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Zai Square Foot Gardening 1

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Off Grid Net

This years gardening begins with this old Datson bed trailer I bought for $150. I have hauled 2 loads of rabbit manure 150 miles with it and 2 loads of yard waste compost 15 miles with it. It holds about a yard and I think the loads weighed over 1/2 ton. The rabbit manure cost $25 a pickup bed load or per yard. I had to do half the shoveling work in loading it. The compost cost $20 per pickup bed load. The guy with the compost loaded it with his loader. I next hope to use it to get some wood chips for mulch.

In this next group of photos I show a 5 gallon bucket/pond water/soaker hose experiment. It had a pretty good flow rate at first but gradually slowed to no or little flow. I think the pond water is not pure enough and stops it up. I may try to poke small holes in it where it lays in squares to improve water flow and see if we can make this work. We are attempting gravity flow with this.

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Next I test a $20 fountain pump I got from the hardware store. It said it will pump up to 120 gallons per minute(gpm). But that depends on how high it is above the source. We needed to go as high as possible. If you get above 4 feet it stops pumping all together. So I pumped water from the pond about 3.8 feet high into a 5 gallon bucket. It took 30 minutes. Not good. I think I will get the $200 pump that will supply two sprinklers instead to use for our purposes. This $20 pump would be good for aquaponics or hydroponics.

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Here I show 3 yards of rabbit manure Me and the rabbitry owner loaded in about 2 hours of shoveling. I had already got 2 yards of manure prior to this trip with the Datson bed trailer. So I acquired 5 yards this year, and his rabbits produce that every 6 months. I paid $75 for the 3 yards of rabbit manure that day. I also spent about $130 in fuel to go get the rabbit manure.

Zai is a form of gardening where holes are dug in a grid pattern and filled with manure then planted. This started in Africa for turning sand into soil and desert into plant life. I have chose to use this method because of time constraints. So I use a trenching spade I have to cut a 1’x1′ square in the grass. Then remove the surface grass and roots. I then dig and load 6″ to 8″ of top soil into a wheel barrel. I shovel in 3 shovels of rabbit manure and 3 shovels of compost then mix. I put 1/3 of that back in the hole and dump the other 2/3s at the end of the row for garden box fill.

Now we have pond photos. This is about a 1 acre pond. The water level drops quit a bit
in summer. We intend to water the garden from it, which is aquaculture I guess. We want to figure out a way to pump water up to 50 gallon or 200 gallon tanks. We will then gravity flow water from those. We may also try to catch rain water into those same tanks. In a couple of those photos I took pictures of dam erosion. Beavers were stopping up the overflows so that water flowed over the entire dam and almost ruined the pond. Gary the owner did some beaver hunting to fix the problem.

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Here is where we dumped the 3 yards of manure and 4.5 yards of compost. It had been raining a lot and the ground was very slick. I couldn’t get the trailer back far enough and we ended up dumping part of the load on the circle drive. Gary was not happy about the pile of rabbit manure in his drive. I told him we would all laugh about it later.

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Below shows the compost facility at London AR, Smiley Vincent is the compost guy. The compost I was getting was 2 years old and he had once every month or so turned the pile with his loader. I loaded 4.5 yards that day and I don’t know exactly how heavy it was. This was a 5 ton dump trailer that I had borrowed. It hauls about 10 yards. There were also piles of wood chip compost at this facility. I may get some of that for mulch later on. He charged me $60 for that 4.5 yards of compost that day.

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Next we have the rabbitry in Oklahoma where I bought the rabbit manure. The owner of this made the barn from cedars that he cut down on site. He has about 50 cages and about 50 rabbits. When they have bunnies he has up to 200 rabbits.

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Finally we have the start on the garden. I laid down 4′ mulch cloth in 20 and 30 foot rows 4 feet apart. I pinned them down with the U shaped pins you can buy. The plan is to cut 1’x1′ holes in the cloth then dig a zai hole. I will refill with soil mix then plant. I space the holes 2″ apart and have room in the 4′ wide cloth to do 3 rows of holes. This is for plants that require one square foot. For plants that require more than one square foot of space I will simply space the 1′ holes out further. For example plants that require 2’x2′ will have holes spaced 1’2″ apart. Plants that require 3×3 will be spaced 2’2″ apart. In this way the plant’s runners will lay on the mulch cloth. I will also only have to work on e 1’x1′ area of soil for that plant, not 9 square feet.

A 4×50′ piece of mulch cloth would hold 128 squares. I used a square foot garden stepping tile I bought as a cutting guide. A razor knife blade works great for cutting out the squares. The left over squares can still be used with gravel or mulch on top to keep down grass.

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Another thing I did for herb production and deer deterrent was to dig 30 5×5 holes in a circular pattern around the perimeter of the garden about 2′ out from fence and vegetation.
I then planted lavender every 16 feet or 4th hole. The holes were 4′ apart. I planted every kind of herb you can buy in the other holes 2 holes each. This included chives, rosemary, sage, ore3gano, tarragon, thyme, etc. We have other deer countermeasures to implement. One is an extra fence 4 feet out from the existing one. Another is stringing up fishing line a few feet out from the 2nd fence. Another is placing objects just inside the fence to eliminate landing pads. Hedge rows of holly bushes outside the fence or in between them might work well also but cost more. I poured human urine on tree trunks around the garden.

I was able to get 9 holes prepared in the mulch cloth row. I started 2 more by removing grass. I planted those 9 holes with spring type plants, some greens, peas, onions, beats, radishes etc. I had 3’x3′ x 6″ deep soil mix left over at the end of one row and planted half in one type of tomatoes by seed and half in a larger type of tomato by seed. I bought and setup a garden box that is 5″ high and about 42×42″ in size which will become the potato box next time I’m in. I will remove grass, loose up the soil to 6 to 8″ deep and then fill with extra soil mix as I make new zai holes next time I’m in.
I also planted 3 1’x1′ herb holes Each one had lavender in the mix. I planted one or two sun flowers in every herb hole.
I also need to plant some Marigolds which I here deter rabbits. So I was able to work and plant 33 square feet those 2 days off.


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.