I grew up on a farm. Every year my family would grow a garden. Boy, I dreaded gardening. My dad would get the tractor and plow up the garden spot. We would plow in a bunch of horse manure and leaves from the previous year. Then, we would spend one day and plant everything we wanted. Everything was fine at first. Then about June would hit and we would have to spend hours in the garden weeding and weeding. The ground was so hard that we would water the whole garden the day before so the weeds would be easier to pull out. It helped a little, but some of those weeds were so deep and thick that I was tempted to hook up a chain on the tractor and just pull them out.
We would fight the weeds until July and then we would give up. We still harvested plenty of delicious tomatoes and bucket loads of squash, zucchini and corn but many of the other plants wouldn’t make it that far. They either got choked out by the weeds or were accidentally hoed with the weeds. I knew there must be a better way but being as it wasn’t my garden, I didn’t care enough then to really do anything about it.
I am not an expert gardener, but I do want to find the most sustainable, easy way to garden. I have been reading all I can about gardening and have been asking around to see how people have been doing it. There are two methods of gardening that I have researched and am convinced that together, they will not only make gardening easier, but that they will produce a better harvest.
Square Foot Gardening
I was introduced to the book, “All new Square Food Gardening” (SFG) and absolutely ate the book up. After reading it, I thought I found the solution. It was perfect. An easy way to garden in less space with no weeds. The concept is to use 6 inch 4’x4’ grow boxes, put plastic down and fill the boxes with potting mix. You don’t have to worry about bad soil because you make your own perfect soil. If weeds do pop up, the soil is fluffy like a pillow so you can easily pluck it out. It has a ton of other great pointers on everything you would need to know. It is a great resource.
I talked to my cousin who got excited when he read the book and did Square Foot Gardening, but it didn’t turn out as well as he hoped. He said his carrots were stubby and his tomato plants fell over and died. He followed SFG and put plastic on the bottom of his boxes so the plants only had 6 inches of growth for the roots. My hopes were dashed. I was so excited to follow the Square Food Gardening method to a “T”.
Back to Eden Gardening
Earlier this year I did a post on “Back to Eden Gardening”. I still feel that it is truly the best way to garden. It is how nature gardens so it must be right. Square Foot Gardening even teaches that each fall you should put a covering of compost or mulch on your garden. I did my Jean Pain Compost pile so I have a mountain of wood chips at my disposal.
My Garden Experiment
I decided to take both methods and mix the best principles I have learned from Square Foot Gardening and Back to Eden Gardening for my own garden. The things I started with:
Grow boxes: I am using 2×6 inch 4’x4’ grow boxes that I picked up from a local vinyl-fencing contractor for free.
Compost: I bought 2 cubic yards of compost from my local city dump for $15 a yard. It filled my trailer. I have heard that some cities even give it away for free. Call your city office and they will know or point you in the right direction. The compost is the yard waste that has been ground up. It is dark, full of nutrients and plants love it.
Horse manure: Any farmer that has animals will have plenty of manure and will be happy to share it with you.
Wood chips: See ‘Energy from Compost’. You can get these by contacting a local tree trimming company and asking them to drop their wood chips off at your house or letting you come get them. You need to decompose them for 6 months or more.
Newspaper: Collect your old newspaper.
I put my grow boxes down and I cleared the weeds off. I put a light layer of horse manure down and dug up each box with my shovel and made the soil fluffy. I don’t know if I actually needed to mix in the horse manure but it is what I have always done. I spread newspaper down over the top of the soil and added a layer of the fine compost I bought from the city. I filled the rest of the box up with the wood chips from my Jean Pain Compost pile that have decomposed. In the Back to Eden Gardening Film, they put paper down and then wood chips on top. They plant in the soil not the wood chips.
When I’m ready to plant the seeds, my plan is to break through the paper into the fluffy soil. I’ll clear a little place for the plant to grow up through. Once it has grown beyond the 4 to 5 inches of compost and wood chips, I am going to push the wood chips back around the plant. The wood chips will choke out the plant if you don’t do it this way. My hope is that the paper and the wood chips will cut back on weeds, give nutrients to the plant, and retain water better.
If you haven’t watched the Back to Eden film, you really should. It is amazing and will give you a much better idea of why I’m gardening this way. I put 3-foot isles in between each garden box and lay plastic down for the aisles. I then covered them with wood chips. It is really nice to have tons of free wood chips.
This is my experiment for this year’s garden. I am pretty sure it will work but only time will tell. The book “All New Square Foot Gardening” is really worth reading. There are the cons of not enough depth in the box for roots and the expensive soil he recommends, but it has a lot of other super helpful information for gardening. It is well written and an enjoyable read. Watch the Back to Eden Film at backtoedenfilm.com and read the “All New Square Foot Gardening” by Mel Bartholomew. If you click on this link to buy the book on Amazon then I will get a commission that will support the blog.
Please leave comments if you have tried either of these methods and how it worked for you.
Authored by Steven Cooper Google