Thursday, August 4, 2011

Planting the Yard by the Foot

I "invented" a new gardening device for myself yesterday. I took a 7-foot long piece of milled lumber about 3/4" square and measured off one-foot markings. With my friendly neighborhood sharpie marker, I made these marks on all four sides. With my newly made footstick (2 1/3rd yardstick), my fall garden plan printout and my carefully selected seed packets, I headed to the back yard to begin planting the fall garden.

I've not done a formal fall garden before. I've planted in the springtime and kept things going all year well into the fall many times. This was the first time that I actually planted in mid-summer for a fall harvest. I am very excited about the prospects here.

I planted two varieties of sweet corn, a yellow-white blend hybrid variety and a red variety. Until I found these seeds in the store, I had never heard of red sweet corn before. Looked novel so I'm giving it a trial.

The bed I planted is the second-level of my three-level garden. It is 3 feet wide front to back and about 75 feet long, give or take a couple of feet. I planned my garden using Mel Bartholomew's concepts in his wonderful book called Square-foot Gardening. This means that I planted four corn plants per square foot. This places them about 6 inches apart. Seems kind of close, but that's what he recommends. I planted about 24 feet by 2 feet in the yellow/white hybrid variety with white beans in front of them. The beans were planted at 9 plants per square foot. This also seems a bit close, but seeing how well the beans are growing on the first level at the same density, I have a great deal of confidence that this will be successful.

The middle section of the bed has 21 feet of giant sunflowers planted at one per square foot. The seeds I used for this are from the "volunteer" sunflower plant that I grew this spring. I am being quite possessive when I say that I grew it. I didn't even intentionally plant it. I am assuming that it grew from a seed left over from the sunflowers I grew in the same bed last year. They did great and the birds and I loved them. I let the seeds fully ripen in the head of this great plant and dried and saved them. I like the idea of free seed.

In front of these, I planted some yellow straight-neck summer squash and some gray summer squash. There are a couple of watermelon plants in front of these with beans interplanted among them. The sunflowers will grow up and form a nice backdrop. The squashes will grow about half as tall as the sunflowers and the beans will grow a little shorter than the squashes. The melons will cascade over the wall and hand down the three feet to the lower bed, just like they did last year.

The third section takes up the rest of the bed. I planted the red sweet corn here in the back two rows with melons and beans in front. I also planted a couple of spaghetti squashes in this section. This section gets the most late afternoon shade from one of our non-producing trees. Right now, I don't think that's a bad thing as it is still well over 100 degrees in the afternoon. When it starts to cool off a bit, the tree will lose it's leaves and the bed will be in full sun for the winter and early spring months. What a great system.

In his book, Mel Bartholomew suggests having a grid system permanently in your grow beds. This won't work for me for a couple of reasons. The most important reason is I think it looks dumb so I'm not going to leave a grid in my garden. I used the stick I made to help me measure and plant the seeds with the appropriate spacing. I would plant the squares on both sides of the stick and then slide the stick down the bed and repeat the process. When I got to the end of the bed, I picked up the stick and I was done. It took less than an hour and a half to rake the bed smooth, plant the seeds, press them slightly with the rake and cover the whole bed with about 2 inches of straw to act as a mulch. I still have to install the soaker system to water this bed so I'll be doing a bit of retrofitting next week when I get enough time. It took me about a half hour both last evening and this morning to water this bed down. I love the mulch. It really cools the soil down, holds the moisture in the soil and saves me a ton of watering time and water.

I have some goals with this bed. First, I love sweet corn. Steamed, grilled, boiled, whatever. It's great. Second, my wife really likes watermelon. Third, I like cantaloupe and other melons. Fourth, I want to grow a bunch of squash to give a bunch away. (Keeps the borrowers and the "Can I have one?'s" away if you shove squash or zucchini at them. Is that mean?) Fifth, I'm hoping the beans will help with the nitrogen for the other plants. Sixth, I'm hoping that with the corn and sunflowers in the back and the lower plants in the front that this will look really cool. Gardens should look nice.

I'm going to be putting in some other veggies in the other beds later this month and next. I wanted to get these in so they could take advantage of the heat and get a really good growth before it cools off. (I don't expect that to happen until November, although we have had some fairly cool late Octobers recently. Must be that global warming stuff.) I'm looking forward to a big patch of beets and some Brussels sprouts and some cabbage. I can't wait until it gets cool enough for lettuce and other leafy stuff. I won't be planting that until it is consistently in the lower 90's in late September.

Here's to year-round gardening in the desert. Amazing what you can do with a lot of sand, horse manure and sweat.

1 comment:

  1. That sounds awesome, Dad! I can just picture the layout as you described it in full bloom. I think it will be beautiful too. Just make sure you take pictures when all the plants start to look like plants. I want to see how it all turns out.


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