I have grown plants in various climates and conditions, but I have never tried a vegetable garden before this year. Every time I explored a veggie garden in Florida, I ran into problems to solve. The Hillsborough County extension office provided loads of handouts to provide solutions to some of the problems, but planting and maintaining a vegetable garden still seemed daunting.
- A garden starts with good soil, but I knew I couldn’t use the backyard without bags and bags of topsoil and compost to add organic matter to the sandy soil. I knew that would be expensive.
- Starting a garden meant that a yard full of weeds had to be removed first. I had spent weeks clearing the front yard of weeds last summer and didn’t know how I was going to get all of the backyard done.
- I knew about nematodes, those round and unsegmented worms found just about everywhere, but 4 different types that infect and kill vegetables in Florida added another negative note to the countless insects and diseases that abound in the hot, humid climate.
In my online research, I found reference to the Square Foot Garden method for developing a raised bed. That was an “aha” moment for me. The concept is simple and starts with a garden box that is only 4 foot square and 6 inches deep. My “Iowa frame of mind” imagined a vast garden with long rows of vegetables. I had done enough yard work in the Florida summer heat last year to know that a large garden in the summer in Florida would be difficult to maintain. By reducing the size, it instantly became more manageable. I might end up with fewer vegetables, but that seems an acceptable compromise for a starter, experimental vegetable garden.
I had asked several people the needed depth for a raised bed garden. Did it need to be 8, 10, 12, 18 inches? I got various answers. Does it work to plant vegetables in only 6 inches of soil? That seems very shallow, but the comments from a number of gardeners on Twitter seem to say “yes” it works. I’m still waiting to see. Somethings are doing very well, some are not. I think I got the spinach and arugula in too late for the climate, so the fact that they didn’t do well probably has nothing to do with the garden method. Most plants are doing OK. I’m becoming aware that I need to water more often than I anticipated. The photo above shows the garden as I was starting to put in seedlings and seeds. As you can see in the photo, the plants are wilting. If I don’t keep an eye on them, that is a regular occurrence. That would have been true even if I had planted in the ground rather than in the raised box. In fact, the plants might have needed even more water since the soil is so sandy and porous.
The box is sitting on weed mat, so in theory, the weeds and the nematodes will not get into the soil in the box from underneath. Insects and other pests and diseases are still a problem, but that just means keeping an eye on the plants to watch for problems, and that means keeping those extension office handouts close to diagnose problems as they appear.
The “soil” was the most expensive part of the garden. I described the soil mixture in the post, My Soil is Mel’s Mix. A 3 cubic feet bag of peat (sphagnum) moss cost $27.00. A 4 cubic foot bag of vermiculite cost $25.00. Prices varied on the different bags of compost. The recommended mix is 1/3 peat moss to 1/3 vermiculite to 1/3 compost. My husband built the box and the chicken-wire top to keep out the squirrels and raccoons. The total cost for the box and top was around $30.00. Both Lowes and Home Depot have boxes of the same size that can be put together for around $40.00 but they don’t have the squirrel top.
The box is sitting right beside the patio, so we are all participating in admiring the growth and the progress. We love our little 4-square foot garden.