PLATTSBURGH – With sunny spring weather here at last, many gardeners eagerly await the prime time to dig into the dirt.
For those with limited experience, space and time, a square-foot garden could be the perfect fit, according to Jolene Wallace, master gardener and horticulture program assistant for Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County.
“It’s easy to take care of, and it produces really well,” Wallace said.
The gardens are similar to raised beds.
“They’re up off the ground, and a 4-foot by 4-foot garden can grow enough produce over the season to feed a small family,” she said. “If you have only a little space, it works really well.”
Wallace recommends rough-cut cedar for the garden’s 4-foot by 4-foot box frame because the wood lasts longer, but any type of untreated lumber can be used.
The garden boxes can be placed on a patio or in a yard – any place that they will receive full sun.
“Almost all vegetables require full sun, which would be six to eight hours a day,” Wallace said.
“Sometimes people think, ‘I get a lot of sun,’ but until they really start paying attention to how much sun they actually get, most of the time, they think they have more than they do.”
Blanket a grassy growing area with newspapers before placing the frame, Wallace advises.
“That newspaper will smother the grass so you’re not going to have the grass growing up through your garden … and when the plants grow, that newspaper will be decomposed enough that if you have something that has really deep roots, it’ll grow right through into the soil underneath it.”
Fill the frame in with a good potting mix.
“Potting mix has a whole different texture; it’s not heavy, and it drains really well,” she said.
Use string or a thin piece of wood to create a grid on top of the frame that divides the box into 16 1-foot by 1-foot squares.
Then the real fun begins: choosing which crops to grow.
“If you’re going to plant lettuce, we can tell you how much lettuce to plant in that size,” Wallace said, listing off a variety of produce options.
It’s important to keep in mind what each crop’s mature size is going to be to ensure it has room to grow.
“Squash would take up more than one square, unless you put it on a trellis, and then it’s going to climb up … and you will have all this room to plant something else,” she said.
“So, it’s just kind of a strategy.”
Five easy vegetables to cultivate are beans, squash, carrots, peas and tomatoes, she said.
“Tomatoes are probably the most popular thing that people grow because we all love our fresh tomatoes. A little fresh basil, a little mozzarella cheese, a little olive oil, you’ve got dinner,” Wallace laughed.
Temperature is another key gardening factor.
Because the gardens are off the ground, the soil warms faster, so seeds can be planted sooner than if they were going into the ground somewhere in the yard, Wallace said.
“One of the cool things about (square-foot gardens) is that if you were planting, say radishes and … lettuce and things like that, you could plant this whole thing in cool-weather crops,” Wallace said. “And by the time it’s warm enough for the warm-weather crops, you will have harvested all of this, and you use the exact same area.”
If the box frame is placed now, then the garden is ready when the weather says it is.
“There’s all kind of possibilities,” Wallace said.
“More and more people, we find, are really interested in growing their own. It’s a nice activity. They know what went into it … and they’re in control of what it is they’re eating, so to speak, and it’s fun to try things and see what works and what doesn’t.”