Fall Gardening

3 minute read

Last week, the north keyhole garden got filled with compost and peat moss, strings were laid out and a square foot garden was created. Lots of terminology there for the uninitiated so lets discuss. I’ve mentioned the keyhole garden several times in other posts but it is essentially a way to constantly feed a garden space by building a compost pile into the garden itself. I read about them in our electric coop magazine a few years ago and built one out of cedar planks. It hasn’t really been utilized much until now and was actually underfilled because I ran out of garden related funds when it was built. The most recent picture of mine is below. It stands about 30 inches tall, is 6×6 feet and has a built in compost pile in chicken wire in the middle, the theory being, for those not interested enough in my life to go read the article I went to the trouble to link above, that compost materials will break down and be consumed by bacteria and worms in the soil who will travel back into the rest of the garden which is a good thing.

A square foot garden is exactly what it sounds like and is based on the associated theory and book by Mel Bartholomew. It is supposed to greatly increase yield while greatly decreasing the amount of work, specifically weeding. Because most seeds you buy have a 99% germination rate, it is silly to follow package directions planting twice as many seeds only to come back when they are 4 inches tall and then them to the approved spacing. It is equally silly to plant in rows with 3-4 times the plant spacing just so you can walk up and down to weed. Far better is to build square gardens, 4×4 to 6×6, plant seeds according to the final spacing and avoid weeding entirely.

For example, most lettuce advice says to plant the lettuce a quarter inch deep in rows eighteen inches apart and then them to four inches between plants. If you’ve never seen a lettuce seed, don’t be worried, neither have I and I’ve planted a bunch of lettuce. Lettuce seeds are TINY. So it’s easy to plant to many and then you just end up culling a bunch. Square foot gardening fixes this problem because you can just plant nine lettuce plants (not heading kinds but those suck anyway because they are mostly all water and sunshine. Plant leaf varieties. Trust me) in a square foot based on the prescribed spacing.

This is my first year to do a true square foot garden. My keyhole garden has 30 squares in it because the keyhole takes out six of them. So last weekend, I planted six squares of sugar snap peas (48 plants), four squares of swiss chard (16 plants), one square of cherry belle radish (16 radishes), two squares of parsley (8 plants), two squares each of beets and turnips (18 each), two squares each of lettuce and spinach (8 each). Next week, I’ll plant the remaining squares with more root vegetables to extend the harvest instead of having 36 beets and turnips all ready at the same time.

In other gardening news, the fall tomatoes look to be feast or famine. I planted 10 plants and had two come up volunteer. Of the ten transplants, only five look reasonably healthy, two have died completely and three look sickly and unlikely to produce any fruit. The two volunteer cherry tomatoes that came up are producing nicely which is a pleasant surprise.

The okra continues to pour forth as it always does. It takes up a lot of room but if you like okra, a couple of rows will always provide enough for a family of 3-4. I’m picking pods every day and can’t eat it all. Several pepper plants are still going well. The cowpeas that were planted August 18th are covered in peas so that looks to be a success. The green beans have been a big disappointment but the lima beans are really starting to come in.

Also today, I seeded leeks, kale, spinach and more chard in 4 inch pots. I have planted collard seeds in five or six places and had zero luck. I’m not sure if that’s a bad seed package or just bad luck. Hopefully the transplants of kale and others will be more successful. I will probably swing by North Haven Gardens tomorrow to see if they have collards and possibly cabbage. Because none of the collards have germinated and so many of the tomatoes died, I should have room for more stuff.