One Saturday morning, not so long ago, I attended the square foot gardening workshop at Daily Dump in Indira Nagar, Bangalore. With just one objective: to unlearn whatever little I knew of gardening and growing vegetables/flowering plants in my humble balcony garden. 16 of us got together to begin the day with some yummy cookies. For the rest of the day, we were known not by our names, instead our identity was the vegetable/fruit of our choice.
Over the past year, I parted away with most of my pots – some that had been with me for years; a few heavy ones that my father-in-law had painstakingly got upstairs. This was the last one to go, but it had to go for with no sunshine, thanks to dozens of tall Eucalyptus trees in the adjacent plot, all my plants were dying a slow death. It was sad to see the green wither away one by one.
So, why square foot gardening now? The idea of starting again on just one square foot space appealed a great deal. I wanted to unlearn whatever I knew/read about the right potting mix on various forums. some questions that pop up in my head and I’m sure in yours as well are:
- How to water plants and how often to water them?
- What do yellow leaves mean?
- How deep should a pot be?
- How much sunlight do various plants need?
- What is the right time of the year to sow certain seeds?
- Why some seeds don’t germinate?
- How to keep Stuart Little (as we call rats at home) at bay etc?
- How deep should the seeds be sown for good germination?
The list is endless, and I wanted to start on a blank slate. Give all the care I could to that one square foot of space. Learn to love that space and see the plants thrive. Learn from my mistakes earnestly. It’s time to share the pictures of the newborns… I chose palak seeds to sow in my square foot box. They have germinated, and I can’t tell you how happy I am. Before we get into it, a bit about the class:
Square foot gardening workshop is conducted by Vishwas and Anil of Square Foot Farmers once a month at Daily Dump. You can check with them if they have workshops elsewhere in the city too. They are urban farmers in true sense of the word.
WHAT IS SQUARE FOOT GARDENING
The gardening concept is based on Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening technique. The space required is relatively less and plants are grown in square foot boxes of sizes 1′ X 1′,1′ X 2′, 2′ X 2′, 1′ X 3′, 3′ X 3′, 1′ X 4′, or 4′ X 4′. The box is ideal for balconies, accessible from all sides.
SQUARE FOOT GARDENING: THE SOIL-LESS ALTERNATIVE
Potting mix: One o the biggest advantages of square foot gardening it that it is a soil-less medium. The potting mix by volume is:
- 1 part of cocopeat (peatmoss) – this is nothing but coconut husk
- 1 part of manure(compost)
- 1 part of vermiculite. This is exfoliated mica that helps roots grow better and retains moisture for a longer period.
The mixture is quite light relative to the soil.
WHAT VEGETABLES CAN YOU GROW IN ONE SQUARE FOOT GARDEN
How many plants in a box? This is the interesting part; one we all had fun in answering. For instance, there can be 9 spinach in one box, or one tomato, or one cabbage, or 16 radishes. Yes, 16 radishes or carrots. Can you believe that? It’s based on what kind of plants you are growing: small, large, or vertical. In case you are wondering, the depth of the box is enough. Here is the complete list of how many vegetables you can grow in one square foot.
1 per square foot:
Eggplant, broccoli, cabbage, pepper, ldies finger or Okra, tomato, capsicum
4 per square foot:
Beans, marigold, lettuce, potato, basil , parsley, strawberry, turnip
9 per Square foot
Beetroot, spinach, dhaniya, large onion.
16 per Square foot.
Carrot, radish, small onion, spring onion
IC: dream garden
WHAT VEGETABLE SEEDS CAN BE SOWN DIRECTLY IN SOIL
Some seeds are best sown directly in soil after soaking them in water for a few a couple of hours. As their roots are fragile, transplanting will kill them. These include —
Amaranthus, ladies finger, cucumber, pumpkin, beans, all gourds – ridge, snake, bitter, zucchini, water melons, musk melon, methi, spinach, dhaniya, radish, and turnip.
Note: it’s best not to expose methi, spinach, and dhaniya directly to sun. Cover them with a net as they were sensitive.
WHAT VEGETABLE SEEDS MUST BE STARTED IN A NURSERY
Brinjal, chillies, basil, lettuce, capsicum, and tomatoes.
HOW TO SET UP A SQUARE FOOT CONTAINER GARDEN
- Step 1: Decide what plant you want to grow (typically only one type in a square foot box but for larger ones you can go for companion planting).
- Step 2: Soak the larger seeds in water for 1 to 2 hours. soak the smaller seeds for 2-3 hours in water prior to planting. For plants that should are grown first in the nursery, germinate and start the seeds until the seedlings have about 4-5 leaves. These are now ready to transplant.
- Step 3: Get the potting mix ready in the proportions mentioned above.
- Step 4: Take a square foot box of your size and fill it with the potting mix.
- Step 5: Sow the soaked seeds (in case of direct planting plants) at a depth of 2 to 4 inches the size of the seed from the surface. In case of seedlings, transplant them into the square foot box now, and you are good to go.
- Step 6: Keep the box in a shaded place before moving them into full sun after a few days. Water them (using a sprinkler and never on top of the plant) preferably in the morning and never in the afternoons.
WHERE SHOULD YOU PLACE THE SQUARE FOOT GARDEN
The pros of a square foot garden is that it is lightweight as it uses a soil-less medium. However, its location matter. Ensure that it —
- is away from a canopy of a trees or shrubs, where roots or shade may interfere.
- receives six to eight hours of direct sunlight.
- is free of puddles.
HOW TO PLAN A SQUARE FOOT VEGETABLE GARDEN:
With the basics out of the way, your next question should be how many square foot vegetable boxes do I need to feed a family of three?
As with everything, planning is key to setting up a vegetable garden for bountiful harvest. I remember when I first started gardening, I planted one okra in a pot that would give us about 3-4 okras every two days. Needless to say, it wasn’t sufficient to feed even one person. In another occasion, I had so many chillies growing all over the garden that I soon run out of ideas to use them. Planting sufficient number of plants for every vegetable is paramount.
- Make a list of the vegetables your family loves to eat and plant only those. There is no point planting gourds if they are easy to grow but everyone in the family despises.
- One 4′ X 4′ for greens if your greens consumption is low. Increase it 2 boxes if you include sufficient greens in your diet.
- One 4′ X 4′ box for vegetables.
- One 3′ X 3′ to grow seasonal vegetables or something that your child prefers to eat. It’s a great way to get them involved in gardening and to introduce the concept of healthy eating.
IC: Taken by me