Building a Square Foot Garden
You don’t need much room to grow a salad garden. In fact, salad gardens are perfect for the Square Foot gardening technique first developed and popularized by Mel Bartholomew about 10 years ago. A square foot garden can comfortably live just outside your kitchen door, or on your back patio, as long as it gets plenty of sun and water.
The Square Foot Garden Theory
The idea behind square foot gardening is to maximize growing space by subdividing a garden plot into one foot squares, and replanting them as soon as you finish harvesting the crop from the last plant. This keeps the soil in use, and by paying attention to which crops you grow in which square, you avoid depleting the soil of important nutrients.
A Square Foot Salad Garden
Start by building a four foot by four foot raised bed for your plants. Place it where it gets southern light so that there’s as much sun as possible throughout the day. If you’re gardening directly on the ground, all you’ll really need is a 4×4 foot wooden frame, though you certainly can get decorative with rock walls and other methods of building raised beds.
Fill with high quality soil mix enriched with a nitrogen-rich fertilizer – or use good organic compost, depending on your own beliefs in gardening. I personally recommend composting as both less expensive and healthier.
If you choose to start your plants from seed directly in the bed, plant immediately after the danger of frost is past. In northern states, this really isn’t as feasible – the growing season will be far too short. Start plants indoors about four to six weeks before the last frost is expected, and transplant outside after the last frost.
Divide the bed into one foot squares – you’ll have sixteen of them. Each square can support one of the following:
1 tomato plant
4 lettuce plants (plant several varieties)
6 onion sets
6 garlic sets
6 chive sets
2 cucumber plants
4 marigold plants
16 carrot plants
4 herb plants
4 nasturtium plants
4 mini cabbages (Cole slaw anyone?)
Plant tomato plants and other taller plants toward the back of the bed, with shorter plants progressively planted toward the front. Keep well-watered throughout germination/growing season.
You can begin harvesting lettuce and greens as soon as they have 8-10 leaves – pick just enough for a salad, making sure to leave at least three leaves on the plant for them to regenerate. By harvesting leaves instead of entire heads, you’ll get to eat the greens far sooner, and prolong their growing season for weeks. Harvest tomatoes and cucumbers as they ripen, being careful not to let them go to seed too early to extend the growing season. Marigolds and nasturtiums are both delicious in salads, but they serve the additional purpose of helping to keep your garden pest free. Harvest the flower heads frequently once they start opening to keep the plants blooming.
As plants go to seed, clean out their square and replant with a different variety to cycle the nutrients in the soil. Dig in compost when you replant, but otherwise, your salad garden should need little care other than regular watering and harvesting.
And do harvest often – the more you harvest, the more they’ll produce. Bon appetit!