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High Yield Gardening: Square Foot Gardening - has it worked for anyone but Mel?

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sgriffith
Beaver, WV
(Zone 5b)

May 28, 2008
12:05 PM

Post #5014291

I have been trying to get SFG to work for about four years. I had the first SFG book so I went through amending my soil. I had trouble finding bales of peat and large bags of vermiculite here in Beckley WV. I went and purchased a truck load of compost and mixed it with my soil too. I had very limited success. Then I moved my beds and replaced with a commercial mix called Promix BX and had good greenery, but still not much to eat. I have never had Mel's exact mix of 1/3 Peat, 1/3 Compost and 1/3 Vermiculite. It would be cost prohibitive here.

I basically live on a bed of rock. All attempts at digging a conventional garden are met with solid rock about 8 to 10" down. Raised beds seem like an only option for me.

Watering has been a problem for me with raised beds. The plants don't show a little wilt like in former gardens I had in the ground. They go past the wilt stage to dried up in one day. I think that watering may be the source of most of my problems. I over water trying to prevent the "drying up" of my plants that I have experienced several times in my raised beds. I end up having a real fight with leaf diseases too.

I generally raise tomatoes (many for variety), white half runners, squash, peppers and cucumbers. Are these crops suited for this type of gardening?


P.S. - I just purchased Mel's second book. His books sound so good and I have not yet given up on his method - just wanting to hear success and failures of others. If successful - what are you doing that makes it work?
Any advice by experienced raised bed or SFG folk? Sorry I am so scatter-brained and all over the place - I just really want to raise my own food.
NEPA18702
Wilkes Barre, PA
(Zone 5b)

May 28, 2008
4:31 PM

Post #5015445

Back when I lived in an apartment I had a small garden on a balcony with similar problems with watering. Everything dried out in a mater of hours.

Do you use a mulch on top of the soil to minimize water loss? Though I now have a conventional garden, I find this very effective.

Also have you considered a drip irrigation set up? I don't know how large an area you are cultivating. You can buy the necessary hardware or come up with an improvised system of your own.

How this helps. Hang in there!
tucsonjill
Lincoln, NE
(Zone 5a)

May 28, 2008
5:22 PM

Post #5015670

I've got raised beds (and they're really raised, about 2 1/2 to 3 feet up) and they seem to do just fine. This is my first year for most veggies, but I've done tomatoes there in the past with great success; I did broccoli, peas, carrots, lettuces and some herbs over the winter (our growing season is goofy), I am picking beans and waiting on corn watermelons, peppers, cucumbers, okra, zucchini and yellow crookneck squash. So I think your choices are perfectly sound, but I'm wondering, how deep are your raised beds?

I'm trying the original SFG planting plans because of my limited amounts of space and my desire to pack as much stuff in as possible. The one thing I would say is that his watering schedule may not be appropriate for everyone. Out here it's a joke--a tomato plant will go through over a gallon of water a day in the heat, one cup wouldn't even wet the leaves!

If you've amended your soil with good quality stuff, and are getting good greenery but no production, you might want to do a soil test and just make sure your major NPK nutrients are balanced. Too much N can cause lots of leaves but no fruiting. I would definitely second NEPAs suggestions about mulch and drip irrigation; I have drip and it's nice because the slow watering really lets the water seep down to the root zone without running off the top.

Hope this helps--good luck!
feldon30
Houston, TX
(Zone 9a)

May 28, 2008
5:58 PM

Post #5015849

I'm guessing that your compost may in fact be a product like shredded pine bark or other mulch which just increases your drainage. And since you are on stone, water is not being retained at all but just running out of the bed. I would add something like composted cow manure, steer manure, horse manure, cotton burr compost, etc. to give your soil some heft, some weight to it so it will actually hold water. Normally I do not recommend those water retaining crystals but they might be worth a try for you.
ly057
Port Saint Lucie, FL
(Zone 9b)

May 28, 2008
7:25 PM

Post #5016252

we use raised beds that are about two and a half feet high by four feet wide and eight feet long. it takes about thirty bags of various soil types. i think we used five or six bags of manure compost to twenty five bags of regular potting soil and some miracle grow garden soil mixed in for good measure. i had only seen the sfg after our beds were under construction and didnt use any of his ideas besides plot out square feet with twine to use as guides for planting. get some cedar planks to use as sides and four two by two stakes to use as corner posts and find the sweet spot as far as depth so that you can retain some water. in a 4 by 8 bed ive got a bunch of corn some tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, beans, onions and peppers. it should give you some space.
mgpaquin
Savannah, GA

May 28, 2008
8:25 PM

Post #5016492

Have you considered adding some of those water-retaining granules to your beds? I know they work like a charm for me in window boxes and planters, and don't see why they wouldn't help your beds retain some moisture between waterings.

Bookerc1

Bookerc1
Mackinaw, IL
(Zone 5a)

May 29, 2008
12:24 AM

Post #5017559

I've heard that you have to be really careful with those water crystals, as if your soil dries out too much, they actually start leaching liquids from the roots of the plants (a Master Gardener told me that--said they were fine if you watered every day for containers, but not good if you were going to be gone a week--do more harm than good).

Anyone have this experience? I've never tried them myself.

drivenbonkers
Perth,, ON
(Zone 5a)

May 29, 2008
12:42 AM

Post #5017642

this will be my 3rd summer with the square foot method, I'll never use any other.

my beds are raised (about 8 inches deep) a mix consisting of well composted cattle manure and the original poor sandy garden soil.

Your soil may not contain enough moisture retaining media? (I'm a firm believer in LOTS of composted manure)

here's a portion of the garden, last summer.

here's hoping you find a solution that works for you!

Thumbnail by drivenbonkers
Click the image for an enlarged view.

sgriffith
Beaver, WV
(Zone 5b)

May 29, 2008
12:30 PM

Post #5019770

Thanks for all the responses. The compost was actually commercial chicken manure with bark I believe. I believe they were adding too much bark.

I think I'll try the drip irrigation. I had already been looking at that. Any suggestions about systems that you've tried?

As for soil, I am still puzzled what to do. The only options I have is to either 1) buy top soil and amend with compost and promix 2) using promix with compost. What do you think about these two options? I have considered purchasing vermiculite from WormsWay at 30.00 for 4 cubit feet.
drivenbonkers
Perth,, ON
(Zone 5a)

May 29, 2008
1:59 PM

Post #5020100

for irrigation, and a temp quick fix, (if I'm coddling a plant) I have set an empty clay pot on the ground next to the plant that needs water. fill the clay pot up, and leave it there and let the water seep out the bottom via the drainage hole. size of clay pot determines the amount of water the plant gets...

depending on the cost, I'd choose the top soil and amend with compost.
what ever you have available!
tucsonjill
Lincoln, NE
(Zone 5a)

May 31, 2008
11:40 PM

Post #5032694

If you're going drip, I would strongly advise one of two things. Either leave all the tubing out where you can see it, or, if you decide to bury any of it for aesthetic reasons, trip hazard reasons, anything, MARK IT. I use a lot of drip tubes out here in the landscaping (life in the desert does this to you), and have found many a buried one by digging though it with a shovel. Repair is no fun, let me tell you--so it helps a LOT if you can avoid digging through it in the first place!
BocaBob
Boca Raton, FL
(Zone 10a)

June 1, 2008
10:14 AM

Post #5034543

You really have to try one EarthBox. You will love it. (earthbox.com)
TMaple
Saint Paul, MN

June 1, 2008
7:53 PM

Post #5036721

most of my garden is in raised beds also and I haven't had any more problems keeping things watered than usual. the biggest benefit I have noticed since going to raised beds is weed control. much easier with raised beds. I also have six homemade "earthboxes" that are the best things since sliced bread. they are awesome for plants that have a high water demand like tomatoes. see the earthbox thread in here in the beginner vegetables forum for more opinions and pictures.
tucsonjill
Lincoln, NE
(Zone 5a)

June 2, 2008
12:19 AM

Post #5038020

I have a combination of raised beds and EBs both, and like them both for different reasons. The expense of EBs would make it impractical for me to do all of my gardening this way, but they are awfully nice to have for expanding my options, and for things that need moving around during the course of the growing season.
sgriffith
Beaver, WV
(Zone 5b)

June 2, 2008
12:44 PM

Post #5040017

Thanks for your input. I added two 3x9 raised beds. I still don't have a source for vermiculite, other than ordering it, on the web, and paying almost 30.00 for 4 ft3 delivered. I have talked to the local garden centers, they carry the 8 qt. size, but only order those type supplies in the spring. They want to sale everything and not have to carry stock through the winter. I was sure they could just have a 6 or 8 bags added to their order, but no success. Lowe's said they'd call me if they could to it and I've not heard from them yet. So I mixed ProMix with about equal parts of compost. (Spent about 140.00 on the soil for the two beds) By the way - I do lay out bambo as grid guides when I am planting.

This gives me about 86 sq ft in raised beds. I also have another 4x4 box cut and will get it up this week as well. (that'll be 102 sq ft)

As for the earth boxes, I purchased the supplies to make 4. I have not got them done yet, hopefully today or tomorrow. I have German pink and Peru tomatoes to put in them.

I have attached a picture of my raised beds, two old ones and the two new. I also have 30+ tomatoes, squash, cucs. in containers.



This message was edited Jun 2, 2008 8:53 AM

Thumbnail by sgriffith
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TMaple
Saint Paul, MN

June 2, 2008
2:45 PM

Post #5040493

I have almost 120 sq ft of raised beds and 7 selfwatering containers. I just built the trellis this weekend for my scarlet runner beans that are planted in the beds on each side. A lot of things in my beds this year are having a tough time getting going because it has been such a cold start to the season. I plan on laying down wood chips or mulch in the walkways for weed/mud control but I am waiting for my local city yardwaste site to chip more up.

Thumbnail by TMaple
Click the image for an enlarged view.

TMaple
Saint Paul, MN

June 2, 2008
2:46 PM

Post #5040499

Another perspective of the trellis and beds

Thumbnail by TMaple
Click the image for an enlarged view.

sgriffith
Beaver, WV
(Zone 5b)

June 2, 2008
2:55 PM

Post #5040530

I like the trellis and garden. I have plans to eventually have a fenced in garden. I have a good sized lot, but the only good spots, other than this area out on the edge of the property, are in the front yard. (Lots of trees) In the mean time, I'm using 5 gal. buckets with concreted T-Post (7') and deer netting to keep the critters at bay. We have a lot of deer here - so skipping the "fence" is not an option.
tucsonjill
Lincoln, NE
(Zone 5a)

June 2, 2008
6:21 PM

Post #5041514

That's an awesome trellis, TMaple! It'll look great covered in veggies! :) Nice job.

darius

darius
So.App.Mtns.
United States
(Zone 5b)

June 2, 2008
6:53 PM

Post #5041632

Yeah, I love the trellis, too!
TMaple
Saint Paul, MN

June 3, 2008
1:30 AM

Post #5043607

What I love about gardening--- when your beds go from nothing to everything popping up, you know, the signs of life! I check the garden over every morning before I go to work and this morning no carrots coming up yet, no scarlet runner beans coming up(and they have been sown for quite some time now), and very few bush beans poking up. I get home tonight (after a nice gentle rain) and now I have rows of carrots showing themselves, the scarlet runners are starting to pop up, and a few bush beans have turned into all sorts of bush beans!!! Soon the trellis will be lending its support. It did turn out nice. It started out as a couple of boards screwed together and it morphed into what you see now. Thank you all for the compliments. Can't wait to post a photo of it covered in vines and scarlet blossoms.
tucsonjill
Lincoln, NE
(Zone 5a)

June 3, 2008
3:31 AM

Post #5044306

And I can't wait to see it! :)

RickCorey_WA

RickCorey_WA
Everett, WA
(Zone 8a)

February 21, 2012
1:10 PM

Post #9014885

I wonder if the chicken manure was so concentrated or salty that plants couldn't use the water that was present? if so, it might leach out and become usable in a year or two. When the soil in a bed is marginal, I try to grow something really tough in it for the first few years, while the soil mellows and builds up a living population and organic matter.

Vermiculite crumbles in one season or less, I don't understand using it as an amendment for oudoor soil, or anything but seed starting. But many people do use it!

To hold more water, I like finely shredded bark and compost. For drainage, I like coarser bark shreds and grit-sized crushed rock (or VERY coarse sand, or very VERY fine gravel ... or expensive perlite).

If you already have soil with excessive coarse bark (excessive drainage), mix that in with purchased topsoil & compost for intermediate drainage.

If the bark is coarse or chunky, instead use it as a top-dress mulch to reduce evaporation. Or run a lawn mower over it a few times before mixing into heavy topsoil. Pine bark will HOLD water if finely shredded.

If raised bed walls are porous (wood or thin concrete or cracks between stones), the RB may dry out THROUGH the walls. A clear symptom of this is corners and edges drying out first. Line the corners or all of the walls with heavy plastic film (e.g. cut up the plastic bags that compost or soil came in).

Narrow, shallow RBs will dry out faster than big deep ones, but I have a narrow RB that has plastice under it to keep roots out, and up the walls part way. That stays damp longer than most of mine!

Continuous drip irrigation or a soaker hose does sound indicated.



This message was edited Feb 21, 2012 2:10 PM

Thumbnail by RickCorey_WA
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CricketsGarden
Nauvoo, AL
(Zone 7a)

February 21, 2012
8:09 PM

Post #9015352

I love gardening by the square foot. I have several sfg garden beds. But most of it is by the original book. Since that is my case, I wasn't allowed to show and tell most of my gardens on the SFG website Until they posted a NON-SFG topic thread so that people who used the old book could talk about their gardens while they slowly converted to the new book of Mels Mix.
Last year, they treated you like crap if your sfg wasn't Mels Mix , in a square box, and with grids, and strictly by the book.
I still like square foot gardening but I am not a fan of the people at the website. They have a tact for being rude in a polite way.
I always make fun of the site. I call it Camelot. No magic is allowed to be used. Magic is any type of commercial chemical fertilizer. If you use it, don't get caught , or they will kick you out. If you speak up for yourself, they will delete your post. Or= that is how it was last year. Now , they move your post to NON SFG thread. ( the dungeon)

RickCorey_WA

RickCorey_WA
Everett, WA
(Zone 8a)

February 22, 2012
11:05 AM

Post #9015948

When I'm not the immediate victim of the shunning and hissy-fits, I always think it's hilarious that anyone could defend The One True Way To Garden, Which Everyone Must Follow Religiously Or Be Cast Down Into The Nether Regions.

I kind of notice that EVERYone has their own unique way of gardening that suits them and works for them.

Don't the people in the "offical" SFG threads argue about whether they are "SFG enough", or what the "truest form" of SFG is?

I do underatnd the eagerness and vigor with which some people proselytize their favorite discoveries, and want everyone to try it and love it. I feel that way about drainage trenchs under rasied beds, screened pine bark mulch as a soil amnedment, especially for potting mixes, and cleaning seeds with wire mesh screens . I even deep-turn amendments into my beds for the first several years, and that drives no-till advocates and lasagna fans crazy.

I accept that not everyone needs to do what I like, and that they DO grow plants just fine "their way", even if "their way" is totally different from "my way". Conditions and preferences vary, and there are many paths that all reach the same final point.

HoneybeeNC

HoneybeeNC
Charlotte, NC
(Zone 7b)

February 23, 2012
11:22 AM

Post #9017214

I tried SFG, but it didn't work for me :(
PrissyJo
Roswell, NM
(Zone 6a)

March 4, 2012
3:53 AM

Post #9029106

Honeybee, your raised beds are so beautiful! What soil mix do you use?

Rick, I wish you would post more pictures, loved those yellow flowers, are they poppies?

HoneybeeNC

HoneybeeNC
Charlotte, NC
(Zone 7b)

March 6, 2012
8:44 AM

Post #9032081

PrissyJo - Thanks for the nice comment about my raised beds. ^:-)^

I started the beds with: MG garden soil, Black Kow manure, mushroom compost, and peat moss.

For the next five years I added coconut coir, shredded leaves, and homemade compost.

This is our sixth year at this location. All I plan to add this year are shredded leaves and compost.
audreyjeanne
Squaw Valley, CA

March 22, 2013
9:20 AM

Post #9458108

I see that this is an old thread, I thought I would add to it. The new Mel's Mix is a little pricey, but you only do it once and then simply add compost each time you replant. To complain about the success of a method you haven't actually followed is unfair. The soil mix is everything to making this intensive gardening system work. If you don't want to do the mix or can't afford it, then you won't be able to do the system as regular soil won't produce good results. It isn't the only gardening system in the world, but it is a system that needs to be understood and practiced to be successful.

I frequent the SFG forums and do not find it at all unwelcoming or unkind. It is "The Square Foot Gardening" forum and that is the main focus so it's not just a random gardening forum. If you respect that there's a LOT to learn. And the Non-SFG forum is lively and there is a lot of experimenting going on in there. I'm also experimenting with Straw Bale Gardening this year and will be doing some Back to Eden style gardens when and if I can get some wood chips delivered. I'm in the boonies so it might be challenging.

This is my second year doing SFG. I've had fabulous results. I have 3, raised 4x4 beds that are 2 1/2 feet off the ground, 6" deep. I also have one 5 x 10' raised bed with 12" deep soil that is not Mel's mix, but a potting mix I got from a nursery last year before reading SFG. I'm in the process of amending it as it's too sandy and dries out much too quickly.

I have a drip system on an auto timer. We spend at least 2 months of our year over 100 and watering twice a day is a must. I'm hoping to get some deliveries of wood chips from tree trimmings this summer and will mulch 4 inches to see if I can retain the moisture better.

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