This Year’s Garden Experiments, Take Two

4x4 Square Foot Garden Box 2012

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This year, we’re trying two new experiments in our Yankee Homestead Organic Garden.  Both are pretty major.

[Want to read more about our previous garden and its challenges?  Check out Sneak Peak: This Year’s Garden Experiment.]

Before I describe and show pictures of Experiment Número Uno, I’ll explain how it all went awry before it had really even begun…

Remember this statement, from Sneak Peak: This Year’s Garden Experiment:  Mother’s Day Weekend marks the beginning of the outdoor gardening season here in our neck of the woods, so this Saturday (tomorrow!) is the big day for planting vegetable seeds and seedlings.”

Well, it turns out that Mother’s Day Weekend is usually a good time for planting a vegetable garden in Northern Virginia.  But not always.

We learned this the hard way by losing almost every seedling we planted a few weeks ago, due to a hard frost that came just two days after planting.

If we’d done our due diligence as true vegetable farmers, we’d have made sure to keep an eye on the weather reports.  Which would have allowed us to cover those tender seedlings for those two nights in a row of frosty temperatures.

But alas, we are busy (and ignorant) parents-of-littles-with-lots-of-other-things-to-do.  And obviously not true vegetable farmers.  So we didn’t check the forecasts, and we didn’t cover the plants.  Therefore, they died.

Sad, but true.  And expensive.  Our mistake resulted in having to replace each seedling, which technically made them twice as expensive.  {Sigh.}

We’re back on track now, with all seedlings replaced and no more danger of frost.  Plus, most of the seeds have sprouted, so that’s a relief.  {Whew!}

Note: the owner of our local organic nursery recommends waiting to plant until after the first full moon of May.  (It would have been nice of him to mention this when we purchased our first round of transplants, don’t you think?)

And now, for Garden Experiment Número Uno: Square Foot Gardening with Raised Beds.  

Sneak Peak: This Year’s Garden Experiment, this is no big surprise.)

We actually started the Square Foot Gardening thing at the end of last summer, with a 4×4 box built by Mr. Native Texan (pictured below).  Isn’t it nice?

This spring, Mr. NT built four additional 4×8 raised boxes for our main garden area.  The boxes are situated in the same spot as our Huge Country Garden from previous years, but they take up less room.  This gives us space for heavily mulched paths between the boxes and around the outer edges of the newly configured garden area.  (And hopefully, it will reduce laborious tasks like weeding and watering.  We shall see…)

Last year we also read this book–Lasagna Gardening for Small Spaces: A Layering System for Big Results in Small Gardens and Containers (Rodale Organic Gardening Books)

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–which gave us the great idea to put down thick layers of paper before laying down the mulch.

**In a future post, I’ll provide tips for finding free mulch and awesome, inexpensive paper that is just perfect for this purpose.**

Our method of Square Foot Gardening is technically several experiments all rolled into one, even though I’m only counting it as one big experiment.

For starters, you’ve got the boxes, which are just 2×8 boards cut to size and nailed together.  Mr. Native Texan lined the bottom of ours with black landscape fabric, which eliminated the need to remove weeds or prepare the ground.  (Although the chickens had done a pretty decent job of eating all the existing weeds.)

Next comes the soil mix.  I won’t go into too much detail here except to say that we followed Mel’s recommendations pretty closely.  We found peat moss at Home Depot, the vermiculite at a local organic nursery (this is the hardest ingredient to find) and used compost from a variety of sources–both purchased and homemade.  For more details, check out the book or google “Mel’s Mix for Square Foot Gardening.”

After that, we (and by “we” I mean Mr. NT) attached a grid made from wood scraps.  Ours are not spaced at exactly 12×12, but the layout works fine for our purposes.

Now for the even more experimental part of our Square Foot Gardening…we constructed vertical trellises for certain climbing crops like pumpkins, squash, melons and beans.

NOTE: This post got a bit longer than I’d anticipated, so I decided to save the next part for a separate post.  Want to know the step-by-step procedure for constructing sturdy, economical trellises for climbing crops, with plenty of photos?  Stay tuned!  [Update:  Here’s that post–Square Foot Gardening: How to Construct Sturdy, Economical Trellises for Climbing Crops.]


 Mother’s Day photo credit

4x4 Square Foot Garden Box 2012
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Kathleen Henderson

Let's get real! I’m Kathleen Henderson, your Natural Living Mentor. I’m on a mission to help families see the joy in real food, while finding natural remedies and creating a nontoxic home. Learn more about my story >>


  1. Angela on 07/11/2013 at 6:32 pm

    Thanks for sharing! Revisited this post, as I’m getting a late start in our own vegetable gardening experiments and hoping to grow a few fall veggies. I apologize in advance for the barrage of questions to follow….I’m a newbie! 😉

    1) My dad just built us 2-4×4 square boxes, and I’m gathering what I need to fill them with Mel’s soil mix. Wondered if you could remind me the name of the local organic nursery you referenced? I’m anticipating I’ll need to go there for vermiculite (assuming it’s still available!). 🙂

    2) The “Lasagna” book probably addresses this, but I was curious if when preparing your boxes for planting, you laid down both black landscape fabric AND paper? Or is the paper layered underneath the mulch underneath your boxes.

    3) Finally, I was wondering if you used an organic fertilizer, either Mel’s recommended blend in the book (blood meal, bone meal, etc.), another kind, or simply compost?

    • Kathleen on 07/11/2013 at 8:09 pm

      1) Abernethy & Spencer in Lincoln
      2) Only landscape fabric in the boxes. Only paper on the mulched walk ways. (Although I’m sure you could do either or both and be fine.)
      3) We’ve used no fertilizer other than the compost in the soil mix.
      Hope that helps…(You know where to find me if you have more questions)…Good luck!!

  2. Angela on 07/12/2013 at 11:54 am

    Great, thank you!! 🙂

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