We have just over 4 months to Move Day, and early preps have begun.  For the first time in my life, I have prepared an order for seed!  That’s right, as if we didn’t have enough to worry about our first summer there, we want to grow a garden as best we can.  The plan is for me to head back in March, and work on a few projects.  One of those projects will be building raised beds for the garden area.  The area we plan to put the garden is very sloped, so I am planning to use raised beds as a terrace to prevent the soil I plant in from running off in the deluges we can get there.

Hard to see, but behind the gate, where the sheep are grazing, is my planned garden area.  It is a nice little hill that we have had erosion issues with in the past.

Hard to see, but behind the gate, where the sheep are grazing, is my planned garden area. It is a nice little hill that we have had erosion issues with in the past.

The number of beds I get built that week will determine the size of our garden this summer.  Over the next 2-3 years, we hope to grow 90% of our produce.  Some advantages (there are many I’m not going into here) of raised beds:

  • I can more easily relocate them if I decide I don’t like the spot they are in.  
  • Using them to terrace my slope allows me to have the garden on a slight slope to the south (for better sun) and prevent erosion problems, all while not having to destroy the natural slope that is already there by terracing the land itself.
  • Raised beds allow the soil to be developed into a prime growing medium for different plants, while also staying loose enough to encourage good, healthy roots and straight root vegetables.  The fresh soil and compost added each year on the top lacks many of the grass and weed seeds found in a standard ground garden bed, thus decreasing the weeds I am fighting from the beginning.
  • Raised beds are much easier on an achy back like mine.  I’m still working with a chiropractor regularly, but the 3 breaks and other old injuries in my back make me feel quite elderly some days!
  • Raised beds provide animals a visual barrier to help prevent trampling of young seedlings.

I have been piddling around with gardening for several years, learning as I go.  I have tried container garden (a miserable failure since I tend to forget to water regularly enough), normal gardening, companion gardening (using complimentary plants to help each thrive and to repel pests and attract beneficial insects), and this past year, I had my largest garden yet.  In fact, this past year’s garden was quite nice, IMHO, but a few of the plants didn’t grow well in our climate.  Since we have a rather large gardening space, I also wound up not planting the plants nearly close enough together, which left me with a lot of bare, wasted soil–not a good thing if you want an efficient, productive, weed-free garden!

This photo shows less than half of this past year's garden.  You can see the wasted space though.

This photo shows less than half of this past year’s garden. You can see the wasted space though.

Based on what I have learned so far, I decided to expand the planned garden to about twice what I had this year.  After doing a lot of research on more efficient gardens, I also decided that, since I was building raised beds anyway, to use the square foot gardening (SFG) method to increase my production and decrease the maintenance required by the garden.  I also went a step further and added in companion planting to discourage the prolific plant pests in our new area, while encouraging beneficials and adding in some variety.  Some advantages (there are many I’m not listing) of square foot gardening include:

  • Pack plants densely into a small area which improves pollination, and decreases the areas where weeds can grow.
  • Utilize trellises for vining and spreading crops so they grow upward instead of outward, taking up less ground space overall.
  • Takes up less space to grow the same amount (not that space is a problem for us, but I like the idea).  Particularly since we host educational farm days, and frequently have visitors with less space available, it will be nice to show them they can grow food in a postage-stamp yard.
  • Helps confine the garden to specific boundaries.
  • Makes harvest easier.
  • Helps the soil retain water (by preventing evaporation) in a dry season–which they are starting to forecast for the coming year. AGAIN.
  • Allows for easy garden bed rotation to prevent spread of disease.

In addition, by combining the raised bed and SFG method, I can easily add a net to anything birds go after, and in the fall, I can easily add a cold-frame top to selected beds for growing cool-weather veggies through the winter. It just seems to be a very versatile, practical, and economical set-up.

Since I had a little time on my hands while S was home on Christmas holiday, I decided to develop a way to more easily design my garden in the future, based on how it works out this coming year.  I developed a system of labeled magnets to allow me to design, move things around, and then develop the final plan.  By overlaying magnets, I can also develop a plan for succession planting of different items as the seasons change.

First, I developed a grid on the computer where each 1x1 inch square represented a 1x1 foot space in the garden, then labeled each square with a plant name/type and how many to plant in that square (based on the recommendations of those who developed the SFG method), and finally color-coded the labels to give me an idea how the actual colors in the garden would balance out.  I printed off the paper, and cut the squares apart.

First, I developed a grid on the computer where each 1×1 inch square represented a 1×1 foot space in the garden, then labeled each square with a plant name/type and how many to plant in that square (based on the recommendations of those who developed the SFG method), and finally color-coded the labels to give me an idea how the actual colors in the garden would balance out. I printed off the paper, and cut the squares apart.

Next, I placed one square of paper on a 1x1 inch magnet.

Next, I placed one square of paper on a 1×1 inch magnet.

I also used the computer to print off blank white grids to put on larger 4x6 inch magnets, which represented my planned 4x6 raised garden bed itself (seen in the center of the photo).  You don't want more than 4 feet wide, as you want to be able to easily reach the center plants, and 6 feet is about as long as I can go on my slope.  Then, using my reference books as guides, I played around with filling the grids in with labeled, color-coded magnets until I had a design I liked.

I also used the computer to print off blank white grids to put on larger 4×6 inch magnets, which represented my planned 4×6 raised garden bed itself (seen in the center of the photo). You don’t want more than 4 feet wide, as you want to be able to easily reach the center plants, and 6 feet is about as long as I can go on my slope. Then, using my reference books as guides, I played around with filling the grids in with labeled, color-coded magnets until I had a design I liked.

Once I have the magnet design the way I like it, I sketch it out on paper so I can take the paper out to the garden with me to reference as I plant.

My final garden plan, neatly recorded on paper.

My final garden plan, neatly recorded on paper.

So, there you have it!  A preview of my garden for the coming year.  Due to time constraints this year, I will be ordering a lot of plant starts from our co-op Azure Standard to try to make up for my lost weeks, then I will have seeds to help with succession planting of certain crops.  I am excited to see how it works out.  I’m hoping it works the way I’m envisioning.  A lot of people seem to have had a lot of success with it, so we’ll see.

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