Outdoors, Green Living, Homesteading, Sustainable living, Green Building

Square Foot Gardening


This is an article about 100 square feet of square foot gardening. The boards you see here are 2″x12″x10′ and 2″x12″x5′ Treated pine. I am combining SFG and Hugelkultur. The goal of SFG is to maximize the space. The goal of Hugelkultur is to make good use of waste wood from around the property and create a spongy mass underneath the garden bed for holding water. So the foot or so below the garden bed will be wood such as rotting pine, manure or bird litter and small bit of top soil from the hole. On top of that will be the 1 foot of garden soil mix. This will be 1/3 top soil, 1/3 manure, 1/3 composted leaves, wood chips, grasses and such. In our case the manure will be horse manure that has been composted. The Chicken litter that I will add to the Hugelkultur section has been composted as well.

We will get the compost for the soil mix from the city land fill at $20 per pickup bed load. I intend to sift this a bit and add the larger pieces of unrotted wood to the Hugelkultur section. We hope there will be little to no weed/grass seeds in the soil mix when its done.

We will not plant this year anything that uses up a lot of square feet per plant unless we can have it grow vertically. Some unusual things I’d like to try will be wheat, barley, buck wheat, oats, cotton, sugar beats, sugar cane. Everything will be annuals. No fruits to speak of, just survival veggies and foods mainly.

If I can get everyone’s cooperation we will log harvest by day, with plant type and weight in pounds and ounces. At least until we get good solid data on each plant type. In this way we can report on pounds of whatever per square foot harvested here on the blog.

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The below chart is a list of plants that I propose we plant this year, at least some of them. I just took my best guess for yes plants based on what I have studied. Opinions and even facts may very a little from the chart below. If anyone notices any major blunder, let me know.

  • SHTF (Stuff hit the fan) Survival foods (bad economy etc.)
  • Protein (plants with higher protein content)
  • Vitamin(plants with higher main vitamin contents)
  • Sugar (plants high in sugar or starch)
  • Aromatic (plants with mainly color or flavor enhancing qualities)
  • Fiber (plants high in dietary fiber)
  • Nitrogen (nitrogen fixing plants)
Plant Group SHTF Protein Vitamin Sugar Aromatic Fiber Nitrogen
Red Potato 1.1 Yes Yes
Sweet Potato 1.1 Yes Yes
Idaho Potato 1.1 Yes Yes
Russet Potato 1.1 Yes Yes
White Potato 1.1 Yes Yes
Carrots 1.2 Yes Yes Yes
Beets 1.3 Yes
Turnips 1.3 Yes
White Onion 1.3 Yes
Purple Onion 1.3 Yes
Yellow Onion 1.3 Yes
Sugar Beet 1.3 Yes Yes
Garlic 1.3 Yes
Radish 1.3 Yes
Peanuts 1.4 Yes Yes
Green Beans 2.1 Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
English Peas 2.2 Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Black Eye Peas 2.2 Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Snap Peas 2.2 Yes Yes Yes Yes
Snow Peas 2.2 Yes Yes Yes Yes
Pinto Beans 2.3 Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Lima Beans 2.3 Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Soy Beans 2.3 Yes Yes Yes
Black Beans 2.3 Yes Yes Yes
Large Tomato 3.1 Yes Yes Yes
Med Tomato 3.1 Yes Yes Yes
Cucumber 3.2 Yes
Egg Plant 3.2 Yes
Yellow Squash 3.2 Yes
Pumpkin 3.3 Yes Yes
Cantaloupe 3.3 Yes Yes Yes
Small Tomato 3.1 Yes Yes Yes
Corn 4.1 Yes Yes Yes
Sugar Cane 4.1 Yes
Sorghum 4.1 Yes
Celery 4.2 Yes Yes
Asparagus 4.2 Yes
Bell Pepper 4.3 Yes Yes
Okra 4.3 Yes Yes
Banana Pepper 4.3 Yes
Cotton 4.4
Roman Lettuce 5.1 Yes Yes Yes Yes
Iceberg Lettuce 5.1 Yes Yes Yes
Kale 5.1 Yes Yes Yes
Collard Greens 5.2 Yes Yes Yes Yes
Spinach Greens 5.2 Yes Yes Yes Yes
Cabbage 5.3 Yes
Broccoli 5.3 Yes
Cauliflower 5.3 Yes
Brussels Sprouts 5.3 Yes Yes
Wheat 6 Yes Yes Yes
Buck Wheat 6 Yes Yes Yes
Barley 6 Yes Yes Yes
Oats 6 Yes Yes Yes

In the next slide show I am getting chicken litter from this 100 foot long 6 foot high pile inside an old chicken house. The guy I’m getting this litter from has 10 houses, each 500 foot long and 50 feet wide with about 50,000 birds per house.

Tommy Lane is loading it in a trailer I borrowed from my brother. This trailer has 1 foot sides its 16 feet long and 6.5 feet wide. If we leveled the chicken litter in it with the top of the sides it would hold 3.85 yards of litter. This would be around 3,850 lbs of litter. If we heaped it a little we would be hauling 2 tons of litter. I figured this by weighing a 5 gal bucket with a fish scale. It weighed 25 lbs and 1 cubic foot is 7.1 gallons. So 1.4 times 25 is 35lbs per cubic foot. I rounded it up a bit to come up with 1000lbs per yard (27 cubic feet) of litter. My van with a 350v8 pulled it fine. I stopped him about about 2.5 yards of litter(6 tractor buckets) thinking it would take us hours to unload it. I bought two plastic scoops to unload it with.

This litter had been composted 4 weeks and was fairly dry. It took two of us only 30 minutes to unload it.

For compost I traveled to a nearby lawn and gardener guy named Smiley Vinson from London Arkansas. He has huge mounds of compost. I was charged $40 for one bucket of his loader that should be about 3 yards of compost. This is leaf, grass clippings, twigs that has been turned routinely for over a year. It was nice and black and looked like manure. I weighted this out at 1350lbs per yard and it was a bit damp and wet. We unloaded the compost with scoop shovel and snow shovel. Took us about 30 minutes to unload it.

Now we need horse manure for the 1 foot deep soil mix. There is a neighbor with a nearby horse barn that needs to be cleaned out. The horse manure was amazingly light. It weighed in a about 600lbs per yard. Took about an hour to load and 30 minutes to unload it.

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Here I have a chart showing plant types and planting arrangement and density. Circled number means number of square feet for one plant. Number without circle means number of plants per one square foot. I have a 3 letter designator for each plant type. There is no logical arrangement for the chart below, its merely an example. Light Green means spring planting(mar 1 to apr 1), and Dark Green means Summer planting (apr 1 to may 1) as a rough guide.

  • WHE Wheat
  • ALF Alfalfa
  • SFL Sun Flower
  • PHP Purple Hull Pea
  • CRN Corn
  • CEL Celery
  • RAD Radish
  • SPN Spinach
  • CAN Cantaloupe
  • CBG Cabbage
  • ASP Asparagus
  • BAR Barley
  • RDP Red Potato
  • GBN Green Bean
  • PBN Pinto Bean
  • LTM Large Tomato
  • BLP Bell Pepper
  • MTN Med Tomato
  • CAR Carrot
  • STM Small Tomato
  • BRO Broccoli
  • SGB Sugar Bee
  • WPT White Potato
  • EPE English Peas
  • LBN Lima Bean
  • CUC Cucumber
  • BNP Banana Pepper
  • EGG Egg Plant
  • OKR Okra
  • YSQ Yellow Squash
  • CAL Cauliflower
  • BWH Buckwheat
  • SWP Sweet Potato
  • BEP Black Eye Pea
  • BBN Butter Bean
  • BEA Beet
  • ONN Onion
  • COL Collard Greens
  • PUM Pumpkin
  • ZSQ Zucchini Squash
  • BSP Brussels Sprouts


And this shows four beds 5×10 or 50ft2 and 200 ft2 total

Next I show more digging. Russ Terwillinger made sides for one of the boxes using sand bags. Because we were digging this seemed logical. We will have to find a way soon to UV protect the sand bags. Dry stacked stone would probably be the cheapest method. I began filling in wood and chicken litter in the first box.

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Soil Sample Test Results

Understanding Soil Test Results PDF

Of the images below we see 3 test samples. The first is 1/3 top soil, 1/3 leaf/grass/twig compost, 1/3 fairly old horse manure. The second is 1/3 top soil, 1/3 leaf/grass/twig compost, 1/3 4 to 6 week old rice hull chicken litter. The 3rd would be from last years beds which were made up of horse manure and soil and city wood chip compost. These 3 test were free. We also sent off a sample of chicken litter only but it cost $18+other fees and totaled $23.50 per non soil type sample. I wanted to test also the leaf/twig/grass compost but haven’t done that yet. I wanted to test the horse manure but have not done that yet either.

Concentrations Conversion Calculatormight be helpful.




Got the chicken litter report in. Remember this report cost $20 per sample (one in this case) and total of $23.65 with shipping.


Chicken Litter Analysis
PH 8.9
EC(Electrical Conductivity micro mhos/cm) 8820
%water 28.99
dry/wet report
nutrient dry as is(29% water)
%N 3.37% 2.39%
%P 1.39% .99%
%K 3.03% 2.15%
%Ca 2.42% 1.72%
%Carbon 31.96% 22.69%
lbs per ton as is basis (with 29% water)
N 47.8
P2O5 45.3
K2O 52.0
Ca 34.4
Total Carbon 453.8

I did a quick search on the net and came up with these examples for nutrient contents of given nutrient sources. With the commercial fertilizers you can get just about any mix such as 10-20-10 or 20-50-10 or you name it.After talking with a man at the extension office I have a few things to share. First the Nitrates and Sulfates are a constantly mobile value. They go up and down depending on conditions. They basically are measuring gasses. I suppose certain nitrogen containing molecules or sulfur containing molecules give off nitrogen or sulfur as gas. The plants then absorb the gas through the roots.

Nutrient Sources
Source N-P-K
Commercial Nitrogen 37-0-0 or 27-0-0
Urea 54-0-0
Blood meal 13-0-0
Fish meal 10-2-2
Bone meal 4-12-0 or 1-13-0
Feather meal 13-0-0
Chicken Litter 2-1-2 to 3-1-3
Wood Ash 0-1-10
Muriate of Potash 0-0-60
Phospate Rock 0-32-0

After talking with a man at the extension office I have a few things to share. First the Nitrates and Sulfates are a constantly mobile value. They go up and down depending on conditions. They basically are measuring gasses. I suppose certain nitrogen containing molecules or sulfur containing molecules give off nitrogen or sulfur as gas. The plants then absorb the gas through the roots.

The values in the reports above that have — “dashes” instead of low, med or optimal or above optimal mean that they are in normal ranges. The NO3-N value for the Old bed was near optimal. The other two were OK but much lower. The recommendation to add urea or nitrogen fertilizer of 2 to 3.5 pounds per 1000ft2 is a minimal amount to add. Its only meant to bring the nutrients up a bit. To find out more on what plants can tolerate or need search the web for “plant nutrient sufficiency and requirements”.

We have 200ft2 of beds of which 100ft2 is going to be square foot gardening. At any rate we were going to use the horse manure mix for these beds. 200ft2 is 1/5th of 1000ft2 so 2lbs divided by 5 is 4/10′s pound. or 1/10th pound per bed. Its recommended we sprinkle this on top and water and mix into the top layer of soil. We may use feather meal or blood meal instead of urea. In which case the amount will go up by about 5 times. Or 5/10s pound per bed. We will also add muriate of potash to the beds 1/10th pound per bed. Its not more complex than that unless you use something other than what is recommended in which case the recommendations serve as a guide for calculating how much more or less you might need of something else.

In the following photo’s you will see us completing the Hugelkulture beds and then finishing off the planting soil. I was going to mix it but pressed for time I decided to layer it lasagna style. There was 4 layers of (top soil,horse manure, compost also layered) for 1 foot of bed depth. It took us probably 5 to 7 hours to fill in one bed. We were resting as much as working, being out of shape.

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Below is the layout for garden box 1. 50ft2 or 5×10. MUG is mustard greens, COG is collard greens, LET is lettuce, TUR is turnips.


Apr 20


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May 1


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May 5


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May 10






Conclusion this year.  The garden this year didn’t end well. About all I was able to gather from it was greens. The greens did really well. After that drought set it across the USA and in Arkansas. The grasshoppers came in and made quick work of the entire garden. Beans were stripped bare. Tomato’s were stripped. Everything else was half eaten. I just gave up on it.

I think next year I won’t garden with folks where they don’t allow Malathion and 7Dust. My uncle used this and his garden was beautiful and produced much. I think the grasshoppers attacked because of the dryness of the plants and drought in the nearby fields.

One problem we had was that the Hugelkultur beds seem to be drying up quickly after watering. This may be because the wood and chicken liter underneath was not rotted enough to have the sponge like effect it was supposed to have. Also I didn’t pack the chicken litter tightly, there was lots of room for water to just drop down into cavities. The soil mix did not contain peat or vermiculite which might have helped in water retention. In my opinion the beds need more composting time.

Also when some plants reached a certain stage it seemed like they may have become burnt by the chicken litter in the hugelkultur section below. We are not totally sure about that. One bed was nearly all chicken litter and the plants didn’t do well there at all. So the litter was a bit hot. Ammonia is a big problem with fresh chicken litter. I think it was 6 week old liter. Would have been much safer if it were a year old instead.
And the way I did the corn with only 3 square foot for each type was wrong. Corn needs more plants for proper fertilization. It would have been better to dedicate 25ft2 to one type of corn.

A large bucket of sweet potatoes was harvested. And the Brussels Sprouts survived the bugs, heat and drought. They began to flourish in fall and winter months. I picked a few meals in Brussels sprouts so far.

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15 responses

  1. Mickey

    Larry,

    Sweet! Dude, please tell me you got a date out of digger number 2…I mean, heck, if you convinced a woman to dig a pit for you trust me, you are in like Flynt!!!!

    Mickey

    January 31, 2012 at 7:05 pm

    • haha, well I found out she is in the process of divorce and we both like Rock Climbing so who knows..

      February 1, 2012 at 11:42 am

    • I always heard that they dig pits for you until marriage then the pit digging is done with.

      February 3, 2012 at 2:41 pm

  2. In the last few years, many people are changing the way they are thinking about health. Many are buying organic vegetables in the market because they know that there is more nutritious value when compared to others. But buying organic vegetables may cost more. Why buy when you can start your own organic garden right at your doorstep? Consider buying some organic gardening books if you want to get started in saving your grocery money.

    February 20, 2012 at 5:08 pm

  3. With all those logs under your garden, in several years poisonous mushrooms with proliferate. They won’t hurt anything–just don’t eat them.

    March 5, 2012 at 12:45 pm

  4. Potatoes are sprouting in my tire tower and the figs, rhubarb, and grapes are coming out. Time for it to rain now! That won’t be so good for the soil and manure piles though. That’s gardening, always a trade off.

    March 19, 2012 at 10:02 am

    • I got in some sample seeds I think for sugar cane.. I’ll drop them by so you can start them in the green house.

      March 19, 2012 at 2:17 pm

  5. http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=6&sqi=2&ved=0CEgQFjAF&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ncagr.gov%2Fagronomi%2Fsaaesd%2Fscsb394.pdf&ei=G_lpT8GyGsXpsQLfwKCuCQ&usg=AFQjCNGLqwGm3sbjUcPfASyZ9aIAVm1h1Q&sig2=Z_gY_BEotswl8NBM_9huMg

    This is a plant nutrient sufficiency document for the southern region in the USA. This was produced by some government agency for row croppers.

    March 21, 2012 at 10:57 am

  6. Thanks so much for the pictures, I’m loving the gkids but missing my garden! Looks like it is time to stake the tomatoes. Have a good week.

    Margaret
    marter.blogspot.com

    May 7, 2012 at 5:41 am

    • that’s margter.blogspot.com

      May 7, 2012 at 5:42 am

      • Thanks for all the great pictures Larry! The garden beds look fantastic, how does it taste?

        May 17, 2012 at 8:17 am

  7. An interesting map showing how the usda hardiness zones are changing due to 4 degree average rise in temperatures.

    June 3, 2012 at 2:40 pm

  8. http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/

    Another hardiness map from usda with more detail

    June 5, 2012 at 3:00 pm

    • On that map you may click the state to bring up detail for that state alone.

      June 5, 2012 at 3:02 pm

  9. Pingback: Tomato Lasagna Square Foot Gardening Pdf

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