I have dreams of having a somewhat self-sufficient garden that overflows with beautiful vegetables.
I don’t know what’s pushing me more — the sheer fact of knowing where my food comes from, having a lasting impression on Andrew’s childhood, or just simply having the freshest of veggies ever — but I really, really want to succeed in having a garden.
The only problem is I haven’t been too good at it so far. If you don’t recall I own the title, “two-tomato” wannabe farmer which literally sums up my last growing season — if you could even call it that.
Obviously my track record is not so good but my spirit is not broken!
After much talking and deliberating with various people and gardening professionals I’ve come to the conclusion that the reason my “crop” sucked last season was because of my soil. I bought the cheapest potting soil for my containers and it was the worst mistake, ever. Well, I guess in hindsight it’s not really because if it weren’t for the sucky growing season, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
Nevertheless, in gardening you can never underestimate the power of quality and nutrient-rich soil. Here in Florida our soil consists of sand and more sand which makes it extremely hard to grow things other than weeds and invasive air potatoes.
That being said, I’ve taken some serious consideration of how I’m going to plan my garden. I’ve come to the conclusion that there are 3 things I’m doing differently with my garden this year.
1. Square Foot Gardening Method
This year I’m going to try out the Square Foot Gardening method. Have you heard of it? Basically you lay out your raised beds in one square foot squares and you plant as much as you can in each square. Some plants need the whole square foot to themselves (like broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, cauliflower) and some can be planted multiple in a square (4 chard and mustard green plants in a square foot, 16 carrots in a square foot). What’s cool is even though tomatoes need one square foot for space, I was able to plant 6 radish plants and 2 heads of lettuce in the same square because the radish and lettuce grow much quicker than the tomato (see photo below). The two plants right above the radish, tomato, and lettuce is cucumber.
As you can see, this method of gardening maximizes your yield with very little space needed.
It seems pretty promising, and so far, has worked amazingly. It just takes a little extra time and planning but it’s so worth it. Now, I’m forced to be organized with my plotting. This will help me next season to evaluate and determine which plants did best or worst and how they did in regards to where they were placed.
2. Investing in Quality Soil
It took me a few weeks to gather enough money to buy all the components of my soil but I have a feeling it will be well worth it. The Square Foot Gardening method recommends a soil that consists of three components: coarse vermiculite (a mineral that helps absorbs moisture.. read more about vermiculite here), peat moss and compost.
The peat moss allows the soil to be light and fluffy, the vermiculite holds moisture and slow releases minerals, while the compost adds in all the nutrients for the plants to thrive. Currently, I have two 4×8 beds. I needed 10.5 cubic feet of each component to fill both my beds which equaled out to 5.5-ish cubic feet of each component in each bed.
The total cost of filling my beds is as follows:
- Peat Moss (3.8cf in each bag) – I bought 4 at $10 a piece = $40
- Vermiculite (4 cf in each bag) – I bought 4 at $26 a piece = $104
- Compost (1 cf in each bag) – I bought two different kinds of compost (plus a couple extra bags for my planter by my coop): 6 mushroom compost ($7.95/bag) = $47.70 and 7 high quality compost ($15/bag) = $105
The grand total to fill both beds was $296. I know what you’re probably thinking, “wholly shit, that’s a lot.” Yes, it’s a lot and it literally took me 4-5 weeks of working and saving money to buy everything. BUT, keep in mind this is a one time investment for my garden — this will last me at least 10 years and will provide the perfect growing medium to reap a bountiful harvest year after year.
In the grand scheme of things, it’s a very small investment and totally worth it in my eyes. So far, my plants have been thriving in the soil and I’ve been very pleased.
For spring, I want to add two more 4×8 raised beds but I’m hoping to have my own compost ready by that time to help reduce the costs.
3. Raised Beds No Higher Than 8 Inches
Apparently, if you have good soil, you really only need about 4-6 inches of quality soil for your plants to thrive. If you’ve had raised beds larger than 8 inches, you’ll know how much of an expense it is to fill the beds. An expense that is completely unnecessary unless you want pretty garden beds. Me? I’d rather have functionality over prettiness and I’d rather not go broke in the process.
Can you imagine filling a two foot high garden bed with the quality soil I mentioned above? I’d be #broke.
Please note that the photo above shows a garden bed that is higher than 8 inches. I will NOT be filling this all the way up to the brim. We used the last of our wood so we wouldn’t have to buy more. 🙂
There you have it — the 3 things I’m doing differently with my garden this year. I’m crossing my fingers in a few months my garden will be overflowing with tasty, fresh veggies.
Do you have any thoughts or tips to add to this? I’d love to hear it, leave a comment below.