How our garden grows
This week we’re going to talk about the gardening methods we use and a little about planning a garden…
The gardening methods we use:
We use a combination of Mittleider method and the Square Foot method:
Mittleider Method: is an intensive gardening method that eliminates all concerns regarding soil quality. The method is one of those referred to as an “intensive gardening method” because it allows for extremely high production in small spaces. Mittleider gardens have been grown in Monument Valley-Utah, Zimbabwe, and other harsh climates with amazing success! This method utilizes raised beds usually in grow boxes with artificial soils and specific fertilizer mixes including trace elements on a specific schedule, all but guarantee fantastic yields. The Mittleider method strongly emphasizes trellising of all vining vegetables. The deep raised beds allow for the gardener to control the temperatures and quality of the soil, they are easier to keep weed & pest free, they irrigate without drowning the plants or using excessive amounts of water. This method was developed by Dr. Jacob Mittleider who passed away in 2006. His foundation has been carried forward by Jim Kennard who currently runs the Food for Everyone foundation.
Square Foot Method: is another intensive method that was pioneered by Mel Bartholomew his book is Square Foot Gardening published in 1981. It works well for a small family or a small garden in a small space. We have found that by using a combination of both of these methods, we’ve been able to come up with something that works well for us. The Mittleider method seems to work for those who want to grow on almost a commercial scale in a way that square foot gardening doesn’t scale well for. For some things like greens and root crops we tend to do more of the square foot method. For tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, cantaloupe, etc we use the Mittleider method. While every year we add compost to our beds using the Mittleider fertilizer formulas which pretty much guarantees the plants will be happy and super productive. We also use more of a modern day take on the Mittleider system for irrigation. (which we’ll cover in an upcoming post)
Planning a garden:
When you decide you want to grow a garden the first thing you need to consider is who you are going to feed with it, what kinds of things you want to grow, and how much can you really eat. Most of the time a normal family will do fine with one zucchini plant and one crook-necked summer squash that will provide all the squash they care to eat. We grow more than that because we enjoy sharing and sometimes the squash bugs get ahead of us and we loose a plant or two.
It really makes sense to purchase one or both of the books so that you can figure out volume, take into consideration how much room you have, and how much time you want to spend on your garden. We have a half acre lot and if we HAD to we could feed our family year round with that amount of land! The Square Foot method is a great way for an average family to start gardening, it also helps you know how close together you can plant your plants and what plants like each other. I remember my grandparents garden… they had a couple of acres and so much room they started the garden every year by taking the big tiller out and tilling the back 40… (I mean acre) and that was after the neighbor came over with the tractor and turned the whole field over. One Banana squash could easily grow to cover 100 Square feet! For most families your entire garden can be grown in 1 to 4, 4×4 foot squares by using an intensive method this 64 square feet of area will be more productive than gardens 4 times it’s size with a fraction of the work. Pretty amazing, right?!
When plants grow close together they leave less room for weeding and who likes that part of the process?? At our house we have five 4.5X9 foot raised beds in our back yard and another six 4×4 foot beds in the front along with five more that average 12×4 feet. In the back we do the Square Foot method by taking twine and dividing the beds into a grid so we can companion plant things that like each other and can tell how much room will be needed by each plant. There’s an iOS application called Garden Tracker you can get for an ipod, ipad, or mac computer and probably about anything else… it helps you plan each bed and uses a similar square foot method.
Two weeks later… the same garden bed with the carrots, turnips, variety lettuce sprouting
In the front we grow one 4×4 bed full of Peruvian Purple Potatoes, one full of Red Potatoes, one or two large beds with 5 rows of corn one foot apart by one foot apart for the length of the bed so in a 15 foot bed we have about 160 ears worth of corn. We plant about 5 rows to get started (so 25 plants) and then we’ll plant 2 more rows per week until we run out of bed so all of the corn is not ready to pick at the same time. We’re planned to try the three sisters method this year with corn, winter squash, and green beans. The idea is the squash grows below the corn, and the beans climb the corn stocks… We’ll see how that works?
Our strawberry plants… this bed that’s about 4×10 has become our strawberry patch and we’re hoping for a good crop of those this year AND of course it has over grown it’s little self BUT that’s ok… more berries!!
In any case you have to plan well enough that you know how much food you can use, how much space you have to grow in and then can figure how many plants/seed you will need. We usually end up with left over seedlings that we give to friends because we grow heirloom varieties that are not available at the nursery! If some of the seeds fail to germinate we’d rather have more than we need than less than we want.
In an upcoming post … we’ll build a box for you in detail, we’re building a new one for a raspberry patch that we’ve wanted for a couple of years and are just getting around to putting in… we’ll take lots of pictures! We’re also going to put some new hog wire fencing in some of the front lower beds for tomatoes and cucumbers to trellis on. As you can tell a garden is always a work in progress but the work is worth it when you enjoy all that fresh produce! SO good!!
Remember our little seeds we planted in last weeks post?? Well, they’re happily growing away downstairs under the lights, next time we’ll cover transplanting and “hardening off” the seedlings!
Our dog, Jack, likes to help in the garden too… we find all kinds of puppy Lila’s toys “planted” out there by him! (thus the green fencing!)