Everyone that has food storage should have a garden to supplement it. For people that don’t have the acreage or live in cities a Square Foot Garden (SFG) is perfect. We need the nutrients and variety that can be provided with fresh fruits and vegetables. Think how nice it would be to have a tomato sandwich with lettuce or make a small batch of fresh salsa. Tomatoes, cilantro, salt and onions makes cornmeal go from cornbread to chips and salsa. The SFG web site has all the information you need to build and care for your garden.
I also recommend buying the books All New Square Foot Gardening as well as the original book Square Foot Gardening, for reference.
Why build a Square Foot Garden? A small 4’x4’ garden will provide a person with enough produce to have a salad every day of the growing season. It uses less water and space than a conventional garden is easy to protect and produces a high yield in a little space. If made with a base the garden can be portable.
A square foot garden consists of a 4 foot by 4 foot box that has a grid on the top to divide the garden into 16 squares. Each square holds a different crop. The grid is the most important part of the garden. It divides the box into “squares” each square is a foot wide. Hence the name Square Foot Garden. Don’t think crop in the sense of a large farm and a crop of onions that is sown in two acres of land. Our box produces mini crops. For example in each square you can plant 1 tomato plant, 4 lettuce plants or 16 carrots. The number of plants you put in each square depends on the recommended plant spacing. And you have 16 squares to fill.
A Square Foot Garden is easy to protect, easy to build and easy to maintain. First you build your box (from lumber, bricks, rock anything to hold the soil. On the SFG web site I saw a garden that was grown by a hero serving in Iraq, in a cardboard box. It wasn’t as pretty or as durable as a nice vinyl box, but it did the job. It produced food in the desert.
After the box is built, fill it with the perfect soil mix, called Mel’s mix, named after the inventor Mel Bartholomew. The soil mix is equal parts of coarse A-3 vermiculite, compost and peat moss. I have found it is easiest to mix [in batches of] three cubic feet of each ingredient. This gives you a little soil mix left over for other small containers or flower pots. When you begin with the perfect soil mix there are no weeds. If a weed does blow into your garden it is easy to identify and pull out. You may think buying prepackaged garden soil from the local hardware store is good enough, but the soil that comes in the large bags doesn’t have as many nutrients and most are made with Pearlite. I have found that after a heavy rain the pearlite floats to the top and runs out. Vermiculite stays in place. It gives the roots room and air to grow. The peat moss holds moisture and the compost provides the nutrients or food for the plant. No additional fertilizers are needed, no pesticides are used. Bug control and watering are done by hand. I have found that in 10 minutes I can water 4 garden boxes, weed, and inspect every plant for pests.
Next, plant your seeds or plants. Use heirloom seeds. A lot of seeds and plants that are at the store are genetically modified or are hybrids from the true seed. They are developed to only produce fruit once. The seeds that are saved from the hybrid plants may not reproduce the following year. As a rule, just get the heirloom seeds and if there is a chance that you are not able to buy seeds later; the seeds can be saved from the plants you already have. After you harvest your plants and are ready to plant something else, dig up the old roots shake off the dirt and plant a new crop in its place. At this time you need to replace the nutrients in the soil. Simply add a trowel full of compost to that one square. Fluff up the soil and replant with your next crop.
Because the boxes are small they are easy to protect and take care of. Most plants need to be in full sun. I live in the south and it is hot here. For hotter climates I recommend having some shade for lettuce plants and some herbs like cilantro and basil. Shade really helps them to thrive and cuts back on the need for water. Lettuce is sweeter if it doesn’t get too hot. If you find that your lettuce is bitter, put it in the fridge for a few days. It helps. The rest of the plants need a lot of sun. Broccoli, tomatoes, cabbage, cauliflower, melons they all thrive in the sun. I also recommend planting Marigolds and nasturtiums around the garden they keep out deer and some insects. Plus they look pretty.
Chicken wire and or netting can protect your garden from birds and animals. Again directions can be found on the web site. To protect from frost, hail or snow, make a dome using two PVC pipes and cover the pipes with clear plastic. The plastic dome can also serve as a greenhouse. Having the plastic dome will extend the growing season into the fall and winter months.
In an emergency or a TEOTWAWKI situation a garden may be moved short distances within your property. If you have to bug out it will most likely be left behind. But the lessons you learn from beginning a garden now are invaluable. What good is a can of seeds if you don’t know what to do with them? I have put my garden in the garage to protect it from hurricane winds. It just needs a plywood base. Don’t put a box that you plan to move directly on the ground. If the box sits on the ground it will hold the moisture and the plywood base eventually will rot. Placing five bricks underneath the box will do the trick. One brick in each corner and one in the center for support. The base also has predrilled drainage holes. My favorite garden is screwed onto an old picnic table. It is waist height and I don’t have to bend over to work in it. It would be perfect as a wheelchair garden.
A few years ago here in North Carolina during the summer when gas prices skyrocketed, tomatoes (shipped here from Mexico, another story) were around $5 per pound. This was when tomatoes were in season. I was thankful to have a garden in my yard. I walked out my back door and hand picked five tomatoes for dinner then shared some with my neighbors. They tasted better right off the vine and I didn’t even have to go to the store to get them.