Start a SF garden 3

Planting the first seeds
When the seed bed is ready for planting mark out the squares. You can use a variety of methods. I have used metal tent pegs (pins) and white string to good effect. Place the pegs at 1ft (30cm) intervals on all sides and thread the string across the bed to give 16, 1ft (30cm) squares.Choosing what to grow in your new bed might appear difficult and it depends on what time of year you start. There is a general rule that tall crop should be planted in the squares on the north edge of bed with progressively smaller crops in the remaining rows of squares until the smallest occupy the row facing south. This ensures that the small plants are not shaded. Check seed packets for heights of full grown plants. As a rough guide, tomatoes, climbing beans, broad beans and peas are likely to be the tallest and lettuce the shortest. Plants like beetroot and carrots are in-between.

Deciding what to grow can seem difficult. Think about what you like to eat, make a list and then edit it down to 16 vegetables. Keep it simple to start with and experiment later. I would advise against things like potatoes that require a lot of space and are in the ground for a long time.

The spacing of plants in the 1 ft squares is not the same as that advised on seed packets so consult the table in the book or see below for a truncated version, see the book for more information.

Basil 1/sqft
Beans: French 9/sqft
Beans: Runner 8/sqft
Beetroot 16/sqft
Broccoli 1/sqft
Cabbage 1/sqft
Carrots 16/sqft
Cauliflower 1/sqft
Celery 4/sqft
Chard(Swiss) 4/sqft
Courgettes 1/sqft (grown up supports)
Garlic 4/sqft (6″) Some say 9/sqft (4″)
Leeks 9/sqft
Lettuce 4/sqft
Marjoram 4/sqft
Onions 16/sqft
Oregano 1/4sqft
Parsley 4/sqft
Peas 8/sqft (grown across 2 or more squares)
Radishes 16/sqft
Scallions 36/sqft (2″)
Spinach 9/sqft
Thyme 4/sqft
Tomatoes bush-type: 4/4sqft (see special grid); vine-type 1/sqft
(in row of 4 on trellis)

Planting Plan for a typical Square Foot Bed.

Broad Beans Sugar peas
4x French Beans 4x Kohl Rabbi 16x Onions
9x Leeks 9x Beetroot 4x French Beans 16x Carrots
4x Lettuce 4x Nasturtium 4x Marigold 5x Lettuce

When you have decided what to plant in each of the 16 squares you can begin to open the seed packets. It is wise to follow the instructions about when to plant and to remember that the further north you go the later the growing season starts and the earlier it ends.

A good seed sowing technique, described in Mel Bartholomew’s book, is “station sowing”. Make a small hole at the required depth for the seed with a dibber. Space the holes so that you get the plant density for the crop, e.g. for carrots make 16 equally spaced holes in 1 ft square.

NOTE: a rough guide for the planting depth of seeds is not more than twice the diameter of the seed. So for carrots it is around 3-4mm. A common mistake is to plant too deep. This means that seeds struggle to send shoots to the surface.

Next, drop 2-3 seeds into each hole but 4-5 for carrots and parsnips as germination can be irregular. Do not forget to add a label or keep a paper record of what is planted in each square. If all the seeds grow snip, off the weakest using a pair of scissors to leave the strongest seedling. DO NOT PULL OUT as this disturbs the roots of the wanted seedling. The technique is equally applicable to larger plots and certainly is a very economical way to use seed.

NOTE: There is no need to use mini vegetables, sometimes called patio plants. Using ordinary varieties at close spacing means that the plants will grow to a size allowed by the space available, they will be smaller but perfectly edible.

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