Wednesday, November 26, 2008

2008 Harvest Wrap Up

Yes, the sad day that one officially calls it done. But it is also a good day because you can tally up your victories for the year, think about all the lessons you've learned and most importantly, starting drooling over seed catalogs for next spring.

So how did my first truly organic, square foot garden do? Fantastic...sort of.

First off, let me confess that I totally lost track of all my harvest weights. I dropped my scale and broke it and then dillied about for 3 months in getting a new one. But in a way I'm glad. I was getting way too hung up on weight totals and missing some really good information along the way.

Here is what I learned in my square foot garden:
  1. It is true that some produce comes out smaller.
  2. The efficient spacing means that gaps for non-germination can be easily filled.
  3. It can be difficult not to disturb roots on adjoining squares during staggered harvests.
  4. You can grow all that Mel says you can grow.
  5. It can be hard to harvest certain types of crops.
  6. I used far less water than traditional gardening.
  7. I used far fewer insect controls (organic only).
  8. Interplanting and succession planting are no brainers with SFG.

Number 1 is really the most important one to most people, I think and I did some informal experimentation to see how this really played out. I put some tomatoes of the same variety in large pots, some in the bed and a couple in the ground. The container and the SFG bed plants definitely had smaller tomatoes than the ones in the ground. Bottom line is that I think plants that sense boundaries more keenly at the root will produce smaller fruit. The sheer number of fruits was not affected though. The same approximate number bloomed, took and formed on all the tomatoes, regardless of which method used.

This limitation on size wasn't universal though. Tomatoes, bell peppers and eggplant seemed the most obviously affected plants. Bush and pole beans, carrots, beets, parsnips, lettuce and the like seemed to be the same size...or bigger! My carrots were fantastic this year; huge and sweet. My parsnips were up to..wait for it...15 inches long! I'm sorry there are no pictures of those, but as soon as I had a freeze, I pulled them, roasted them and proceeded to snarf. Parsnips gone.

Number 3 seems to be the second biggest issue in practical terms. Basically, if I have bush beans next to a tomato plant, then when I pull the bush beans and plant something else, I'll have to dig about to get this new thing, say a cabbage for fall, deeply planted. Without fail I wind up tangling up in the tomato roots and the tomatoes don't like that at all. I can't really think of an easy solution, so I've tried to stagger things in my planting plan for next year so that the root bumping potential is limited.

Number 5 actually turned out to have some consquences. I find bush beans difficult to harvest because I can't always see the bean. And if I leave one on there and it matures, the ability to get that slightly extended harvest or second picking is vastly diminished. Well, I missed a bunch because there are 9 plants to a square and it gets very overgrown in there. So I got a much lower yield on a good part of my bush beans because of it. Those mature beans, some of which I apparently missed on clean up, are now sprouting in the midst of temps in the lower 30s. Go figure.

So what did I get?

  • About 200 tomatoes (even after the massacre of the Romas in June), maybe more. About 64 carrots (I so should have planted more!)
  • 12 Parsnips
  • About 75 bell peppers (total swag, but I counted dishes I cooked so it really could be a whole lot more)
  • About 100 hot peppers....oh how I wish it were more...
  • Very few squash and zucchini and one lonely butternut due to my very novice use of an organic control that killed my plants.
  • About 3 pounds of bush and pole beans.
  • About 30 beautiful eggplants.
  • Enough lettuce for a big salad or two a week for about 3 months.
  • About 3 pounds of tiny sweet potatoes (I planted them waaaay too late.)
  • 10 pounds of onions or so.
  • Well....I'm sure there is more but I'm tired of thinking that hard.

Now, I know you're all going to look at this list and then my next year's harvest estimate when I post it and wonder how I'm getting from here to there, even with more than double the space. Here is the answer. Optimism! No, really. I'm taking some of what I learned and using it. I'll stagger out in space some of the restricted ones, having small root plants in the squares between, to provide room. Interplanting, Interplanting and Interplanting! It will allow me to free up squares for long term crops while still getting many multiples of those fast growers.

Oh, and by the way...even though I'm calling it done, I'm actually still growing and harvesting brussell sprouts (they are so freaky looking), and more late planted carrots and beets.

And here is the Boscoe man, for all his girlie fans out there, looking suave at bedtime. His tail is waggin' for you!

Check back soon for the 2009 Garden Plan!

2009 Tentative Garden Plan

As you may have guessed from my 2008 Harvest Wrap Up post, I'm now a firm and converted believer in the Square Foot Gardening method for us urban or suburban gardeners. There is simply no better way to get so much from so little space. And in terms of labor, it was certainly a total breeze even with a full time job, family requirements and even the occassional need to travel. Basically, I love it.

Of course, now I need more. Yes, more beds. I've been measuring and mulling for a few months now and I've come up with a new arrangement that will allow me to put in 2 additional 4x8 foot beds, which more than doubles my growing space. I'm also putting in a little side area that I'll use for squash and such. And not to be forgotten, I'll be building potato boxes off to the side also. Those 50 big containers will also still be gettting a workout.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. So from the top:

Goal 1: Produce 75% of my veggies for fresh eating. Last year was far less, with many gaps in production I intend to close.
Goal 2: Produce sufficient to can or dehydrate or freeze a further 50% of my veggies needs for the entire year for one person. While I did very well in this respect this year, it was supplemented with corn, berries and tomatoes purchased at a local farm. I also ran out of my yummy Rare Breed (TM) marinara sauce before the tomato plants even died!
Goal 3: Grow 3 new things.

Now, that doesn't sound too bad does it? Yeah...right! Below are some images of the slides I've made of the intended plan after much diddling about. This isn't certain yet since I'm getting a very important second opinion before the work begins.

You'll notice on all the beds next year I'm really going to take advantage of interplanting more than I did this year. I simply didn't know enough or have enough confidence to work this sort of plan. But the numbers don't lie and the yield can be vastly increased by putting those little fast growers around the bases of the slow ones.

In Bed 1, I intend to plant some of the Tomatoes, Peppers and Cukes relatively early, while others I'll grow in slightly larger starter pots to be transplanted as spring harvest completes later. It is sort of an experiment since this year I didn't have enough data to determine what differences the time spacing made in harvests. I'm kicking hard on providing more onions since I used up all mine by the first week of November this year.

In Bed 2, I'm doing much the same as Bed 1 with more tomatoes, eggplants and peppers and lots of interplanting.

Bed 4, which was in use this year, is going to be moved to a more advantageous spot and put into heavy production. Bed 3, my champion bed this year, is in the prime spot for an experiment in the 3 Sisters Method of growing. I've used the spacing of tall corn listed in the SFG book and worked everything else around it, but I am worried that only 2 squash should go in between rather than 4. For those who aren't familiar with the method, it is the standard Native American method and it is increasingly popular again for very good reason. The corn, planted first, provides the support for a couple of climbing beans planted a couple of weeks later. The beans, in turn, provide nitrogen fixing for the heavy feeding corn. The squash, planted last, provides cooling shade to the roots of corn which really helps it grow during high summer, shades out weeds and keeps moisture in the soil. Pretty sweet arrangement!

Bed 5, which is the one I put to the side of my house is in a position to have extended spring, milder summer temps and an extended fall. As a matter of fact, this is the bed that produced brandywine tomatoes and pole beans until November 10th, even after 2 freezes. It is just in a perfect sheltered spot. Since I've been able to grow lettuce there all summer, I'm going to really leverage that this next year.

All the herbs that I had scattered all over are going to be concentrated in pots this year. The misc list shows some of my other goodies and includes my new items like Watermelon, Sunflowers and Luffa. The apple trees are brand new and not expected to produce for a couple of years and the coffee beans that sprouted are actually taking a nose dive right now and will probably be replaced soon.

So, to make this blog post even more ridiculously long, I'm going to put in my harvest estimates based on the above plan. Yes, it is a bit optimized. I counted all carrots and beets and other single root crops as harvested, even though many will be pulled early and some may not make it. Others are based on what I got from each plant this year, like eggplant and tomato. If anyone sees anything totally out to lunch here, please do let me know!

Harvest Estimates from Planting Plan in Beds 1 through 5


Carrots – 168 each
Beets – 144 each
Radishes – 72 bulbs
Onions – 60 bulbs
Cauliflower – 12 heads
Snap Pea – 24 plants
Peas – 32 plants
Cabbage – 4 heads
Brussels Sprouts – 8 plants worth (20-30 per)
Lettuce – 20 plants
Broccoli – 5 plants worth (5 main heads, many small sides)

Tomato – 24 plants in beds (more in pots), unknown quantity, aiming for 200 pounds, hoping for more!
Cucumbers – 4 plants, unknown quantity
Eggplant – 9 plants, usually 5 pounds or more per plant in beds
Peppers (hot and sweet) – 15 plants, unknown mix or quantity
Bush Beans (green beans) – 99 plants, unknown yield, usually ¼ pound per plant

Multi-Season Harvest
Leeks – 32 bulbs (fall harvest)
Parsnips – 64 each (early winter harvest)
Acorn Squash – 3 plants, unknown harvest, usually 3-5 per plant
Corn – 16 plants, usually 1-3 ears per plants
Pole Beans – 32 plants, long harvest, usually ½ pound per plant
Yellow Squash – 2 plants, usually 7-10 pounds per plant
Zucchini – 2 plants, usually 7-10 pounds per plant

Fall Planting for Early Winter Harvest
Not yet completely decided since it will depend on earlier harvests but estimates are:
Carrots – 144 to 288 each
Beets – 144 each
Peas – 64 plants
Cauliflower – 16 heads
Brussell Sprouts – 16 plants (20-30 per plant)
Brocolli – 8 main heads with many side shoots
Cabbage – 8 heads

Harvest Estimate from Planting Plan for Containers and Side Areas
Sunflowers – 20 Heads for seed
Yellow Squash – 2 to 3 plants
Zucchini – 2 to 3 plants
Luffa – 2 plants
Butternut Squash – 2- 3 plants
Strawberries – unknown number of plants
Potatoes – 20 to 50 pounds each from 2 potato boxes
Cucumbers – Several in pots and in flower beds
Peppers – All extra starts in pots and flower beds
Roma Tomatoes – more in pots