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Updated 11:00am - Nov 26, 2014

Home arrow Opinion arrow Columnists arrow From the Publisher's Desk arrow From the publisher's desk: Putting food on the table, by the square foot

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From the publisher's desk: Putting food on the table, by the square foot

There’s been a chill in the morning air. Just enough to make Rick announce Sunday morning that “it’s time to winterize.” I assumed he was headed to the garage to perform some seasonal service to our cars, but instead, before I could protest, he hauled all the comfortable patio furniture into our storage shed.

It might have been cold and windy Sunday morning, but the sun came out later in the day and Rick’s overreaction to the weather left me with nowhere to sit outside. Watching Rick hustle around the yard with a rake and a trash bag made me feel a little guilty. So I grabbed my garden gloves, some hand tools and the six packs of Territorial Seeds I purchased recently and threw them all in a bucket and moseyed over to one of our raised beds. Time to plant our winter crops, one square at time.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Rick in the last 10 years, it’s that he is patient, disciplined and will research a project thoroughly before he jumps in. I, on the other hand, can hear about something one day and be anxious to try it the next.

For years, Rick has been intrigued by the science of square foot gardening (SFG). It’s not a new idea. In fact, the method dates back to 1976. The basic premise is that instead of gardening in rows, you garden within square foot grids in raised beds. A 4x4 raised bed, for example, is divided into 16 squares. In one square you could plant four heads of red lettuce or 16 carrots or 32 radishes or one head of cauliflower.

According to SFG guru Mel Bartholomew, one 4x4 SFG “will supply enough produce to make salad for one person every day of the growing season. Another 4x4 box will supply the daily supper vegetables for that person. Just one more 4x4 box will supply that person with extras of everything for preserving, special crops, showing off, or giving away.”

After studying the sun patterns in our back yard for an entire year and reading the most recent how-to book by Mr. Bartholomew, Rick was ready to dig in. Last October he assembled our first raised bed from a kit and then quickly (almost recklessly) added two more. We ended up with a total of 82 sq. ft. to plant, or 82 SFG squares.

Rick was very serious about following the bible of SFG religiously. He laboriously created the perfect growing mix called “Mel’s Mix” which consists of 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 vermiculite and 1/3 blended compost. He measured and mixed while I waited anxiously on the sidelines with my seed packets raring to go. 

When the beds were filled with “Mel’s Mix’ and the lathe grids carefully placed, I was finally allowed to plant. Rick accused me of not reading the book, and he was right. I had to rely on Rick to tell me how many veggies I could plant in a square. When he wasn’t looking, I broke the rules. How can you possibly plant just 16 carrot seeds?

The crops we planted last October produced lettuce, spinach and carrots all winter long.

In spring and summer I added other crops — sometimes staying within the guidelines — and we’ve harvested strawberries, onions, green beans, zucchini, lots of carrots and two beautiful pumpkins.

Sunday I tidied up the beds. I added more compost and vermiculite and I sowed seeds for organic salad greens, winter carrots and kale. As the sun began to set, my knees were sore and my back ached, but I felt quite accomplished. I’d winterized our garden and now Mother Nature could take care of the rest.

Reach Michele Thomas, The Daily Triplicate’s publisher, at 464-2141, or stop by 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays.

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