Square Foot Gardening – Update

Reader Contribution by Allan Douglas
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We’re into June already and I’m lagging even farther behind in my garden chores because of supply problems. But I’ve finally gotten the peat pellets I needed to start the next round of plantings. They are the wrong size; the diameter of the compressed “pucks” is 1/4″ too large to fit into the grippers in the tray but I’ll work with them anyway. One advantage of these larger “pucks” is that when they are wetted and expand, they end up with a hole down the middle (think doughnut) that makes it a simple job to drop the seed right down inside. This would not be good for small seeds, but today I’m planting beans and chard. I set up 18 pinto beans, 18 black beans, and 12 Swiss chard. The chard is for Mom. Marie doesn’t care for chard but Mom does. I’ve never had it, so I don’t know… but I will try it when it’s ripe. I set the clear cover on top and set it in the window to make a small greenhouse that will speed germination of the seeds.

When the seeds sprout, I remove the peat pellets and their seedlings and put them in small planters with potting soil. Here I gradually acclimate them to full sunshine while the first (baby) leaves are replaced by the plant’s initial mature leaves. Once the small plant has been “hardened off” (or made able to stand full sunshine without withering up and dying), I’ll take them out to the garden and plant them in the designated squares. The beans will go into the ground on the inside of the fence line, with the corn/cucumber row outside the fence. These three play well together, but crop rotation will require doing something else next year as beans can be planted in the same place only once in every three years. Maybe the beans will go outside the fence and the corn/cucumbers inside next year.

Overall, the garden is doing well considering that I’m new to this. My one major ‘fail’ this year has been the cauliflower and broccoli; Looper worms ate the centers out of the plants, then started chewing holes in the leaves. Once the centers were destroyed any chance of getting edible parts from there was gone so I pulled them out. The gardening sites say to prevent Loopers I must spray both sides of all the leaves with insecticide at least once a week. I wanted to avoid insecticides if I can, Mom has a “natural gardening” book – I think it’s by Jerry Baker, which offers several suggestions. One is to sprinkle corn starch or rye flour on the leaves. The bugs eat this, it swells up inside them and causes them to burst. There’s a visual I don’t want to entertain! Adding a little salt or cayenne pepper helps to repel the bugs. I’ll give this a shot and see if it helps on the second round of these plants.

The lettuce is still prolific. Marie says she has never seen anyone grow lettuce as tall as this. My theory on this is; it’s because instead of waiting for the lettuce plant to get to 12-14 inches tall and cutting it off at the ground, I snip off the lower leaves and leave the plant to continue growing. This seems to encourage the plant to keep putting new leaves out on top and I keep snipping off the lower ones. Eventually I get a lettuce tree! This works great for the leaf lettuce, head lettuce would be entirely different, and the Mesclun mix lettuce has all different shaped plants – some pretty bizarre looking, but they all taste great and make for a very interesting salad.

The squash plants are beginning to bloom and from the number of buds I see waiting to flower out, we will be pushing squash off on the neighbors and co-workers just like we are the lettuce. I’ve got yellow squash, summer squash and zucchini, but none of the bigger varieties like crook-neck or acorn; those would be just too much for my little garden!

This year I’m growing both red and white radishes. I’m sure you’re familiar with the red (Cherry Bell) radishes, but the white ones are rather unique. They are white on the outside, red on the inside and when sliced look for all the world like hunks of watermelon. 

They taste like a radish except they are more spicy than the red radish – so much so that nibbling on two of these as a snack gave me quite a case of indigestion! A little of these goes a long way. They are good in salads though.

The tomatoes have many blooms and a few green tomatoes the size of marbles. When they get to the size of golf balls I’ll need to fertilize them with some ‘Mater food. I’ve got a couple of green peppers almost ready to pick and many more in process. I have watermelon seedlings hardening off now what will go in the ground in another week or so. Everything else is coming along pretty well, and plant chomping pests aren’t much of a problem, except as noted earlier, so I’m happy.

As the weather gets hotter, lettuce and spinach will have a hard time growing. The chard will grow well in the summer heat, as will peppers, tomatoes and squash. Once we reach mid-August I’ll be ready to start another round of the cool-weather crops as well as Brussels sprouts.

And there you have it. Not exactly ready to set up a canning operation yet, but we are enjoying what we’re harvesting and I’m having fun managing my micro-farm.

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