Garden preparation started in mid-February after months of anticipatory planning. This year I would get a jump on things by being ready to plant at the first possible moment.
The first bona fide gardening act of the season was to fill the raised beds with new soil. The bed I’ve inherited at my local community garden was sadly devoid of soil. Where did it all go? Was it washed away, or never filled in the first place? A mystery, maybe, but not one I contemplated for very long. The bed is now full of what I hope is the perfect mix—three parts new “vegetable garden” soil to one part well-rotted steer manure.
To maximize yield I’m trying a technique called “square-foot gardening.” The basic idea of this technique is to get the most use out of your plot—and by extension, greater yield—while minimizing the work. Typical garden plots that are dug into the ground have two major downfalls: a pitched battle between gardener and weed, and a lot of empty, wasted space between rows. With square-foot gardening, raised beds filled with new soil—whether purchased or from your own compost—provide a weed-free environment to start the growing season. (If the compost contains weed seeds then the battle will wage on. Choose your soil components carefully.) It’s also thought that the plants will crowd out any weeds that appear, but I admit to some skepticism for that notion. All areas are watered, but no water is spent on non-productive areas of the garden—there aren’t any.
With the soil in place, beds are sectioned into 1 foot by 1 foot plots. Instead of sowing in rows, seeds are broadcast over each square of soil. With raised beds no more than four feet in width, gardeners can reach all squares by moving around the perimeter of the bed. All available space is used for growing.
Given that community garden plots are typically small and are often in the form of raised beds, square-foot gardening seems like a no-brainer for my garden. The bed is three-and-a-half feet wide, preventing a clean division into square foot sections and requiring that I embrace the concept of “squarish.” I’ve sectioned off the bed with twine and have broadcast the first seeds of mesclun greens and radish. Not needing heat to germinate, these seeds offer the opportunity to plant before spring arrives.
Two weeks later, just after the spring equinox, the seeds have sprouted. It begins.