Today is the first part of a series on square foot gardening and covers our journey of attempting to create a significant urban garden in part of a parking space in an alley in downtown Toronto. For the rest of this week we’ll cover everything you need to build a square foot garden, how to fill it with soil (and what soil is used), link to great sources and discuss some of the benefits, limitations and even concerns. You’ll have everything you need to know to build your garden by the weekend. Next week we’ll share more detail on planting, watering and more. Over the summer and into the fall we’ll cover our adventures, successes and failures as they happen. The entire story will be saved under our tag for Square Foot Gardening.
For the last few years, we’ve dabbled in gardening. We’ve had our share of mistakes, failure and even a bit of success.
If you’re new around these parts, Dana and I live downtown Toronto. We don’t have a yard of our own but we do have a great landlord who has been generous offering us a generous share of space to use and we make the most of it. It’s not ideal for gardening as the space amounts to part of a parking space and a lot of fence in the back of an alley. But it’s our space and we think we can make the most of it!
This was part of last years fence garden:
If you want to see more of our fence garden and how it’s progressed over the years, check out our fence garden section!
This year we are making the biggest changes we’ve made since we’ve started the garden. We’ve spent a lot of time reading and researching and planning and scheming. Here are some of our challenges:
- We have no soil or space to plant within the ground.
- Even if we could plant in the ground, we probably wouldn’t. Our garden is on a parking space; leaching from the ground isn’t exactly ideal.
- We have limited space and must make the most out of every square inch.
- Water is scarce (in addition to global ramifications, we have limited access to water with the closest source being 40 feet away and the easiest access being about 70 feet away).
- The alley is on private property but in a high-traffic area.
- We are fairly novice gardeners who are learning as we go.
- I want something that can easily adapt to multiple growing seasons.
After careful research, we’ve decided to build several boxes for Square Foot Gardening. Square Foot Gardening is based on a book of the same name by Mel Bartholomew that’s sold more than 2,000,000 copies. The original system was much more complicated than the current system which offers the promise of removing a lot of the uncertainty and learning curve from the process. There is lots more info on Mel’s forums and in his book than I can share in several posts but this will give you a good start and enough info to decide if you want to try his system and book!
I wasn’t certain about the book when I first picked it up. It reads a lot like one of the “Dummies” books (which I find bothersome). Once I got part of some of the infomercial-like feeling (and I meant that with respect; it’s certainly competently writing just a little fluffier than I’m used to), I find it to be a reassuring resource. I am very optimistic about the potential for success and time will tell how we fare.
Here’s one of our 4 units (by the middle of next week we’ll have the whole system set up):
We’ll walk through the design and instructions on how to build tomorrow. Here’s the quick explanation:
- This box is 4 feet by 4 feet by 6 inches. It is the largest size the author recommends as he rationalizes that most of us can only reach about 2 feet comfortably. Since I don’t want to stretch longer than 2 feet, I’ve adapted his theory to suit my needs using the following rationale:
- If a box is square, it can’t be more than 4 feet by 4 feet.
- A rectangular box can be 4 feet by any length – as long as I can reach both sides of the length of the box (again limiting my reach to 2 feet). I’ll have none of these due to limited space.
- A 2-foot wide box can be as long as I want and only needs one free long side for access.
- The box only needs to be 6 inches deep according to the book (as long as we’re not growing carrots). The soil mix allows for a relatively shallow depth.
- There is a bottom on my box – it will be raised off the surface of the driveway.
- Drainage will be built into the boxes.
- I am hoping to install drip irrigation to make the most out of a limited water supply.
- The grid allows you to organize planting and each square represents a square foot. I’m likely going to replace the wood with string as string takes less room.
- We have 58 square feet of boxes built (so far). We’ll likely add a bit more once we’re fully up and running and can’t wait to share more!
Tomorrow we’ll talk about the most difficult and controversial part of Square Foot Gardening – the mix of soil!