Anyone NOT like square foot gardening? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 30 Old 08-14-2010, 06:49 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Is there a downside?

The book reads like a sales pitch, and it almost sounds too good to be true. I saw on another thread that some plants need more room than that to grow well (or at all). I'm a total gardening newbie (only herbs and one possible tomato in pots so far) so I have no idea if it's really just that easy and idiot-proof or if there's more to know.
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#2 of 30 Old 08-14-2010, 09:33 PM
 
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I didn't want to build the bed frames or have to buy all my soil when I had decent soil right my my backyard that just needed amending, but I went with closer to biointensive gardening (close plant spacing, wide row beds, double digging 2ft deep and amending the soil somewhat lightly).
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#3 of 30 Old 08-15-2010, 03:19 AM
 
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I just didn't like how unsustainable it is. If you can't get your hands on peat moss and perlite, what would you do? I prefer just adding several yards of compost to the garden over the years to loosen it up and make it happy and more friable. The raised bed thing doesn't bother me so much, I just didn't have the kind of money to be making 30+ of those. Just take the ideas you like and roll with it.

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#4 of 30 Old 08-15-2010, 03:47 AM
 
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It was what lead me to biointensive gardening, so that was a plus, but the soil mix was not realistic for us, so we deviated away from it once we did a bit more research. Look into John Jeavons: http://www.amazon.com/Vegetables-Ber...tt_at_ep_dpi_1 His biointensive methods are awesome.

Our ground soil isn't trustworthy, so raised beds work great for us. I also like how it looks, but hey, if I am going to be vain about something, i'd rather it be my garden than my nails.

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#5 of 30 Old 08-15-2010, 11:27 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I will definitely look into biointensive gardening, too. Thanks for that recommendation.

Our ground soil is awful, so the mix and raised beds appeal to me. (I'm also having some issues with the compost, although I'm sure I could get some horse manure from a nearby farm and let it rot in the meantime...) What about the mix "doesn't work" for you? Is it the cost? (I haven't gone out to research that part yet, I'm still in the initial research/planning phase, trying to figure out what will even grow here...)

lmonter, when you say it's not sustainable, is that b/c the materials are not renewable resources and it's bad for the environment, or b/c it's not practical for you as an individual b/c you have 30+ beds?
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#6 of 30 Old 08-15-2010, 12:13 PM
 
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We had 7 3x12' beds built at our old house and did square foot gardening for 5 years there.

I'm not doing it again. First off, I had never-ending weeding problems and because of the permanent beds, they had to be weeded by hand. I think amending the soil would have also been easier if I had been doing one huge plot instead of doing each raised bed.

I've been reading about wide row gardening, permaculture, hugelkultur and biointensive gardening and am going to combine what I like about each into the new garden I plant here next year.

It might be okay on a very small scale, but anything big and it's a hassle.
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I just didn't like how unsustainable it is. If you can't get your hands on peat moss and perlite, what would you do?
You would add several yards of compost over the years and just take longer to have the nice crumbly soil that's easy for planting.
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#8 of 30 Old 08-15-2010, 12:46 PM
 
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I've been reading about wide row gardening, permaculture, hugelkultur and biointensive gardening and am going to combine what I like about each into the new garden I plant here next year.
I'm a new gardener but did a lot of reading. I went with the wide beds, biointensive ideas etc. I'm really happy with it. I started out with pretty much a waist high field of weeds so I was expecting to do some weeding the first few years. I'm finding that most of my weeding is happening in the rows between the beds! Once veggies started growing they blocked out most of the weeds. I would love to build some raised beds (just add walls to current beds and keep adding compost to them) and let the rows get grassy and just mow them.

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#9 of 30 Old 08-15-2010, 04:18 PM
 
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lmonter, when you say it's not sustainable, is that b/c the materials are not renewable resources and it's bad for the environment, or b/c it's not practical for you as an individual b/c you have 30+ beds?
Both. I don't have 30 beds, but I do have 1200sf of garden space, plus fruit trees. And really, getting stupid crab or bermuda grass or whatever out of is impossible once it gets into raised beds. It sucks.

Besides, try getting your hands on coarse or medium perlite (it's basically rock popcorn). It ain't easy. Took me a few weeks on the phone tracking it down and actually getting it to town. (I got it to help lighten up my big pots - I'd rather have perlite than styrofoam peanuts like a friend did.) I imagine you'd easily need a few dozen of those 4-cubic feet bags for a decent sized garden.

Plus if you ever have to move, that's another thing to keep in mind. Sigh.

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#10 of 30 Old 08-15-2010, 07:14 PM
 
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I tried Mel's Mix and it didn't work well at all. The garden with the topsoil was so much more fertile than the garden with Mel's Mix that it was almost hilarious.

Also, I find the concept that plants are supposed to grow well in 6 inches of soil to be ridiculous. Plants root go down deep in the earth to seek out moisture, trace minerals, and stability. Carrot root hairs can go more than three feet into the ground! Plopping six inches of Mel's Mix down on weed-cloth just did not produce healthy plants for me.

I am a huge believer in intensive planting, but the Square Foot gardening guy didn't invent it. he just made it popular. There are many resources out there with better info. The vegetable Gardner's Bible by Edward C Smith is a great book to try.
http://www.amazon.com/Vegetable-Gard...1906869&sr=1-1
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#11 of 30 Old 08-15-2010, 07:50 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Wow, I'm glad I asked! Keep it coming -- I've read nearly a dozen books so far and apparently still need to read more! (I have two more on my reserve list at the library, thanks to you all.)

I find the 6 inch soil to be questionable, too, which is partly why I thought I'd ask the question. We do have awful soil here, and a raised bed might still be our best option (only more reading will tell...), but I was planning to use at least the 12-inch depth even though Mel Bartholomew says it's mostly unnecessary.

I'm not planning a huge garden. I'm not even planning to try to grow ALL our produce. I just happened to be able to keep a basil plant alive all summer and decided to branch out (no pun intended) b/c I love "shopping" for dinner in my backyard. But I know that if I am at all successful, it could very well become more than just a few tomatoes and I'd LOVE to be able to grow all our produce myself. I'm already doing a co-op so as to avoid the grocery store as much as possible. If I can avoid the food co-op line too, even better!
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#12 of 30 Old 08-15-2010, 10:30 PM
 
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I LOVED the Vegetable Gardener's Bible. I also read Great Garden Companions (wow, I found it online!) I would say I used those two books the most.

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#13 of 30 Old 08-17-2010, 12:59 AM
 
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Besides, try getting your hands on coarse or medium perlite (it's basically rock popcorn). It ain't easy. Took me a few weeks on the phone tracking it down and actually getting it to town.
What about the vermiculite? IME, it's hard to track down, really expensive, and isn't it controversial? Mel didn't seem to favor perlite, but I was actually considering it.

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#14 of 30 Old 08-17-2010, 02:46 AM
 
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What about the vermiculite? IME, it's hard to track down, really expensive, and isn't it controversial? Mel didn't seem to favor perlite, but I was actually considering it.
Last time I did research (it's been a while, so correct me if I'm wrong), vermiculite was puffed asbestos, perlite is puffed lava rock. All either one does is fluff up the soil to make it more friable anyway (as does peat moss until it's totally saturated).

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#15 of 30 Old 08-17-2010, 02:08 PM
 
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Last time I did research (it's been a while, so correct me if I'm wrong), vermiculite was puffed asbestos, perlite is puffed lava rock. All either one does is fluff up the soil to make it more friable anyway (as does peat moss until it's totally saturated).
Vermiculite is not asbestos. It's hydrated laminar magnesium-aluminum-ironsilicate.

I don't know what the problem is now with gardening as I don't use it but after years of being used as insulation in roofing, they found out that something like 90% of the vermiculite mines were contaminated with asbestos.
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#16 of 30 Old 08-17-2010, 02:25 PM
 
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I used Mel's Mix and have to say, it really is nice. I can't imagine it being poor soil; makes me think the compost added to the mix must have been bad compost (and if you buy it from the store, you have a pretty good chance of it being bad). I used homemade.

However, I will not use it again. For ethical reasons I will not purchase peat moss or vermiculite.

I did a second raised bed this year and mixed half soil and half homemade compost. It's working nicely. Honestly, Mel's Mix was even nicer but half soil and half compost is totally doing the job.

I think raised beds are nice and efficient for small to medium gardners, because it really does take a lot of time and effort to improve soil - a raised bed gets you going right away.

I like the intensive planting rather than the inefficient row gardening scheme, which really is modelled after industrial farming and not backyard gardening. It makes no sense to plant and thin like the packet says. It's inefficient, more work, more seeds, and also frankly not even kind to plants to kill 2 out of 3 seedlings like that.

Watering in a raised bed is more efficient than watering your big row garden.

Weeding is definitely improved. When you plant intensively, the weeds don't have a place to get in. The rows invite weeds because nature abhors a vacuum. So you're just fighting nature to keep that soil bare.

The advice to keep your gardens near where you are is important. I have made the mistake of placing my garden a little too far away and it did indeed get neglected. The one just outside of my back door gets plenty of attention, naturally. When pests started chewing on my brocolli I noticed right away and started handpicking it. (Honestly, it's an ongoing issue but I'm winning since the brocs are still growing). The garden farther away, I wouldn't have noticed until it was too late probably.

So I give a thumbs-up to SFG but just don't ethically support Mel's Mix. Plus don't let him scare you when he says "it's not a SFG unless you have the dividers" or whatever. Fine, Mel, so it's not a square foot garden. You can take whatever you want out of it

Oh, I forgot one thing - in my last garden I bought 12" long and 6" high bricks from the garden department at WalMart. I forgot the price but say $1.50 a brick. I did not mortar them together and just stacked them two high. They are holding up just fine just sitting there like that. Yes, it did add up to be more than the wood frame, but the bricks will last longer. You might think they are prettier too, but to me that's just an aside. For me, a big thing was really avoiding carpenter ants which live in this area. They live in wood. So if that's an issue, think about bricks.

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#17 of 30 Old 08-17-2010, 02:35 PM
 
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I liked the SFG book for the intensive gardening ideas. I didn't bother with Mel's mix. I do no-dig sheet composting. My beds are only raised about 3 to 6 inches above the soil.

We actually dug up the sod before we put the beds in, so I have usually been able to stay on top of the Bermuda grass invasions with serious weeding in the spring / fall (when it's not too hot). Where I really get the weed invasion has been on my "walking" paths around the beds. More exercise for the cooler weather

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#18 of 30 Old 08-17-2010, 02:46 PM
 
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Vermiculite is not asbestos. It's hydrated laminar magnesium-aluminum-ironsilicate.

I don't know what the problem is now with gardening as I don't use it but after years of being used as insulation in roofing, they found out that something like 90% of the vermiculite mines were contaminated with asbestos.
I stand corrected. I just remember asbestos was somewhere in the equation.

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#19 of 30 Old 08-17-2010, 07:53 PM
 
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I really hate the idea and have never seen a sfg that did as well as a traditional one. 6 foot tomato plants that bear you 30-50 fist sized tomatoes in zone 3? no way in hell....
my zucchini and crookneck squash plants are 5 feet tall and 3 feet by 3 feet wide and bears 2-3 large zuc.a day, or up to 5 squash a day... would this happen in a sfg? nope. I dont even know what would happen in a sfg to my monster rhubarb that has given me 30 lbs so far and will be ready for a 3rd harverst any day now.
You just cant crowd plants and roots that way and expect them to treat you with big yields.
And the thing is, my garden didnt cost me anything but labor, a few seed pakets and the effort of making compost every year.
SFG is good enough for a hobby garden I guess....? but if you want food production in tough to grow zones, try something else.
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#20 of 30 Old 08-17-2010, 07:59 PM
 
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Another big thing is, in a traditional garden you are building soil quality every year, vs. a sfg where you are depleting the value of your fancy potting mix every year.
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#21 of 30 Old 08-17-2010, 08:07 PM
 
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Another big thing is, in a traditional garden you are building soil quality every year, vs. a sfg where you are depleting the value of your fancy potting mix every year.
I thought your points on your previous post made sense, especially if you are a master gardener. I know my mom once grew a tomato MONSTER that would have just dwarfed my SFG by itself. I am happy with the SFG in my particular yard, though, because my non raised bed attempts have yielded me NOTHING (literally n.o.t.h.i.n.g.) and by constrast this year's garden is a huge success.

But I don't understand your comment about depleting soil quality in your SFG. How can that be? I just don't understand how adding compost to it each season could possibly be depleting the soil value. And I kind of had to agree with Mel that it takes YEARS to build up quality in the ground (like 7 years) - unless of course you're already starting with quality soil (which is pretty rare these days). So this comment I'm just not really seeing.

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#22 of 30 Old 08-18-2010, 12:48 AM
 
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But I don't understand your comment about depleting soil quality in your SFG. How can that be? I just don't understand how adding compost to it each season could possibly be depleting the soil value. And I kind of had to agree with Mel that it takes YEARS to build up quality in the ground (like 7 years) - unless of course you're already starting with quality soil (which is pretty rare these days). So this comment I'm just not really seeing.
To begin with a sfg doesnt have soil, just 2 parts of material designed to hold moisture and 1 part compost... the overcrowding is sure to deplete the value in the compost incredibly fast, which means if you dont add huge amouts of compost and additives every year, basically rebuilding your potting mix, the garden will get worse and worse every year....
I dont know what your soil is like, so this may differ, but ours is heavy with large amouts of clay, which means as the years go by the roots of the plants actually break up the soil and make it more available, the worms move in and improve the soil and the compost improves it even more.... where the first year you have lumpy grey matter that wont mix or break up, dries into concrete and ruins all of your carrots, by the 3rd year you have dreamy rich, black, fine earth full of worms to work with.
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#23 of 30 Old 08-18-2010, 01:44 AM
 
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This is my second year of SFG. There are a few plants that I think might have done better in a regular garden, but for the most part, everything grows great.

The 6" is no problem. My tomatoes grow to 6' tall and are laden with fruit. My cukes are short-ish but growing great cukes. My green beans are also short, but REALLY productive. Herbs are fantastic, I can't keep up with my thyme. Onions and garlic -- I've got a patch of onions in their second year (letting them go to seed) that grew 5 feet tall!

This year I'm growing melons. I didn't bother trying to make it vertical, I'm just letting them spread out. One plant is taking up 3/4 of a 4'x4' box (the other quarter is the runaway thyme lol).

I reinvigorated the soil mix with fresh compost and it's rich and healthy. No blossom end rot or signs of deficiencies.

I'm growing potatoes and carrots in a 10" box, but everything else is fine in the 6". I grew carrots in 6" last year too. They just came out L-shaped if they got big enough.

I had no problem getting coarse vermiculite. Our local garden centre carries it in the huge bags. Yeah it's a little pricey but it goes a pretty long way. And the asbestos is an old issue that's no longer applicable.

Peat is a concert... but we're using Canadian peat, which I *think* is less of a problem than other areas which have been over-harvested. But again, a little goes a long way, and with both the peat and vermiculite it's only the first year that you need it.

The potatoes are in 100% compost, and I think that ended up being even more expensive than the mix!

All that being said, I totally understand those who prefer not to use the mix and I'm certainly not 100% blindly loyal to it or anything. I just wanted to give it an honest try, and found no serious problems. The 6" is definitely not a problem either.

And I would also agree that SFG, as a strict method, would not be as practical for a larger garden area. I have 6 4'x4' boxes and one 6'x4' 10". I probably wouldn't do much more than that. Any more than that, I'd rent a tiller, dig up the lawn, and add tons and tons of compost.

EDIT: And in my SFG's second year, there are now definitely worms in the boxes!

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#24 of 30 Old 08-18-2010, 08:28 PM
 
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I have a couple of raised beds a la SFG and a "normal" garden.

I agree that the raised beds mean that you're always replenishing/adding things, whereas the garden itself improves naturally.

I also can't imagine the cost of putting in these raised beds for the whole garden. I have a general idea of adding a few more over time--because for me they are a lot easier to weed--but they're freaking expensive to do and I went super cheap with mine.
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#25 of 30 Old 08-18-2010, 08:52 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Thanks for all the great information!

I'm thinking I'm going to at least start with raised beds b/c our soil is so bad here (we're in the desert) and raised beds use less water. I was also thinking I'd do a solid bottom bed because of the horrible ground squirrel problem we have in our yard, but now I'm wondering if it would be better to used some hardware cloth on the bottom so that it's open enough to drain well and solid enough to keep the critters out? That way maybe the soil underneath will benefit at least a little over the next couple of years while I figure out if I'm able to keep a larger garden alive and will be easier to dig if I decide to remove the bed and garden in-ground. Does that make sense, or is it not really a good plan?

I have to add that I've already been an abysmal failure at composting, but am still trying. I have no idea how much I'll have ready by the time I need it, but I'm keeping my tumbler as full as I can. Is store-bought compost really that bad? Should I be stalking the nearby horse farms for manure now so it can rot for a few months before I use it? (And how do I store it? If I leave it out in a pile, all the parents of the school kids who go past will complain. If I keep it inside our yard, DH will complain and the rats will come! Should I just add some to our compost tumbler or keep it separate somehow?
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#26 of 30 Old 08-19-2010, 12:59 AM
 
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I have to add that I've already been an abysmal failure at composting, but am still trying. I have no idea how much I'll have ready by the time I need it, but I'm keeping my tumbler as full as I can. Is store-bought compost really that bad? Should I be stalking the nearby horse farms for manure now so it can rot for a few months before I use it? (And how do I store it? If I leave it out in a pile, all the parents of the school kids who go past will complain. If I keep it inside our yard, DH will complain and the rats will come! Should I just add some to our compost tumbler or keep it separate somehow?
My compost mix tends to run wet, and I sometimes get Black Soldier Flies. The BSF maggots are clean and digest the compost well, so I let that go. It's far from perfect, but I use it anyway. Last years batch, we dug up a corner for a new bed and buried the compost under the dug dirt. I think I did end up with weeds from the batch, as well as volunteer squash.

I've purchased compost, and for a large garden it adds up very fast. A friend of mine local has recommended a horse farm nearby where she gets her compost. I don't have the details on whether the farm has already composted it or I would need to do something myself.

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#27 of 30 Old 08-19-2010, 10:26 PM
 
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We've done modified square foot gardening (no raised beds, but planted in squares) in a small space and that worked great.

We have composted horse manure which I layer with newspaper and that grows monster veggies. If only it didn't grow monster ZUCCHINI! Now I use traditional rows as these are easiest to irrigate with soaker hoses.

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#28 of 30 Old 08-22-2010, 01:33 PM
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I am going to try it this next year. But, modified. Also, when I asked about SFG on here, someone pointed me to lasagna gardening and to Ruth Stout. Those were both good reads as well and has rounded out my viewpoint some. After reading this thread, I will be requesting a few more titles from the library.

I won't be using Mel's mix. I will probably use the idea of marking the squares out. But, my biggest thing FOR trying this out is that we have a ton of invaders over here. The deer have been relentless, we also have skunks, raccoons, our own cats, birds, etc. And, I like his simple ways to cover the bed. I like that I can cover to keep animals out, and then I can use the same frame with small change to extend the season. I like having paths that are specifically for walking and making them more permanant.

I don't plan on having everything in the square foot garden. Some stuff will be done differently and I am going about it slowly. But, I love gardening, but haven't been successful in a while. I plan on covering beds with black plastic for a couple weeks before planting to kill weed seeds --this has worked in the past for us. The absense of light and the heat created do wonders.

Oh, and the person who mentioned that clay soil is modified by year three. . . not for everyone. My dad is quite the gardener, but he still has issues with his clay. He has been living there for 20 years now. It took at least 7 for the soil to seem "good". He adds abundant amounts of compost all the time. His garden is very productive now--and has been for a while, but he still can't grow tomatoes like he used to!

Amy

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#29 of 30 Old 08-25-2010, 12:59 PM
 
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I never read the book, but I have enjoyed the basic concept of square foot gardening and I've had success with it.
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#30 of 30 Old 08-25-2010, 06:16 PM
 
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I really appreciate this thread. We're thinking of doing rasied beds/SFG because here in Florida we have sand for soil.

tankgirl73 -- to the idea of L-shaped carrots!

Jen, former sys admin and current geek , wife to DH , SAHM and Montessori homeschool teacher to DD "Nugget" (05/07) and new arrival DS "Sprout" (03/31/10)
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