My problem in life is that I just don’t know when to stop - this applies to spending, talking, eating, and....sowing seeds. Once I have that seed packet in my hand, I just want to sow them all. Immediately. And, whilst it’s satisfying at that moment, it’s not so good a few weeks or months down the line when we’re trying to think of new ways of cooking, eating or knitting kale.
Exhibit 1: Example of my oversowing - how long would it take people to eat these onions?
During some aimless internet surfing, I came across the square foot gardening (SFG) method and thought that this might be just the thing to curb my profligate ways with seeds.
The basics of SFG were stated as follows:
- Raised beds - that don't require cultivating and which you do not have to walk on as you can reach every part of the bed from outside the bed;
- Addition of a special mix of compost/vermiculite/peat;
- Division of beds into square feet - clearly marked with string or something more permanent so that the divisions are visible as crops grow;
- Intensive planting of different crops within each square foot;
- Successional sowing - so no gluts and a continuous crop throughout the growing season.
So, for each square foot you sow a specific number of seeds depending on the crop so that you don't waste seeds and also you don't have to thin out plants that are overcrowded. Common spacing is:
- 1 plant/square for larger plants like cabbage or broccoli
- 4 plants/square for medium plants like lettuce
- 9 plants/square for medium-small plants like spinach
- 16 plants/square for small plants like carrots and spring onions.
Anything that takes up lots of space through their habit such as runners or courgettes are grown vertically on frames or supports.
So far, so good.
Of course, I didn't decide to follow it precisely - who doesn't read the instructions for something and think "ooh, I don't think that applies to me?" or "I can't really be bothered with that it so I'll adapt it for my own lazy ways......." I did use raised beds and I did divide up into the square feet but I decided to cultivate the soil that was in there and add some soil improver in the autumn to help with my clay soil structure and also to add some nutrients (I didn't need peat - stay peat free!).
2Dividing into square feet & putting up protection.
1. Cultivating Soil
Next..deciding what to grow?
I mainly went with salads and lots of carrots which I love but also grew some kohl rabi because it looked cool in a picture I had seen! I then went into overdrive with a crazy spreadsheet that had 32 columns and nearly 300 rows (representing each day) - OMG I was trying to plan to the nth degree - what to sow, how long it would be in the ground when it would be out and so then when I could sow the next lot.
Duh! I now realise that all I really needed to do was sow everything once in their respective squares and then wait for it to germinate. Once a particular crop in a square had come up then to do a second sowing in any free square I had and continue doing this until the seed packets said that it was too late to sow or I ran out of squares. Some crops like kohl rabi I didn't need so much of so I sowed less often.
3. Very neat and tidy at the start 4. Now, growing well..slightly crowded
- Crops like radish mature very quickly so their square comes free within the season to be sowed again with something else.
- Some crops like carrots were tall and shaded other plants/flopped into other squares - next time I'll make sure I sow these crops on the North of the bed so they don't shade the other veg and will also put up some Heath Robinson affair to stop them flopping into the other squares.
- It takes quite a lot of discipline to do this as you have to be sowing quite often - I have to admit that I wasn't as attentive as I could have been *hangs head in shame*.
- The main pests in my urban garden are foxes, squirrels and cats so with the raised beds, it was easy to put up some protective netting and whilst they aren't cheap they are very strong and I can see them lasting for ever.
- I haven't had gluts which has been brilliant - no new knitting patterns for kale required!
Overall I think this is a great way to grow veg in a confined space and with a bit more discipline I think it will be even more successful next year.
This post written by the Seed Pantry guest: Nell Jones.
Nell recently studied Horticulture as a career change from 20 years in recruitment and now works at the wonderful Chelsea Physic Garden.
You can read Nell's own blog here: http://capabilityjonesblogs.blogspot.com/