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Low -cost Square Foot Gardening?

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 

I REALLY want to set up a couple SFG beds this spring, but the cost is $$$ for my budget. I have the book thanks to it being free on kindle a while back, and I've thought about it for a good year or so.

 

What are some low/no cost ways to cost costs on setting up & filling the SFG beds? I was thinking of using newspaper instead of landscape fabric - would that work? Instead of a 1-1-1 version of Mel's Mix would a 2 parts compost, 1 part each peat moss & vermaculite mix work?

post #2 of 7

Try freecycle or craig's list for people who have leftover wood from completed projects that they would like someone to take off their hands. I just recently saw a video on making raised gardens from free old wood pallets, but it looked a bit labor intensive. 

 

I have wood bottoms (with lots of holes drilled for drainage) on my boxes, which is nice so I can move them a bit, but that's probably not a big factor for most people (we knew we'd be replacing the fence they are next to eventually).  It mostly works, but I have had moss grow at times, so perhaps the drainage still isn't as good as it will be, and I will probably try weed cloth next time. 

 

Newspaper would work for a season, but long term it would break down and allow the compost and such to mix with the soil beneath, which is the point when you are setting up new garden beds using the newspaper method, but not what you want for square foot gardening. 

 

I originally suggested old carpet for on the bottom, but am editing that out now as I just googled the safety of that as far as chemical leaching and apparently it can leach flame retardant chemicals and dangerous plastics and such so shouldn't be used where food is grown.  Treated lumber should be avoided for the same reason.  The plastics in landscaping fabric are supposed to be safe. 

 

I think most people end up with a higher ratio of compost to the other stuff eventually as they add compost each year.  It would probably be fine to start that way, but you may want to mix in a little of the other stuff over the following few years rather than just adding compost and be extra careful on the watering - the vermiculite and peat moss both help retain water so beds with less may dry out a little faster. 

 

Call around a lot to check prices before you buy vermiculite and and such as it can vary a lot.  The hardware stores by me only had it in 10 lite or so bags for around $10 each and I started out thinking there was no way I could afford to use it as that was absolutely ridiculous.  Finally found it in larger quantities by calling landscaping supply places. Even then, the same bag cost nearly twice as much some places as others, and I ended up driving a town over to get a couple giant bags for $20 or so each. 


Edited by pers - 12/28/13 at 4:47pm
post #3 of 7

I.

 

Hate.

 

Landscaping.

 

Fabric.

 

I have spent more hours pulling out other people's landscape fabric that (drumroll) let the weeds grow through, then more seeds dropped on....or roots crept in..... and suddenly that fabric that was supposed to prevent weeds ends up making it impossible to pul them out.  I made a lot of money pulling that crap out of gardens, but it was a crap job I could have done without.  My body aches just thinking about it.

 

Use cardboard.  Yes, it will rot, but:

 

Weeds.

 

Happen.

 

I

 

HATE

 

LANDSCAPING FABRIC !!!!!!!!!!

post #4 of 7

Oh yeah, it can be nasty stuff.  I had a plan to plant ferns around two trees growing in a corner of my yard separated from the lawn by railroad ties in the ground.  Then I went to get started and found landscaping fabric that has probably been there close to thirty years.  The little bit that I did get up took a ton of work, and the soil beneath it was absolutely terrible, just solid clay, far, far worse than any I'd ever seen, and I am used to working in very bad soil to begin with. I've given up on my ferns for now :(

 

I would hope a few four-by-four squares of it wouldn't be a big a problem though, especially with mix on top being turned fairly regularly rather than just covered in mulch and left to sit, so I'd still be willing to try it, though I would never use it in a perennial bed or larger area.  I might try screen door material instead (would that be any easier to get up?) but in the case of the OP, I think that might be even more expensive?

 

A lot of people do use cardboard and seem happy with it, but most mentions I have seen are from people who are fairly new to it, so I don't know how that works out in the long run.  I personally would not try it because it's not just about keeping the weeds out (though I do like my wood bottoms for that - I get plenty of weeds from seed, but those are fairly easy to get out, and the wood so far has worked to keep the nasty root spreading weeds such as Canadian thistle out. Roots not being able to grow up from beneath is a big plus) but also about keeping the dirt out, and as I mentioned I have really bad clay soil that is a huge pain to garden in, so I really want to keep it out.  This may just be a me issue though and not be such a big deal to the OP or anyone else with decent soil beneath their garden.  

 

When setting up a new flower bed through lasagna methods, the idea is you want the weed barrier newspaper/cardboard layer to decompose once it has smothered the weeds so perennial roots can grow deep and compost and organics can be mixed down farther to improve soil health. .  But square foot gardening is basically container gardening in four foot by four foot by six inch deep containers.  The idea is that you can grow more in a small space because you are growing in very high nutrient soil-less homemade potting mix rather than in garden soil. The landscaping fabric is basically serving as the bottom of the container.  The soil beneath isn't meant to come into play at all. 

post #5 of 7
Quote:
Originally Posted by pers View Post
 

 

 

A lot of people do use cardboard and seem happy with it, but most mentions I have seen are from people who are fairly new to it, so I don't know how that works out in the long run.  I personally would not try it because it's not just about keeping the weeds out (though I do like my wood bottoms for that - I get plenty of weeds from seed, but those are fairly easy to get out, and the wood so far has worked to keep the nasty root spreading weeds such as Canadian thistle out. Roots not being able to grow up from beneath is a big plus) but also about keeping the dirt out, and as I mentioned I have really bad clay soil that is a huge pain to garden in, so I really want to keep it out.  This may just be a me issue though and not be such a big deal to the OP or anyone else with decent soil beneath their garden.  

 

When setting up a new flower bed through lasagna methods, the idea is you want the weed barrier newspaper/cardboard layer to decompose once it has smothered the weeds so perennial roots can grow deep and compost and organics can be mixed down farther to improve soil health. .  But square foot gardening is basically container gardening in four foot by four foot by six inch deep containers.  The idea is that you can grow more in a small space because you are growing in very high nutrient soil-less homemade potting mix rather than in garden soil. The landscaping fabric is basically serving as the bottom of the container.  The soil beneath isn't meant to come into play at all. 

Disclaimer: my experience is not in SFG, though I've read the book.

 

I need to reread his book to remember his reasons for separating his mix from the soil with any barrier.  From my experience with gardening, if the bed is deep enough, the soil below isn't going to affect it much at all, and since cost is a concern here, I would stick with using cardboard as a barrier and not worry about the two mixing.  (I have used cardboard extensively.  It doesn't break down all that quickly.)   

 

OT:  In your case with the clay, that is going to act like the bottom of the container.  The soil will not affect that above unless you mix it or a mole gets in there.  If you mean "clay" as in "I harvest my potting clay from a trench out back--take a look at my homemade dishes!" (I've been to those places)  I don't think much interplay will happen, if any.  If it's more like the clay soils in the Pacific Northwest, then you will see some interplay, but it would mainly be the clay soil that is loosened slightly at the interface, and not as much the soil above, unless you mix them yourself.  (Just because you have the crappy soil there, doesn't mean one has to use it.  Pretend it's not there and put new soil on top.)

post #6 of 7

You can do raised beds without the woods frame to start with. Yes, the soil moves around a bit more and it doesn't look as tidy, but if you're trying to grow your own veg on the cheap, it works. For me, the main takeaway from SFG was the spacing, rotating crops and the arrangement of the planting beds. Spacing being the key one - you're going to increase your yield for the space you have by planting seeds equidistant in all directions as opposed to one long row. 

 

As for weeds, my preferred method is to get in there with a stirrup hoe. We had a 400 square foot garden last year and kept it completely weed-free with 10 minutes of weeding per week, even at the height of the season. I love my stirrup hoe! I got two of them for $2 a piece at a yard sale last summer and it was the best $4 I've ever spent. Highly recommend it. 

post #7 of 7

 

Even a few pots can produce well, so don't let cost keep you from gardening.


Edited by PumaBearclan - 2/27/14 at 8:39am
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