Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Better late than a contest!

Back in early April, Chris and I were in Lowe's and we came across the book "All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space" by Mel Bartholomew. We'd already decided that we were going to transition to raised beds in our vegetable garden. The soil up there - despite three years of tilling and adding compost, peat moss, and sand - is absolutely dismal. Not to mention no matter how much time we'd spend up there, we could never stay on top of the weeding each year. Raised beds seemed like the answer. Then we thumbed through "All New Square Foot Gardening" and saw that not only might raised beds be the answer, but with the ANSFG technique, we might only need two raised beds instead of the four or five we'd been planning.

Our new gardening "bible."
When we got home, I found a copy of the book at the Schlow Library and that Monday I made a beeline for the library at lunchtime. Chris read the book very quickly and began to tell me about Mel's methods and "Mel's Magic Mix" - a mix of vermiculite, peat moss, and compost - that he recommended as planting medium in the raised beds. Once Chris was done with the book, I started reading it but wound up having to return it to the library before I was done reading it (even after renewing it!). I found the book for $11.42 on Amazon (list price is $19.99), so I decided we should just own a copy.

With all of our recent travel, it wasn't until last week (once we were back from our Michigan trip) that Chris was able to construct the boxes, stain them (on the outside only!), and purchase the vermiculite, compost, and peat moss. We'd purchased the wood for the boxes back in early May but when we called Nature's Cover on the Benner Pike in Bellefonte in search of vermiculite (the only place we knew that carried it), we were told they were sold out and that they didn't expect more until after Memorial Day. There was no sense in building the boxes only to have them take up room in the garage until we could acquire vermiculite, so we waited. But last week, vermiculite was back in stock and we had information about purchasing Penn State compost, so it was time to get crackin'. 

Mel recommends using five types of compost for his "Magic Mix." We only used three - PSU compost (more on that in a minute), mushroom compost, and hummus and cow manure compost. Did you know that the Organic Materials Processing and Education Center (OMPEC) at Penn State manufacturers compost from food waste from the dining commons, hotels, and daycare centers on campus? And did you know that on Fridays from March through June, that compost is available for sale to the public from 9 AM until 12 noon? Well, if you didn't, you do now! The price is $15 per cubic yard; the price will rise to $18 per cubic yard for 2013. And it's good stuff! Like...REALLY good stuff! So naturally, we had to get our hands on some of this really good stuff - two cubic yards worth. 

On Saturday evening, Chris and I moved the two boxes up to the garden area. Chris and I took turns hoeing the ground where the boxes would be placed to remove weeds. Chris stapled weed blocking fabric to the bottoms of the boxes and we tried to place them on as level ground as possible. Chris mixed all of the "Magic Mix" components into the boxes.

Earlier in the day, we'd gone to Lowe's to purchase our plants for the garden. Ordinarily, we go to Sammis' Greenhouse in Centre Hall or Martin Garden Center in Tyrone, but I wanted to start with Lowe's simply because it was close to home and we had a few other local errands to run Saturday afternoon. If we could be successful in finding our plants at Lowe's or Home Depot, that would save some gas and some time. Between the available plants and seeds, I was able to find everything I wanted for our garden. I'd sat down Saturday morning, made a list of the vegetables and fruit we wanted to grow, double-checked the planting and spacing requirements according to Mel's book, and laid out the grid for our two boxes.

Box 1

Box 2
Our boxes are 8' x 4' giving us 32 square feet of planting space, or 32 individual squares. You'll notice in the pictures above that plants like zucchini and tomatoes need nine square feet of growing space for one plant. Notice, too, the number in the parentheses in the other individual squares. That number represents the number of individual plants that can be grown in a single one-foot square. Pepper plants each get their own square, but you can grow four stalks of corn in one square, nine bean plants in one square, and even 16 carrots in a square! 

I was very pleased with the selection of plants at Lowe's, considering how late it is in the planting season! For peppers, I bought five different varieties - red bell, orange bell, yellow bell, jalapeno, and serrano. For tomatoes, I bought three varieties - grape tomatoes for snacking and salads, roma tomatoes for salsa making, and Park's Whoppers for tomato sandwiches and hamburgers. I bought two varieties of beans - green bush beans and yellow bush beans. You can see that I'll also be growing carrots, beets, lettuce, cilantro, butternut squash, cantaloupe, cucumbers, radishes, and okra. 

Yesterday, Chris used pushpins and cotton twine to create the one-square-foot grid in both boxes. 

Box 1 with its twine grid. 
Box 2 with its twine grid.
Tonight, we planted everything. On the hottest day of the year so far, of course! But you know what? As hot as it was while we were planting, there's something oddly satisfying about sweat on my brow and dirt under my fingernails!

Plants placed in their respective squares.

All our different seeds.

Box 1 with everything planted and the grape tomato plant caged.

Box 2 with everything planted and the Roma and Park's Whopper tomatoes caged.
Box 2 will get a vertical frame at the end in the foreground of the picture above. This vertical frame will support the vine plants - the cucumbers, the butternut squash, and the cantaloupe. We'll be building the vertical frame this weekend. 

I'm really excited about this new gardening venture. I am hopeful that we will have more success with our garden than we did when we were planting directly into the ground. As I said, our soil is just awful - typical Pennsylvania rocky clay dirt. Yuck. But Mel's Magic Mix...that has lots of potential! I'll definitely keep you posted on the progress of our new raised beds!

And now for a contest! 

Between initially being inspired by the ANSFG book we saw in Lowe's; to purchasing the wood, screws, and stain for the beds at Lowe's; to finally purchasing all of the plants and seeds at Lowe's...well, it's almost as if our 2012 vegetable garden is sponsored by Lowe's! Therefore, as a way of saying thank you to YOU, my readers, I am giving away a $10 gift card to Lowe's to one reader who leaves a comment on this post. This contest will run until Tuesday, June 26th at 8 PM. At that time, I will assign numbers to each comment (in the order that they are received) and use a random number generator on the Internet to pick a winner. 

Here's what you need to do:

  1. Click the "0 comments (click here to comment)" link at the end of this post. (The number will obviously change as folks leave comments.) 
  2. Choose the "identity" you wish to use to leave your comment. If you have a Google, WordPress, AIM, etc. identity, you may use that. You may choose Name/URL and simply type your name (you can leave URL blank). Or you can choose "Anonymous". If you choose "Anonymous" be sure to leave your name in the body of your post. 
  3. Leave your comment.
At 8 PM on Tuesday, June 26th, I will draw the winner. If I can, I will notify the winner directly in addition to posting the winner's name as comment on this post (that is, if I know the winner personally and know how to reach them). If I don't know the winner personally, I will post the name of the winner and the winner will have three days to contact me by clicking the "About Me" link at the top of the blog and then using the "Contact Me" link to send me an e-mail. Then I'll get your mailing address and send you the gift card. If the gift card is not claimed in three days, an alternate winner will be chosen and the same procedures will be followed until the prize is awarded.

So go ahead...leave me a comment. Tell me about your vegetable garden for this year. What are you growing? Have you heard about square foot gardening before now? Have you tried it? I'm anxious to hear from you!


  1. Can't wait to hear how this Magic Mix works out.

  2. Are there still strawberries?! I meant to ask you what you were doing with the garden...I was shocked that it wasn't going when I stayed :-P Can't wait to see these, seems like a cool idea!

    1. No more strawberries. They are good for a week, maybe two at the most. We need to get some ever-bearing strawberries to supplement our June-bearers.

  3. Too bad I don't live closer to get some of those veggies :) This is so impressive, good job Clarks!

    1. Too bad, indeed, because I always share our excess! Thanks for commenting - you're my winner!!! Keep an eye on your mail next week!

  4. I WANT to like gardening, and I enjoy helping other people in their gardens, but I get intimidated by the idea of doing one myself. But I can't wait to see what your new process yields!

    1. You know if there's excess, you'll be getting the "does anyone want any tomatoes/cucumbers/peppers/zucchini?" e-mails!!!

  5. Hey Beth!!! Very interesting blog you've got going here. I'm not too much the gardener, but my fiance so loves to do it. The problem is we just don't have the time at the moment. We are redoing our house which takes up most of our free time. He has attempted tomatoes and peppers. I tried doing pumpkins for my nieces but they didn't seem to turn out. I wish you and your hubby all the best with your garden!!!

    1. Peppers and tomatoes are a good start, especially in containers - those are easy. Thanks for reading and commenting. Stay tuned for our progress!

  6. Congratulations to Katie! The random number generator I used picked 3 as the winner.

    Proof photo:

    Katie, your Lowe's gift card will be in the mail by the end of the week! Thanks to everyone for reading, commenting, and playing!