method. Instead for my compost I cheated and bought a name brand garden soil. The brand is not important, but I did check it before I bought it and I can say the quality was worth the cost for me. Each bed took 8 large bags of this soil. The Peat Moss was expensive but I managed to get 2 of the large compressed bags, one for each bed. The vermiculite was the biggest challenge.
We called numerous nurseries and couldn’t find a reseller. Finally after almost giving up, my wife called Lowes and discovered they actually had some in stock. Vermaculite was the one thing neither of us had ever used before. For that matter, neither of us had ever heard of the stuff before reading about it in the book. So we were in for a shock when we found that vermiculite, looks a lot like small chips of Styrofoam and weighs only slightly more. While Lowes didn’t have the large bags of coarse material as recommended, they did have 7 small bags and several bags of Perlite which is similar. I ended up putting six bags of Vermaculite in the raised bed and a mix of one bag Vermaculite and 5 bags Perlite in the second. For an extra boost I added a bag of cow manure compost to each box as well.
As for mixing you could mix them on a tarp on the ground but to me it was much easier to just do it in the bed itself. As long as the material is all dry then it mixes easily with a garden hoe and a little elbow grease.
My wife Googled square foot gardening matrix and found out how many of each plant that we bought that could go into each square foot and then put string down on the boxes as a guide. Once again, we were in a hurry to get this done so we once again went the expensive route and just bought starter plants at Lowes.
Ok, results so far have been amazing. The beds hold moisture but drain excess water perfectly and the plants LOVE it. I have never seen plants grow this quickly before and even after two weeks in the ground and a near miss with a tornado we haven’t lost a single one! As advertised the soil does not compact and the roots of even 2 week old potatoes are already about 4 inches down (we had to check)!
As for startup costs. It was horrible between lumber, soil mixes, and plants the total came to around $500. However, the only things that will be added from this point on are a few bags of compost to each bed every year to replace the nutrients absorbed by last year’s plants. The costs could have been cut down had we started plants from seeds, or even just recycled old lumber instead of buying new. So far though we are ecstatic and most importantly are working outside together on them every chance we get. The pictures speak for themselves.
Prizes for this round (ends May 24 2014) in our non fiction writing contest include…
- First place winner will receive – A $150 gift certificate for Hornady Ammo courtesy of LuckyGunner, a Wonder Junior Deluxe grain millcourtesy of Kitchen Neads, a one year subscription to the Personal VPN service courtesy of unspyable and Three Survival Seed Vaults courtesy of LPC Survival.
- Second place winner will receive – Brand New, Sealed Case of Military MREs (Meal, Ready-To-Eat) a $119 value courtesy ofCampingsurvival.com and a Survival Puck courtesy of Innovation Industries.
- Third place winner will receive – a copy of my book ”31 Days to Survival: A Complete Plan for Emergency Preparedness“ and “Dirt Cheap Survival Retreat” courtesy of TheSurvivalistBlog.net a copy of “The Survival Medicine Handbook” courtesy of www.doomandbloom.net and a copy Herbal Antivirals and Herbal Antibiotics .