I couldn’t start this post until my fingers had thawed out, January is a chilly month for gardeners! This is the first in a monthly series, to see more from our kitchen garden and how we’re getting our toddler into the veg patch join us on Facebook.
It’s far too cold for our little kitchen garden to grow anything at the moment so instead we’ve been focussing on planning and preparing. Last year I didn’t do too well with the planning, my approach was much more along the lines of ‘chuck it in the ground and see if anything comes out’. We had a lot of success – beginners’ luck perhaps – but wasted lots of space and failed miserably when it came to harvesting things on time because it all seemed to grow in a glut.
This year, to try and avoid the same problems, I’ve structured our planting schedule and made a paper plan of what will grow where. I’ve done this by using the Square Foot Gardening method.
Square Foot Gardening
Square Foot Gardening was designed to allow growers with small spaces to maximise their use of the ground. SFG involves dividing your raised beds into square feet and planting an optimal number of veg per square foot. Obviously certain plants need more space than others which why the planning phase is so important.
SFG suggests that beds are constructed to be 4 feet by 4 feet, meaning that each bed would have 16 different planting sections. An ideal example would be the layout shown below…
However from what I can tell there’s no real reason for the beds to be that exact size, except perhaps that your arms can reach the middle of a four foot bed from both side! As long as you’ve got it divided into square feet any size and shape should work.
Planning A Square Foot Garden
I started with a list of vegetables I knew our family would eat. Then I removed anything that needed a green house which took care of peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes. After that I removed anything that might require skill to grow which took care of brassicas (brussel sprouts, cabbage etc). Finally I struck off anything that would need a lot of space, which took care of corn and potatoes.
I had lots of research to do regarding the Square Foot Gardening method but thankfully found it really straightforward. Using the Square Foot method actually made it easier to visualise what would go where and how many of each vegetable I had space for.
This document gives a concise table of plants suitable to SFG as well as the plant numbers per square, duration until harvest and approximate yields. Other more detailed info can be found at The Food Project and there’s also a few suggested layouts for your Square Foot plot on Quickcrop.
I did a quick bit of research on crop rotation which was confusing so I opted for the most basic plan I could find! At the top of each bed layout you’ll see my crop rotation plan (plan is most definitely in air quotes!) After that I mapped out my beds according to the Square Foot method. And that’s when things got exciting!
Layout For A Square Foot Garden
A Square Foot Garden in raised beds is an ideal choice for a kitchen garden or an urban environment. Plants from the same families usually like the same type of conditions as well as being sown and harvested at roughly the same times, this means you can dedicate one raised bed to each veg family and keep your rotation simple.
Bed Number 1 – Cucubrits
5 feet x 7 feet
Here grows our Overwinter Onions and Garlics, unfortunately I planted these before learning about SFG and my spacing is terrible – so much wasted ground. When these come up in early/mid Summer I’ll be replacing them with potatoes, pumpkins and courgettes. The spacing for pumpkins in a square foot garden is one plant per 2 squares,” though you will need to grow them on a trellis to prevent them creeping. Potatoes are spaced one to a square and courgettes are also one per square. This gives us enough squares for 5 Pumpkin plants, 8 potatoes, 4 squash plants and 5 courgettes while leaving enough room for a rhubarb plant that is threatening survival!
Bed Number Two – Roots and Onions
All the rest of the beds are 4 feet x 4 feet
This is where we’ve laid out our roots – carrots, parsnips, beetroot and celeriac with spring onions thrown in to distract the aphids. We start sowing in March. (64 Carrots, 36 beetroots, 6 celeriac, 48 parsnip).
This bed is filled with peas and mangetout and bordered by edible flowers. I haven’t planted tons here as last year we had far too many peas and I’m trying to find a balance! I’ll see if 6 peas and 2 mangetout are enough.
To our great shame we buy bags of salad! £1.40 and all that single use plastic for two handfuls of chlorine coated leaves is an environmental mortification. This is our cut and come again bed so plant numbers and types will fluctuate through the season but will hopefully be enough to replace our bags from Florettes.
Our January To Do List
Despite the lack of growth there’s still plenty to do in the kitchen garden during Winter.
- Turning the soil – our beds are mostly made of fresh compost (it was the only way to overcome the clay) so I won’t be needing fertiliser this year. We will simply dig over our soil and let the frost and birds do their work!
- Removing any stray roots – I’m so bad at harvesting on time which creates lots of problems with clearing the ground, like rocket with two meter long roots. If we don’t get the roots up now there’ll be all sorts of problems come Spring, clear your ground now!
- Starting a compost heap – embarrassingly we don’t compost! Yikes! I’ve only just recently learnt that you can compost chicken bedding and honestly anything that lightens the load of our bin for the long walk down the lane is welcome!
- Feed the birds – yes this comes from a place of love, (I secretly harbour dreams of recreating the cleaning scene from Snow White) but also from selfishness. Keeping the birds fed will keep them out of my chicken run AND encourage them to stick around for spring when I’ll need them to take care of my slug and caterpillar problem!