Square Foot Gardening
Ever wanted to grow your own vegetables but were limited on space? You are not alone, which is why the Sumner County Master Gardeners, in partnership with Historic Mansker’s Station, are offering locals the chance to learn how to get the most use out of their minimal soil square footage as part of their 2016 lecture series on gardening through October.
Author Rowena Aldridge is a certified educator in a number of “old school” domestic skills including gardening in small places and will be leading the class demonstrating how to install a beautiful and productive square foot garden that she says will save time, water, effort and money.
“Square foot gardening is a method of growing a lot of food in a very small space,” Aldridge says. “It can be done in city lots for example, where you don’t necessarily have acres of land to grow food, or by people just starting out that may not have a huge investment in their garden to get going.”
A square foot garden is first begun by building a box about 4’ x 4’ or 4’ x 6’ from untreated lumber. The box is then placed on a weed mat or landscape fabric to prevent weeds from growing inside, then just simply filled with soil.
“The thing about square foot gardening is you can be successful right away, it’s on a manageable scale and it doesn’t take a lot of gardening tools” Aldridge says. “In fact the first year I decided to pursue this I grew so much I couldn’t keep up. I had to learn to can.”
A big benefit of square foot gardens that are built as raised beds is that there is no digging required at all. That’s a plus for Middle Tennessee gardeners who deal with a diverse range of problems when it comes to soil, from unwieldly rocks to unsavory conditions.
“When we moved into our house the place I originally wanted to put a garden, before I learned this method, we started digging and found asbestos shingles buried in the ground,” Aldridge says. “You can’t grow food where that is. With this method you don’t have to worry about the structure of your soil. It doesn’t matter if it’s limestone, if it’s all clay, if you’re full of weeds because you’re not digging your ground.”
Aldridge, who is certified through the Square Foot Gardening Foundation, gives talks on this particular gardening method as well as other things like seed saving and plant propagation.
“You can grow anything in a square foot garden, and it’s not just limited to growing food,” she says. “You can make beautiful square foot gardens of just decorative plants and flowers, and there are a lot of edible food plants that are decorative as well. And if they are concerned about integrating them into their landscape, that’s a possibility too with this method.”
Aldridge lives in Nashville and says backyard farmers can fit anything from one tomato plant to sixteen radishes in a one square-foot space, and people can rotate crops for four different yields a year. At one point Aldridge was growing about seventy percent of all the vegetables her family ate, and says it has been an interactive way to get children invested in healthy eating.
“It’s great for kids because it’s a very manageable system on whatever scale you want to do,” she says. “Once you build the box you don’t have to till it anymore and you’ll hardly ever have to weed it. It sounds like a miracle method but it’s really based on an old technique of farming French Intensive Gardening, which is very different from the way American agriculture has developed. It’s a tried and true technique, it’s not something new.”
Once built, the boxes are even portable so even people who rent can invest in growing their own food.
“I have built gardens for the families at Fort Campbell that they’ve literally then put the garden in a truck and taken it with them,” she says.
The lecture is open to the whole family, and gloves are encouraged for participation on a hands-on experience outdoors, weather permitting.
“This is good for beginners and it can also be done by people with limited mobility,” she says. “There are even ways to do this gardening above ground at table height so people that may be in wheelchairs or who can’t bend down to the ground can garden.”
The Square Foot Garden lecture is Saturday, May 14, 10 a.m. at the Visitor’s Center and Moss-Wright Park in Goodlettsville. Register through May 12 online at the City of Goodlettsville website or by calling 615-851-2253.
– Hollie Deese