Tuesday, 9 December 2008

SFG's Fast and Loose I

Posted by: Paul Gardener
A posse ad esse (From possibility to reality)

This post is a repost of something that I put up at the request of one of readers on my personal blog. I thought that, with us being in the middle of winter here in the Northern hemishpere, some of us may be planning our new gardens for next year and may appreciate the ideas, and in the Southern Hemisphere they're in the middle of Summer and may be able to put some things into practice. It has been slightly modified to relate to this blog, but generally remains as it was originally posted.

In the past, I've used the famous "square foot gardening" (SFG) method, at least it is certainly where I started. (This is not meant to supercede Mel Bartholomew's ideas but rather to put word to my own opinions with regard to them as I have used them.) I have found that there are many pieces of it that I just don't use on a regular basis and others that I have modified to suit my own needs and abilities. I've also found through my readings of other blogs out there that there seems to be a number of people getting stuck with some of the things Mr Bartholomew outlines in his method. It's not so much that the stuff he suggests isn't practical, but I guess for a lot of us it's just not economical or necessary, so I decided to share my view of the way I've come to regard SFG's.

In the beginning I was a fairly firm SFGer. I built my 6" deep boxes, and composed a batch of "Mel's Mix" (1/3 each: compost, vermiculite, peat moss) and laid out my grid. There was my first variance. While I did make a grid, I didn't use the thick 3/4 to 1" sticks that Mel suggested because I didn't have the extra income to buy wood for it. Instead I used a roll of white nylon mason line to lay a grid out. I did this by placing nails around the boxes and tapping them over to make "hooks" and them running the string around them until I had a grid. It worked well, took up less space, and I could see the grid very well. As far as the Mels Mix, I still use it. I don't now, nor did I then, sweat the details over how much vermiculite I add compared to my compost and peat, I just split it up evenly and called it good, By and large however I hold that it is a very effective mix over all. One thing I would like to change, and would if I were to do it again, is that I would not make my boxes out of 6" boards. First of all, a standard 2x6 is not truly 6" deep, it's more like 51/2". Plus, I would like to have a little deeper soil, as well as having a little bit of lip at the top so that every time I work the bed I don't lose part of it over the side.

In the SFG book, Mel is a great advocate for making due, and reusing scrap materials to build the boxes. I totally agree with this approach, and would in fact extend it to the entire system as well. Trellising for instance. In the SFG book, Mel makes mention of using metal electrical conduit for his trellis frames. Now while I agree that these would make very nice frames, and I did test out a few this year, I was able to use some reclaimed 2x4's ripped in two and built a frame out of those for my tomatoes. For the trellising material itself I again went to the white nylon string. For tomatoes I stuck a stake in the ground and ran a string up to the top of the frame, as the tomato grew, I moved the plant around the string. I still do this today, it is the best way I have ever seen to grow perfect tomatoes. For cucumbers I made myself a sort of spider web strung between two tomato frames made out of... you guessed it... white nylon string. (seeing a pattern here, go get some!) This worked awesome and was completely removable and very inexpensive. (I'll be following this post up with a second one next week that will have a bunch of photos of some of the things I'm talking about.) Remember, every time you buy an item for your garden that you could otherwise make yourself, you are adding to your over all cost of production, and allowing yourself to become dependant on the garden center rather than the supermarket.

I have more to say on this, so stay tuned, but for now... time for sleep.
Till next time.