My customized vegetable garden
Why I chose the SFG method (Square Foot Gardening) for my beginner’s vegetable garden
When I challenged the hoe for the first time, I was enthusiastic and full of projects: I would have liked to cultivate everything from salads to exotic fruits, regardless of latitude and my abilities. My first experience with the traditional rows method was useful and instructive: I tasted some fruits of my work, I learned to deal with the times of nature and the vagaries of weather, I completed some projects while others I abandoned, some vegetables have given me satisfaction and others have been a real disaster. At the end of my first year as a buddy ortist, I tried to sum up the pros and cons of my crop, putting the hours of work and the results obtained on the plate, and then I started looking for a way to improve.
I realized that, in order to make the most of a small vegetable garden, it was necessary to find a real practical method, simple to apply even for the modern farmer who can dedicate to his vegetables only the extra working time; I was looking for an orderly and systematic procedure, which included precise programming and an equally precise practical application. It also seemed to me that with the use of the traditional method a conspicuous waste of water and resources was generated that pushed me away from the goal of creating a kitchen garden not only for food support for the family but for a reduction in waste and pollution of intensive agriculture.
It was in that phase of research and planning that I came across Mel Bartholomew’s SFG.
The Square Foot Gardening is a method of cultivation for small spaces organized in raised banks bordered by wooden planks: the squares are blocks divided into fractions within which sow or transplant different crops in varying numbers depending on the size. Within the SFG pallets, different types of vegetables and flowers are combined in order to optimize space and yield and it is possible to stagger the planting to obtain crops throughout the season, without waste of product. The proximity of the plants inside the squares creates a microclimate useful to reduce the waste of water and the alternation of the types of crops helps the biological fight and decreases the presence of hostile insects.
Struck by this type of solution I decided to put it in place for the following year and here’s what happened to my beginner’s vegetable garden.
Those like me who did not grow up in rural areas and could not learn from the elderly the techniques and tricks to cultivate a good garden in an innate way, can be frightened by a project of family vegetable garden: the idea of sowing, nurturing, feeding and seizing a series of vegetables at the same time, taking into account the needs and timing of each type, can be a great deal of work if you do not have clear ideas. The design in this case is vitally important: drawing, calculating and dividing the land according to desires and needs is not only useful, but fundamental.
The division into aisles with constant measures has infinitely simplified my life. Now instead of drawing continuous rows of vegetables, I can optimize the space by distributing the number of plants that I really need in orderly and organized spaces, preventing empty spaces to be filled with useful associations or virtuous combinations according to the synergistic cultivation logic. If I first planted a row of tomatoes, and often I planted more than necessary losing sight of the needs of the same plants, now I can accurately calculate the quantity and distribution of tomatoes in one or more aisles and I can evaluate any free space to match some basil plants or some melliferous flower to improve the context of my garden both outside and below ground.
This kind of project makes it possible to create a vegetable garden on a human scale, without food or material waste.
Only after having conceived the various aisles with the chosen plants, these are arranged in the space according to the needs and therefore made physically: in this way only what is needed is planted, without having to fill a long row, and the work is optimized. The construction of the aisles and supports is also made with recycled materials such as waste wood, bricks, metal roofs, making this method also quite economical to implement.
Although in the book by Mel Bartholomew very precise rules are given about the dimensions of the aisles, which must be precisely multiples of one square foot with internal subdivisions, in reality the measures can be adapted to your needs as long as you respect a simple and logical rule: those who work the soil must be able to easily reach the center of the aisle in order to perform all sowing, transplanting and plant care. My aisles, for example, are of sizes ranging between 120 and 60 cm depending on the arrangement inside the area used as a vegetable garden.
Although not the main objective of this method, the restricted and circumscribed workspace is still excellent for applying some principles of synergistic agriculture such as mulching with natural materials or the combination of vegetables. For example, in my aisles I use branches and pruning shoots as mulch according to the “Waterless Garden” method by Jacky Dupety and I add useful flowers as in natural agriculture: I will tell you soon why I preferred these methods and how to document to choose the type of processing most suited to your garden project.
The principle of the Square Foot Gardening would require the use of a completely new soil to be placed inside the aisles created by you, made with a 1/3 blended compost, 1/3 peat moss and 1/3 coarse vermiculite: needless to say that a new soil certainly cancels the chance to run into the seeds of some pest, but it seems to me an unreasonable solution for those who already own land to work. I used my soil adding light soil and river sand for the first year, the organic mulch did the rest improving the composition in the following years. Even with this substantial change, the method as a whole has remained valid and productive: you simply need to take into account having to spend a little more time cleaning the aisles from weeds.
If my story intrigued you I suggest you read the book “All New Square Foot Gardening” and adopt the best of this method to perfect your vegetable garden. If this is your first time in this adventure, do not rush to decide! This is the right time to read and document before the temperatures come in handy and sowing and transplanting start.
Good luck to everyone for the new horticultural season!
Written by non-native speaker: please excuse any mistake.