Yesterday, I installed a 4’x4′ raised bed…using the principles of square foot gardening. The idea is that the bed is then divided into 16 1’x1′ squares and each square is then planted with a specific plant. Each square gets a specific number of plants/seeds, depending on the size of the plant (full grown). So, for example, while you can get 16 carrots in one square, you can only get 1 pepper plant in another one.
I planted a red pepper, a yellow pepper, shallots, radishes, carrots, squash, cantaloupe, watermelon, and potatoes.

I did a couple of things that were not recommended. First my box is a little less than four feet square. So each square is 11 1/2″ x 11 1/2″. Hopefully that is not a big deal. The other thing I did differently is that I did not install a vertical plane for the climbing plants to grow on. As they tend to take up space in the garden, the idea is that you need to install a kind of trellis for these plants to climb. I placed those plants around the edges of the garden so that they can trail off the sides of the box.
This is a an adventure for me. I have had container gardens before and, to be honest, never did very well with anything but houseplants and herbs. The only garden that I’ve had some measure of success with was the one that Cathy and I started a few years ago (in the house on Vogel). It did okay, despite the ridiculously hot/dry summer that was. This year, I’m making an effort to really grow a large portion of our summer produce. I am hoping that we can grow enough to offset our grocery bill. And, I’m guessing I’ll learn something in the process and will be able to do a better job next year.
One thing I already knew…building the square foot garden was kind of late in the season…it would have been better to have it already in and to have started working in it in April even though it was still freezing here! That’s the time to start working with the soil and even starting some seedlings (potatoes) with a window over the box.

I also need better soil to start with. I mean, we compost but don’t nearly have as much as I would like to have. So we need to compost more and turn it faster. I also need to find a good source of soil for the raised beds and see about getting that soil delivered in bulk. I want to be organic and would prefer to use organic garden soil only but it is quite expensive and filling raised beds with it would mean spending hundreds of dollars.

The photo to the left shows the site before the installation. When we bought the house, there was a huge (90 feet) tree that was overgrown with ivy. It was also very close to the house. We were worried that a big wind would topple it into our house and/or the neighbor’s house. We had it removed last summer. And the stump was ground down. We have been treating the soil but there’s still a lot of wood beneath the surface.

The photo to the right features some of the supplies for the project. While I intend to make the garden organic, I just couldn’t afford organic garden soil at $9 for 1.5cf. (We needed 16cf of soil). So I settled for premium topsoil and a big bag of garden soil. I also got a half bale of hay. And, of course, planned to ammend with our homemade compost and other natural goodness (worm castings, bonemeal, etc.).
I also bought some wood to construct the box. The wood is untreated cedar. We got 4 1x6x8 pieces and had the folks at Home Depot cut the wood in half so that we ended up with 8 1x6x4 pieces. Cathy screwed two pieces together to give us 4 2x6x4 pieces. While she was doing that I found 24 bricks (leftovers from our reclaimed brick paver patio project) and laid them out into a 4×4 square.
Then I began pulling up all the weeds and grass inside the project area. I also tried to pull out any big chunks of old tree and then used a hand tiller to till up the soil. Once Cathy had finished the box…and I had leveled the bricks, we laid the box on the bricks and then put down a layer of hay/straw. This will help to keep the soil aerated, and since it is organice, it will compost down throughout the season.
Next, I filled the box with the bags of topsoil. Then we dumped the contents of our rolling composter into the raised bed. I used my rake to mix the soil and compost before adding the garden soil. Cathy added a some worm castings as well.
I used my trusty rake to mix everything well (being careful not to disturb the hay layer on the bottom). And then began to create my grid.
As I said above, my raised bed is actually a tad smaller than 4×4. Next time I make one, I’ll account for the wood when I measure, so rather than have the wood cut to exactly 4′ in length, I’ll have it cut to 4’2″ so that when the box is put together, the inside space will measure out at 4×4 even. So my grid has 16 squares that measure 11 1/2″ each.
Instead of using lathing to lay out my grid, I decided to use twine and tie the grid off. I didn’t want to take up any more space than I needed to (which, I felt like the lathing would do that). You can see the squares in the photo to the right. Those squares looked tiny to me. As I was creating the grid, I thought, how in the world is this tiny little raised bed going to grown all that food. I guess I just have to trust that Mel Batholomew knows what he’s talking about.
There were some veggies that I couldn’t pick up to transplant into the garden and had to settle for seeds. I think there’s still time for them to sprout and grow fairly well. There are 3 squares with seeds that I’m trying to germinate: radishes and carrots. Along one whole side of the garden are 4 squares with potatoes planted in them. When I picked out all the plants yesterday, I didn’t notice that instead of grabbing 3 squashes, I actually picked up one squash and two cantaloupe. So, cantaloupe it is. I have one free square left and will pickup another squash plant this week to fill it.
Above, is the finished product…wish me luck that everything grows. I may add some fencing in the next couple of weeks if I think that the bunnies are going to attack!
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