Sunday, May 16, 2010

Square Foot Garden Update – Dirt Cake

This weekend saw another round in the saga of square foot gardening at the Mormon Foodie home. With the boxes built, it was time to fill them with soil. Not just any soil, mind you, but a special blend of equal parts peat moss, vermiculite (a soil conditioner), and compost. Called “Mel's Mix” after Mel Bartholemew, the founder of the square foot garden movement and author of All New Square Foot Gardening, this is his special blend to create an airy soil that combats weeds, allows for easy planting, and drains well to avoid over watering.

I had thought about just picking up some extra organic garden soil, but for the amounts we needed it wouldn't be much more expensive, and I'd heard amazing things about Mel's Mix so I decided we'd go for it.

Mel's Mix is available commercially, but I think we saved quite a bit of cash buying it separately. We made 18 cubit feet of the stuff for $78.00, a far cry from the $165.00 it would have cost me if we had bought it already mixed up.

After getting back from the South Fork Hardware Pet & Feed store, we hauled our bags of ingredients into the backyard where the garden is. None of it was dirt, yet. In order to make it dirt, we had to mix it up. My wife and I laid out a large tarp near the garden and dumped the contents of the bags onto it. Then we proceeded to uses shovels, hoes, and a rakes to churn the stuff together into a more or less consistent mix.

“Whatcha doin'?” my 6 year old asked.

“Making a dirt cake.” my wife replied.

“Dirt cake?” the youngest asked, in disbelief.

“Yeah, we want to grow food in the garden but we can't do that until we mix up the stuff to make dirt cake.” my wife continued.

“Whaaat?” the 6 year old said.

This is why my kids never believe anything grownups say.

After shoveling the “dirt cake” into the boxes, we laid out the plots. My wife and I had already planned out what we wanted, and where it could be planted, so we just had to lay out the square foot guides. Of course, they're not all built on square feet, but the basic principle is that a square foot of garden space can contain a certain number of plants, depending on their size. We chose to use heavy string, although more permanent materials are usually suggested. My wife, Writer Girl and I used hammers and nails and small stakes to lay out the grid we wanted. While Writer Girl and I finished laying out the pattern for the last box, my wife and the two younger girls started planting.

This is where the whole square gardening thing got fun for me. Everything up to this point had taken quite a bit work, but planing was almost a game. The dirt cake ... erm ... Mel's Mix ... was so light and easy to work with that we planted everything with our bare hands. No shovels required. Even the six year old was able to plant entire sections on her own, after being showed how to lay out the seed patterns. Nine plants per square foot? No problem. Make a tic-tac-toe board, poke holes in each square with your finger, drop in a couple of seeds, and smooth the whole thing over. Even the youngest was able to get involved with the garden in real, and productive ways.

Now we have a garden started. We used a few more seedlings than we initially planned on, but that's okay. I'm happy, the kids are happy, and they are beginning to understand more about where our food comes from. I have no doubt they will be even more thrilled later in the year when harvest time comes. They'll be learning the law of the harvest, and it won't be just a metaphor. They'll experience, first hand, the rewards of their labors.

Thanks, Mel.


M Ryan Taylor said...

I heart square foot gardening. I use it in combination with lasagna gardening. We got our garden in on Saturday as well. You're awesome John, and I love your wife's "dirt cake." Classic.

John Newman said...

I have never heard of lasagna gardening. Would you like to write something up about it and guest blog? There's a link in it for you. :-)