If you have been tracking our family projects, you might remember the gardening project we undertook this year. As summer is fading into fall, we wanted to look back on our gardening experiment and share some of the lessons we learned from our experience.
At the beginning of the year we chose to use the Square Foot Gardening method espoused by Mel Bartholomew. The advantages are good soil, few weeds, small size, and support for multiple plant types. Many levels of difficulty exist for square foot gardening, but we chose one of the most basic for our first year, attempting to maximize our chances of success. We planted tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, spinach, celery, broccoli, black-eyed peas, green beans, cucumbers, and many different kinds of flowers.
I believe we have eaten some of almost every type vegetable or fruit planted. They all produced, but with varying degrees of success. The green-beans, tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, and spinach performed well. The peas, celery, and cucumbers did ok, but not great, and the broccoli was a complete failure. Pesky cabbage worms destroyed the broccoli no matter how many of them we killed.
The garden produced as advertised with few weeds, very little upkeep, and great plant growth. Keep in mind that we started most everything from seed!
Start small. I am glad we did not try to tackle more space or higher difficulty models like continuous harvest or seed starting indoors the first year.
Choose “how” and “why”. Square foot gardening fit our time and energy requirements. A small traditional garden with all the weeding involved might not have. And this was an experiment, not meant to feed all of our family’s needs, so we planted accordingly.
More Space. Plants need more room than we thought. The tomatoes and the cucumbers grew quickly, and achieved impressive size. Unfortunately, they shaded nearby plants which needed the sun. The beans suffered from this lack of light, but lesson learned. Next year, more space.
Critical mass. Be sure to plant enough to harvest for a meal. The black-eyed beans did not produce enough of a crop at a time to give us a helping for a meal.
Watch and listen. Some crops exceeded our expectations. Others did not. Guess which ones we are going to repeat next year? Yep. The ones that did well. Tomatoes, green-beans, cucumbers, lettuce, and spinach were all winners. Black-eyed peas, celery, and broccoli were losers. The losers will not be planted or we will find another variety. And I imagine we will add a few more unknowns to next year’s crop so we can find a few more winners.
Flowers. The flowers kept the garden cheerful, even when things were not in bloom. Just make sure you know how tall the flowers will really get. We had some six footers that pretty much shaded the other flowers. They were beautiful and the butterflies loved them, but I could have used some better variety.
Finally, a few things they don’t tell you in the gardening books:
Hand a child a seed, he’ll plant it… somewhere. Andrew found a random sprout of moonflower in a half empty pot of dirt. Sam planted the “magic seed.”
Nobody loves your garden like you do. Leaving it in the hands of others can be fatal.
Working in the garden seems to contribute to the intestinal workings of little boys. Be prepared for the “gardening stench” and I don’t mean fertilizer.
Nothing builds the bond between father and son like “helping” water the garden every morning. Every child sho