Handyman here to tell you, today, about the good and the bad of my second year in the garden. I learned a lot, and hopefully you can find something worth learning, too.
As you may remember from the account of my first year of gardening, I had a few things I was going to work on. Things that needed fixing during my second year of gardening. I will go over how I solved the bolting lettuce problem, changed the planting and layout of my garden, created my own personally designed watering system, and a couple of other changes. This second year was a much more successful year of growing for me; So let’s get down to details.
Lettuce Change Everything
In my search to find a way to protect my more delicate vegetables from the sun, I stumbled across square foot gardening. Square foot gardening was designed in 1981 by Mel Bartholomew. The basic concept of square foot gardening is maximizing the use of a square foot of gardening space by planting as many as is healthy for each different vegetable; I found out the appropriate number for each vegetable per square foot, from mysquarefootgarden.net.
This method would help protect delicate veggies from the sun, by planting taller vegetables in front of the heat sensitive plants that enjoy a little shade. On top of being the answer for shading, it seems that square foot gardening would also help control the weeds. Sounds like a win win to me, definitely what I was going to try.
However, I worried that shallow beds like Mel suggests would limit my root vegetables. So, with that in mind, I decided to adopt his plan on my native soil this year, without raised beds.
Who Does Lettuce Like?
Planting vegetables so close together, I had to learn what veggies worked well together and which ones fought each other; this is called companion planting. Unfortunately, there isn’t a general consensus on companion planting. What to do? I decided to compile the information from three different websites (ufseeds.com motherearthnews.com and burpee.com). If one companionship was bad on one website but not the others, I would consider it to be a rival (not helpful) just to be on the safe side. I will be making a PDF version of my companion planting guide later, and posting it for you to have. Having this compilation of companion planting made planning my garden much easier.
Changing the Rows
Since I switched to square foot gardening I had to redesign my garden layout; single rows would not maximize the benefit of this system. I decided to use four foot wide rows as square foot gardening suggests. I would reasonably be able to reach across two feet to the center. Besides, having a single, four foot wide, row is a much better use of space than four one foot wide rows. Only need 2 walkways instead of five!
Using square foot gardening, with four foot wide rows, I could easily grow as much food as I harvested in my first years garden in a 16 feet of one of my 50 foot rows, and I made 3 of these 50 foot rows!
Keeping the Grass Out
Next, I needed to work out how to combat the grass creeping into my rows. I laid down sheets of overlapping plastic in each walkway, and spread wood chips over it. This had to be done for each walkway, because the grass was attacking my rows from all sides. I couldn’t keep up with weeding it all. Also, weeding usually involved accidentally ripping up some seeds that I planted. The grass would grow a few feet underground before popping up. Making this walkway significantly reduced the amount of invasive grass in my garden.
Keeping it Wet
My next hurdle was how to water such a garden efficiently. I put my brain to work, thinking about what would work best. Eventually, I decided to go with an above ground irrigation system that fed each row off of a looped system. I used special misting nozzles, so that the fine spray would evenly coat the entire area. This system worked phenomenally! I’m so happy with it, I’m not going to change it a bit. I will be giving out the designs for this watering system in a later post.
Keeping it in the Garden
The last problem that I had to overcome was, “how do I avoid starting seeds indoors, without putting myself behind in the planting season?” As I was pondering this, the idea for miniature greenhouses over each section of my rows popped into my head. Since I didn’t know how well it would work, I decided to try it on only one of my rows. I will be detailing my plans for this system in another post, too. As it turned out, the mini greenhouses worked just as planned; I was able to direct sow seeds outside as early as mid-January! There are a few small design changes I would make. I will include those changes in my plans when I post them, don’t worry.
In conclusion, my second year was much more successful than my first. Square foot gardening was great! Companion planting was amazing and fun to do/plan. Having an efficient watering system was a huge contributor to the amount of the garden’s success.Without adequate water not much would have grown. Due to the fight with the grass, where a lot of seeds were ripped up before laying down the wood-chip walkway, not as much grew as I would have liked. Despite this, significantly more grew this year than last year so I consider it a win.
For my third year of gardening I’m excited to announce that we are going to build two foot tall garden boxes! Stay tuned and see how it works out. Until next time…
Handyman is on the job!