Tim's Square Foot Gardening Page

"What this country needs is dirtier fingernails and cleaner minds."
Will Rodgers



World War II Garden Poster


Soil and Compost:  Good gardens start with good soil.  I was fortunate enough to start out with relatively good soil.  I did not want or need to use raised beds, although they are certainly worth the initial time and effort to construct.  I realize that some people have no choice but to use raised beds, if  their soil is REALLY bad or there is poor drainage, but I like the natural look.  Even really bad soil can be improved, over time, with soil amendments.  I do have of a small Mantis tiller which helped to initially break up the hard ground.  If you are starting out with raised beds, use the soil formula in Mel's book.  Since I was amending the existing soil, I started out working into the soil generous amounts of peat moss, composted cow manure, and some vermiculite.  The following are the amendments I add throughout the growing season:  In the early spring, I spread a layer of compost over the garden plots.  During the growing season, I use grass clippings for mulch.  At the end of the growing season, I add about a one inch layer of shredded tree leaves over each garden plot.  Over the winter, these leaves will compost down and decay, which can either be tilled under in the spring or kept on the surface for mulch.  Weather permitting, I like to till up the soil in either the fall, before the leaves are added, or in the spring.  For me, spring tilling always seems problematic due to wet soil conditions.  Because I have been composting the plots for a few years now, the need to till has decreased.  I have two compost bins that supply nearly all the compost I need every year.  I cannot stress enough the importance of using compost in your garden.

Irrigation and Varmint Control:  Some kind of artificial watering will have to be done, in most growing seasons, if you want a good harvest.  I use soaker hoses made out of recycled tires.  It is porous and weeps water throughout the entire length of the hose. I snake it through my plots and also bury it about an inch deep into the soil.  Smaller lengths of hose work best for more even watering.  I find that two 25 foot lengths of soaker hose works best in each garden plot.  I only use the soaker hoses in the two plots that contain the green beans and the broccoli/cabbage.  I hand water the other two plots, when needed.

A few years ago my garden was visited by some hungry rabbits.  They chewed down all of my young transplants and had a field day in my green bean patch.  Because of this, I had to fence in three of the four garden plots.  I have surrounded these plots with 3 foot high galvanized fencing for a few years now, and have not had any problems with rabbits since.

In 2007 I installed an electric fence around the raised bed corn plot to keep the squirrels out.  It worked really well.  The fence is battery operated and sends out a pulsated electric shock.  While the shock is an effective deterrent, it is completely safe for animals and humans, and is approved for residential use.  The electric fence is from Fi-Shock and is sold as an electric fence kit found here Woodstream Coropration SS2KX FiShock Battery powered garden protection kit .  You will need to install a small barrier fence (any small plastic mesh fencing would work), which is not included in the kit, to place between the electrified wires and the inside of the raised bed.  This insures that the squirrel will come in contact with the electrified wire and not just jump over it.  Two rows of electric wires should be installed just above the top of the raised bed.  See below for pictures of the installed electric fence.  The first picture below is the electric fence before the barrier fence was installed.  The second pic is with the barrier fence installed.  If you are having trouble with squirrels or any small animals, for that matter, then this fence should work for you. 


Seed Starting:  Starting your own plants from seed is one of the most rewarding aspects of gardening.  It allows the gardening greater plant variety, and is less expensive than buying transplants.  Since most of my garden plants are not directly seed sown out into the garden, I must either start my seeds indoors under florescent lights or in an outside cold frame.  I tried starting my seed indoors under lights, but was not satisfied with the quality of the seedlings.  I decided to purchase a cold frame.  I purchased a Cold Frame: Juwel 1000 Easy Fix Cold Frame , and it has performed very well.  I also purchased a Univent Automatic Vent Opener with the cold frame (this is a must), which keeps the seedlings from overheating.  I place the cold frame over an empty part of the garden in the spring and line the bottom with used black trash bags.  I also line the back and sides of the cold frame with half gallon plastic milk jugs filled with water and place a few bricks inside.  These bricks and jugs of water absorb the heat from the sun during the day and slowly release it at night.  I use the Juwel cold frame in the spring and then take it apart and store it away until the following spring.  I start all my seeds in individual plastic seed trays.  I sow the seeds inside and wait until the seeds germinate and then move them to the cold frame.  I start all my seeds in vermiculite.  I keep most seedlings in the small cells that they were started in until they are transplanted out into the garden.  I always bottom water the seedlings and feed them a dilute mixture of liquid Sea Rich fertilizer from Gardens Alive! when the seedlings have their first set of true leaves.  The seedlings in the cold frame must be checked at least daily and watered whenever the vermiculite is dry.  Once seedlings reach a large enough size, they should be allowed to dry out a little between waterings.  I have found that no hardening off period is needed for the seedlings raised in the cold frame, which is a big time saver.  After the last spring frost the cold frame is put away for the season, but I continue to start  lettuce, broccoli and cauliflower seeds outside under the covered back porch awning.


Fertilizers and Insect Control:  I do make use of some supplemental fertilizers, mostly organic.  I prefer the organic fertilizers from Gardens Alive! .  I highly recommend their Tomatoes Alive, Root Crops Alive, and Vegetables Alive fertilizers.  These fertilizers are a little pricey, but worth every penny.  To get the greatest coverage, I only side dress these fertilizers.  I also use the liquid foliar fertilizer, Sea Rich Foliar Spray , also from Gardens Alive.  Sea Rich is the only extra fertilizer I use on my lettuce.  I have been very impressed with the results.  For cabbage worm protection, I recommend two products from Gardens Alive called Green StepTM Caterpillar Control or Bulls-Eye.  I also use Miracle Grow liquid fertilizer, sparingly, a few times during the growing season on some of the other plants like peppers and green beans.  The only non organic pesticide I use is Sevin, which I use on my green beans for control of the beetles.  I only apply Sevin in small amounts about 3 times during the growing season.  This seems to be the minimal amount needed for insect control.

Extending the Garden Season and Fall Gardening:  The absolute best product I have found to aid in extending the growing season is the floating row cover.  These cover are made from soft polypropylene fibers which allow light and moisture in, while protecting crops from frost and cold temperatures.  Supports are not needed for these covers and can simply be placed over the plants and secured to the ground with pins or bricks.  I use row covers in the spring, to protect early plantings of lettuce, and in the fall for protection of many late maturing garden plants.  I have also purchased flexible plastic "hoop houses" that can be used in conjunction with the row covers for even extra protection.  I like to use these in the fall.  I also apply shade netting to these hoops for summer protection of newly planted lettuce seedlings.  

Starting in the 2003 growing season, I constructed a hoop house made out of 1/2 inch black polypipe with the use of "Garden Clips."  These garden clips can be purchased from LandscapeUSA.com by clicking here Garden Clips, Medium icon I was very impressed with how well the plants grew under these hoop houses.  for the covering, I used cheap plastic from one of the home improvement centers.  This plastic worked very well, and can be thrown out after one season of use.  If you only need to enclose a small area like mine, you will probably only need to order the medium size clips.  10 medium clips were enough for me to make two of the smaller hoop houses.  These Garden Clips will come with a nice 4 page instruction and design manual which list all the material you will need to construct your own hoop house.  I highly recommend using hoop houses and these clips. The only drawback I found in using these hoop was making sure they were properly vented on warm days.   I generally kept the ends completely open during the early spring, unless the weather was really cold and cloudy.  The garden clips and hoop house can been seen in the last two pictures below.

See below for pictures of all of these products in use in my garden.

By the time August and September roll around, most gardeners are tired of gardening and have long since planted their last crops.  This is a shame, because fall is the best time of the year for many vegetable crops.  Most of your cool season crops will actually grow better in the fall, and a few of your warmer season crops will also grow well in the late summer and early fall time of the year.  A late summer planting of bush green beans will actually mature faster than a late spring planting because the soils are warmer and the air temperatures are warm, but not hot.  Crops like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower will grow better because they will be maturing in the progressively cooler temperatures of fall rather than the progressively warmer temperatures of early summer.  Lettuce will also grow much better because of these cooler temperature and will not bolt or turn bitter like what tends to happen to some of the late spring planted lettuce.  A fall planted crop of lettuce will have an extended harvest period because all growth will slow down or nearly stop.  Providing the plants are covered with floating row covers, most cool crops should keep reasonably well for an extended period of time until the nighttime temperatures consistently drop below 20 degrees Fahrenheit.



Experiment and Have Fun!:  Do not be afraid to experiment with new techniques and new plants.  Also remember, what might work for some gardeners, might not always work for you or your situation.  The number one tip I can give you is to have fun!!

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