Tag Archives: square foot garden

I Hate My Neighbor Because His Garden is Prettier Than Mine

hate my neighbor because his garden is prettier

We moved into our house almost three months ago. I was a square-foot gardener at my old house. Now I’m an in-the-ground gardener. Making the switch wasn’t easy, people. There are weeds freaking everywhere! The leaves on my tomatoes are curling and I’m guessing I’m missing some nutrient in the soil but I don’t know because I didn’t hand-make the soil like I did with my square foot garden.

When we first moved in, we dug all the grass and weeds up from the area where the former owners had a garden. There were a lot of weeds – a lot of mint and a big, dead blueberry bush. The garden sloped down a small hill. We ended up making steps for each level of the garden. It was kind of like rice fields in China, except small and ugly.

I knew the soil had a lot of clay in it, so I added some compost and garden soil to make it more loamy or whatever. I planted my tomatoes and pepper plants. That night it rained.

Apparently, we had dug trenches instead of steps. The plants were sitting in two inches of water when I went out to check on them. Immediately, I made a way for the water to run off so the plants wouldn’t stay flooded. I learned a lesson: don’t dig trenches in your garden, especially when the soil is like play-doh.

My new neighbor is a first-year square-foot gardener. He has two square foot gardens. The wood is fresh. Everything is verdant. It’s beautiful. It’s perfect.

I hate him.

neighbors garden

I peeked through the bushes when he wasn’t home to take this photo. He even built a bench with the left-over wood. Gah!

His garden is pretty and perfect. I used to have a pretty and perfect garden. I used to be a square-foot gardener. Now I don’t know what in the heck I’m doing. I’m digging trenches, my tomato leaves are curling and the weeds are overwhelming. I could make enough After Eight dinner mints to supply the entire Chicagoland area for the next 20 years with the amount of mint in my garden. No lie, check it out.

my garden full of mint 2I write a gardening blog and I don’t even know how to garden. My blog should be called “I Try to Grow Mint.” I could totally rock that blog.

Part of my mint problem has to do with my laziness, obviously. At my old house, I was in my garden multiple times a day. My bedroom window overlooked my garden. In my new house, I can’t see my garden from inside my house. I’d like to say that “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” but in this case it seems to be more of “out of sight, out of mind.” I’ve been neglectful of my garden and it’s showing.

So my project for the fall will be to dig up all that mint and get rid of it. In the spring I’ll work on making the soil better. And then I’ll kick my neighbor’s square-foot gardening rear end.

P.S. What in the heck do I even do with mint? I don’t have a single mint recipe. Please help! (don’t say tea, I don’t like tea)

You Mean I Actually Have to PLAN a Garden?

Plan a garden

I’m planning my garden, yo! I have two 4×6 square-foot vegetable/fruit gardens and a random garden patch next to our house. Because I’m anal, I created a layout of my gardens in Excel. Here’s what it looks like.

square foot garden plot

Every year I print it out and write the vegetables I’m going to grow in each square foot. Some plants require more growing room than one square foot, so I plan accordingly. Here’s last year’s layout:

2013 square foot garden plot

It looks like a mess, but I understand everything. B.S. = Brussels Sprouts

The 3×5 garden on the right that says “POTS” is actually the garden next to my house. It’s not a square-foot garden, but I plan it like it is. The dates in circles (e.g. 4/27) indicate when I planted seeds directly in the ground. Most items I transplanted from seedlings I grew in my basement. I’ll show you my basement set-up in an upcoming post. Some of these are perennials and grow back every year. The onions I grow from sets I buy from my buddy, Bill, at the nursery.

The main things you need for a good garden:

Good soil – Since I’m a perfectionist and it seemed like such a pain in the butt to figure out what kind of ground soil I had the first year we were in our house, I decided to do a square-foot garden. I went out and bought the book by Mel.

Square foot gardening book

Click HERE to buy the book.

Then I did everything he said to do to set up my garden…except the soil. He said to use one-third each of vermiculite, Sphagnum peat moss and blended compost. I went to buy the ingredients and had trouble finding vermiculite. I went to my local nursery and Bill (the owner I’m “tight” with) gave me a different recipe to use that included topsoil, compost and torpedo sand (a coarse sand). I can’t remember the ratio of each, but I checked around the internet and saw 2:2:1. Since that first year, all I’ve done every year is just mix in compost (I buy some and I make some of my own) until the dirt is level with the boards.

Good water – I water every day for about 20 minutes with a sprinkler once the plants are in place. I don’t think this is the “right” way to water. I’ve heard you need to water deeply and infrequently (one inch of water per week). Whatever. This worked for me last year, so I’ll keep doing it. The year before I watered every other day and my plants got limp on day two. Many will say that you shouldn’t get the leaves wet and that you should only water the dirt around the plants, but I’m lazy. Make sure your garden is close to a water source. Your hose should be able to easily reach the garden. Tip: to know how much water you’re sprinkling on your garden, set up a bucket to catch the water near your garden, then measure the water depth.

Good sun – Your sun-loving plants need at least six hours of direct sunlight. More is better. If you’re limited on sunlight, afternoon sunlight is better than morning sunlight…so I’ve heard. Some plants don’t need a lot of sun. I think you can grow lettuce and mint and a few herbs and some other things with partial sun, but for tomatoes, peppers, beans, most things, you need at least six hours of direct sunlight.

Some things to think about when planning your garden:

  • How much of each item do you want to grow? Don’t grow something you don’t like just because it’s cool or pretty and you think you should eat it, like I did. I was stupid. If you’re growing a garden for the first time, start small. You don’t want to overwhelm yourself so much that you quit. What I have is considered small. It’s a good start. I’d make more gardens, but we don’t have enough sunlight. And I’m lazy.
  • Companion Gardening – Some plants shouldn’t be planted next to each other while some plants benefit from being planted next to others for controlling pests. Here’s a list I use from GardenGuides.com.
  • Crop rotation – What did you plant in that spot last year? You don’t want to plant the same type of plant in the same spot year after year. You’ll deplete the nutrients in the soil. Plus you increase the chance of soil-borne illness. Rotate. Here’s a link I use at Growveg.com.
  • Make sure you can reach everything in your garden when it comes to harvest time. My back kills me when I have to reach far into the garden to pick green beans. Consider where you plant.

Further reading: Here’s a link to the Square Foot Gardening Foundation.

What’s Up Next?

  • When do I start growing these stinking seeds you suggested I get?
  • Okay, now I know what I’m going to plant and when, but how do I grow these seeds?

Disclaimer: I’m not a Master Gardener. I just pretend to be one…when I’m alone in my garden. So what’d I miss or screw up? Tell me in the comments so we’ll all learn.