Square Foot Seed Tape: My Lightbulb Moment

Have you ever had an idea that was so awesome that you’ve thought, “OMG I’m a genius, why has nobody ever thought of this before”?

Well, this week I had one of these inspired brain explosions and I came up with Square Foot Garden Tape…or Sheets.
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Anybody who plants their garden using the square foot technique has discovered that typical carrot and radish tapes don’t work. What we need is a sheet of thin paper with the seeds imbedded in the appropriate pattern.
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Unfortunately a little research led me to discover that I wasn’t the first person to have this LED light bulb moment. Turns out it’s been done before.
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No worries, I went ahead and did my version of square foot seed tape using Sweet Nantes carrot seeds and tissue paper cut to size. I decided to plant 25 seeds per sq ft, which is more than the 16 recommended by Mel Bartholomew in his best selling book “All New Square Foot Gardening”. After laying out the pattern on a sheet of tissue paper,  I placed a dab of flour/water paste on each dot, the embedded a carrot seed in the paste.
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When it came time to plant my garden, all I had to do was lay the sheets on the soil, water them gently and cover them with a thin layer of dirt. It was so much easier on my back.

I planted some carrots the “traditional” way as well so that I could determine if there was any difference in germination time. I’ll let you know in a future post.
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Note:
For more information on square foot gardening you should have a look at this previous post.

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Mixing Soil. Like a Boss.

I wrote about my soil mixture that I use for my raised beds here a few years ago. It’s a mix of 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 vermiculite and 1/3 manure or compost.

It’s essentially “Mel’s Mix” from the Square Foot Gardener Mel Bartholomew. Here in Edmonton you can find the large 3.8 cubic foot block of peat moss just about anywhere (Walmart, Canadian Tire, any Garden Centre). I buy my 118 litre bag of vermiculite at Apache Seeds and the manure wherever I can find good selection. Altogether it costs about $52 to make up a large batch of soil which I use to supplement my existing beds or make new ones.

Some of my raised beds don’t really need more volume, they just need the addition of compost or manure. Every fall I dig in leaves and grass cuttings which help to lighten the soil, then in the spring I like to add some composted material as well. This keeps the garden healthy and helps with moisture retention over the warm summer months.

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I use a tarp to mix my soil

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Peat moss, vermiculite and manure

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Topping up my raised bed

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Building A Simple Raised Bed Planter :)

Every now and again I get called upon to help build something for a friend. I guess it’s because my girlfriends don’t have all the tools I do, or maybe it’s because I have more experience than most in my social circle.

This week a good friend showed me a picture of a Costco raised bed planter she thought she might buy. For $190 she could buy a set of two plastic snap-together beds that would give her 32 square feet of usable garden space. The 4’x4′ planters didn’t ideally suit her needs, as she didn’t really want to give up that much lawn space.

I convinced her that for 1/3 the cost she could have a lovely cedar planter, made to whatever dimensions she liked.

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I sent her to the lumber depot with a shopping list:
4x 2x6x10′ cedar boards (for sides)
1x 2x6x8′ cedar board (for ends) cut into 4 two foot lengths

I looked through my things and found:
2 1/2″ zinc wood screws
An old stair rail which I cut into six 2x2x11″ pieces

We met at her place and got started. I’ve built a number of these sort of beds, but I have to say that having someone to help is a real treat.

With her holding each 2×2 in place, I screwed two screws into each board, fastening them to the corner post.

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After the first layer was complete, we began the same process with the second level. I like to alternate the overlap of the boards so that the planter looks the same from all angles. It also provides more strength to the joints.

Since this raised bed is ten feet long, we added two more posts halfway along the length to pull the boards together and support them. Easy peasy.

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In a half hour we were done with the project; I doubt she could have put the plastic planters from Costco together any quicker. And the custom built cedar planter looks awesome.

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Early start to the veggie garden for 2013

image This spring has been very unusual here in my zone 3 yard. During the last week of April we were inundated with snow and cold – ok maybe that’s not terribly unusual for Alberta. But on May 6th we set a new record high of 31C (that’s 88F my American friends). I brought out all of my seedlings to acclimate them and its too darn hot! I have to protect them in the shade for crying out loud. That’s just not normal.

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The forecast says that the risk of frost in the next week is minimal, and Edmonton’s average last day of frost is May 12th, so I should be home free, right? Well, as much as I’d like to believe that I think I’ll wait another week before I transfer my seedlings to soil.

But the weather has been perfect for sowing my vegetable garden. Here’s what’s going in the dirt this week:

  • Corn: Fleet Bi-Color Hybrid
  • Squash: Spaghetti
  • Sunflower: Ruby
  • Zucchini: Raven
  • Spinach: Regal
  • Swiss Chard: Lucullus
  • Peas: Progress #9
  • Lettuce: Esmeralda
  • Lettuce: Buttercrunch
  • Carrots: Touchon
  • Carrots: Scarlet Nantes
  • Beet: Chioggia
  • Bean: TendergreenBush
  • Potatoes: Kennebec
  • Onion Set: White
  • Onion Set: Red

As far as seedlings go I’ve sown:

  • Tomato: Black from Tula
  • Tomato: Tumbler
  • Tomato: Mamma Mia
  • Pepper: Serano del Sol
  • Onion: Spanish Candy Hybrid
  • Cucumber: Spacemaster
  • Eggplant: Hansel
Seedlings in waiting

Seedlings in waiting

I have some winter lettuce that will be ready to eat long before the head lettuces. I think I’ll plant a second type of cucumber as well. My chives, lavender, mint and oregano have all returned and I have ample garlic coming up in more than one place. I’ve got parsley and cilantro seedlings started and I’ve bought some basil, thyme, rosemary and sage bedding plants.

Yippee! It’s spring!

Dabbling in Dibbles

Insert the pegs and glue them in place

When I saw my first dibble board I thought, “Why haven’t I already made one of these?” It’s that kind of tool – a “duh” tool that should be in every gardeners shed.

A dibble (or dibber)  is a tool that makes a hole – ostensibly to sow a seed, but alternately for any purpose. They’ve been around since Roman Times.

Well, that’s all good and fine, but who wants to plant each and every seed by making a little hole one at a time? I wanted to take it to the next level, so I decided to make a dibble board.

As a square-foot gardener (for the most part) I wanted to create a board, or series of boards, that I could use to lay out a pattern for each individual foot of my raised bed. This meant that I would need one that made 16 holes per square foot, one that made 9 and one that poked 4 holes.

Square-foot gardening treats every foot of the garden as a separate patch in which you can sow any number of different vegetables or flowers. If you are growing carrots in that square foot, then you would sow 16 seeds. If you are growing spinach, you’d only sow 4. It’s a very efficient means of gardening, and if done correctly it looks great as well.

For sowing in past years I had made three cardboard guides with holes that I could drop the seeds through or poke a pencil through to make an appropriate hole. This was a bit lame, as they cardboard looked like heck and poking the holes in the soil was time consuming.

This spring I decided to make my own dibble board, so I began with a trip to Home Depot to pick up some plywood. I actually found a free piece of scrap plywood in their waste material that was exactly the right width for the project. All I had to do was cut three 12 x 12 inch pieces and I was ready to start making dibbles.

Using what I hoped would be simple mathematical principles, I drew out a pattern on each piece of wood and marked the location of the holes. I then searched around for something to use as pegs in each of the holes and decided that my collection of sponge paint brushes (10 for $1 at Michael’s) could spare an inch off the end of each brush. The handles were 3/8″ diameter and worked perfectly, although it took me some time to cut each one with the chop saw.

I drilled matching 3/8″ holes at the marked locations in the board and glued each of the pegs in place. Since I was using 1/4″ plywood, each peg stuck out just under 3/4 of an inch. This will make a hole too deep for some seeds, so that has to be considered when pressing the board into the soil. I don’t personally think that the depth of the hole is as critical as how much soil is placed over the seed once it’s been planted.

I tried out my new set of dibbles already, and I think they did the job marvelously. I was able to plant all of my carrots in no time. Of course, it snowed the next day – but that’s just part and parcel of growing vegetables in zone 3. Sigh.

Edible Garden Tour 2010

Ron Berezan Talks to the Tour Participants

This year’s Edible Garden Tour, hosted by Ron Berezan AKA The Urban Farmer, was held on August 14th. Meeting at Giovanni Caboto Park on a cloudy Saturday morning, fifty enthusiastic gardeners split into two groups and proceeded to visit ten amazing gardens distributed about the Edmonton area. Some of those taking part in the tour already had enviable gardens of their own, while others were planning for the day when they might.

The tour featured everything from backyard orchards to front yard vegetable gardens, and was brimming with inspiring ideas for both experienced and novice gardeners.

Each home on the circuit incorporated aspects of permaculture gardening; landscapes that work with nature to provide food, medicinal plants, and animal products and in a sustainable way. Permaculturists create a sustainable, productive environment through recycling, composting, reducing water needs and using microclimates to their advantage.

The forest garden is one example permaculture in action. Berezan’s own backyard is a testament to multi-layer design with stacking of canopy trees over shrubs and herbaceous plants followed by root and cover crops. Each layer in this polyculture interacts, creating a complex yet fundamental ecosystem.

A visit to the Mustard Seed Community Garden, aptly named “Peas Be With You”, demonstrated what can be done when a small plot of land is transformed into a neighbourhood garden space. Shared by both local residents and the homeless, the Mustard Seed garden produces food that is prepared and eaten by the green thumbs that participate.

We saw some amazing private gardens throughout the city as well. The fruit of years of grafting and nurturing were apparent in one homeowner’s apple orchard which featured trees drooping under the weight of as many as four different species of apple.

A Glenora area homeowner encourages people to slow down and smell the roses – literally. She has incorporated rest stops in her front garden and a nearby public access area with signs which invite people to stop and explore.

We met Roy Berkenbosch, winner of this year’s Front Gardens in Bloom (Edible Garden Category). Roy and his wife have transformed their front yard into an edible landscape full of beans, beets, and other culinary treats, while maintaining an attractive aesthetic.

I personally enjoyed our visit to a backyard apiary, although I have to admit I was worried that the bees might be able to smell my discomfort. As many as 50,000 bees inhabit this backyard beehive and it has already produced over 40 lbs of honey for the amateur beekeepers.

The 2010 Edible Garden Tour was an amazing private view into the yards of ordinary Edmontonians with extraordinary vision. I’m always inspired by touring other gardens, and this year was no exception.

I’m already working on plans to build a solar food dryer, rebuild my square foot raised beds to be more efficient, and I’ve dug my mom’s old canner out of storage so that I can experiment with canning more varieties of vegetables this fall.

Thanks to the Urban Farmer for hosting the tour. Here’s hoping that after Ron departs for warmer B.C. climes the tours continue. Permaculture is increasingly popular among those of us who enjoy the feel of dirt under our nails, and we can all use a little inspiration now and again.

Square Foot Gardening is Anything but Square

For the past three years I’ve been utilizing the square foot gardening techniques outlined in the book, All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew.

I plant my vegetable garden in raised beds which are ten feet long and five feet wide. Ideally, a square foot garden should be planted in a four by four raised bed to allow for easier access to the plants, but I had these raised beds already built long before I switched to the new system of planting.

The concept of square foot gardening is that you can more efficiently use the space in your garden by planting each individual foot separately in an organized pattern. For example, you may plant one cabbage in one square foot, four lettuce, nine spinach or sixteen carrots in another.

As the plants mature and are harvested, the square can be replanted with another crop. So a radish square may become a lettuce square in it’s second go-around.

The look of the square foot garden is what initially attracted me to it, but I did some math and calculated that it also saves space and produces more. Weeds are easy to keep at bay because they fall outside the pattern of the plants and can be easily identified and plucked.

Every year I enhance my soil by adding a combination of vermiculite, peat and compost. The raised beds tend to settle with each season, so I add the mix to compensate.

I made the grid in my garden using recycled blind slats from the ReStore, and I use a set of cardboard stencils to plant my seeds; a quick and tidy method. In some of the squares I plant flowers to add some panache.

Conveniently, when you are ready for more space you can simply add another raised bed wherever you like. A four-by-four raised bed near the back door is ideal for an herb garden.

Setting up the Grid

Early in the Season

Further Along in the Season

Enjoying the Fruits (and Veggies) of my Labour