Investing in our health – July update on Square Foot Garden


No green thumb?  No room for a big garden?  A few weeks ago, I wrote answering “no” to these questions and some others might make you a great candidate for Square Foot Gardening.

This year, we’re giving Square Foot Gardening a try, with little prior gardening experience.

Developed by Mel Bartholomew in the mid-1970s, Square Foot Gardening (SFG) works because this method is precise, efficient, simple to understand and easy to implement.

After examining our backyard last year, our first full year in this home, we decided to give SFG a try this spring.

This post is an update on our progress.

My wife and I decided to use natural stone (instead of the typical SFG materials (four 4’ lengths of 2”x6” pressure treated lumber)) because we liked the durability stone will provide and we wanted the garden bed to match existing stone used for flowerbeds.  Based on my last update, we spent the following time and money on materials and supplies:

  • Natural stone, almost 1 ton: $250.
  • Heavy-duty landscaping fabric: $10.
  • Wood lath material for square foot grid and screws: free from nearby lumber yard.
  • Mel’s Mix: $60.
  • Time: about 1 full workday, most of that attributed to transporting stone and lifting it into place.

Since late May, I spent another $50 and worked for another 3-4 hours to build a chicken-wire lid, to keep resident chipmunks, squirrels, rabbits, birds and other small critters out of our garden.  For the most part, the lid is doing its job but the odd chipmunk has been seen stealing a few of our strawberries.  It’s annoying but I’m willing to tolerate it, at least for this our first growing season.

After filing our 5’ x 3’ SFG using “Mel’s Mix” (1/3 Peat Moss + 1/3 Vermiculite + 1/3 Blended Compost), we watered the mix thoroughly and planted our seeds and transplants over the days that followed.  We planted:

  • 3 broccoli (3 sq. feet used)
  • 8 green leaf lettuce (2 sq. feet used)
  • 1 red pepper, 1 green pepper, 1 yellow pepper (3 sq. feet used)
  • 4 bunches of Swiss chard (1 sq. foot used)
  • 16 carrots (2 sq. feet used)
  • 16 radishes (2 sq. feet used)
  • 8 plants of strawberries (2 sq. feet used)

With frequent watering, especially early on during seed development and by avoiding all fertilizers (Mel’s Mix has tons of natural, organic material), results started to show up a couple of weeks ago.  We harvested some great radishes first, that were part of many dinnertime salad dishes.  Recently, we were able to harvest the green leaf lettuce for those salads.  In the next few weeks, we expect to harvest our carrots, more lettuce, the Swiss chard and hopefully, if the sweltering Ottawa heat doesn’t kill it, our broccoli.  A picture of our SFG:

Aside from our SFG, we’ve also planted some tomatoes, cucumbers, basil and mint in pots on our deck, all of these I’m happy to report, are surviving the heat and growing steadily.

My passion for investing and personal finance is big part of what I share and write about on My Own Advisor, but I also have a growing passion for gardening and growing our own food.  It’s very satisfying to build a garden, plant some seeds and see the growing process from start to finish.  There is also something very satisfying about knowing where your food is coming from.  A few annoying chipmunks aside, I’m enjoying the SFG and the great food coming from it…let’s hope there is much more to come from this growing season.  Wish us luck!

What about you?  Are you gardening this year?

10 Responses to "Investing in our health – July update on Square Foot Garden"

  1. It looks good! We started square foot gardening last year with two 4×4 boxes (32 sq.ft) and added another 3 boxes this year, plus an additional 8 sq.ft. in a pre-existing stone garden and potted tomatoes. Total of 92 sq.ft. We have received a lot of questions and comments since it is all in the front yard.

  2. Nice job! I love your stone, much better choice than lumber. BTW, you should not use pressure treated lumber around soil growing things that you will eat, as the chemicals can leach out into the soil and then into the food. I found that out right after I had used it for that purpose, about 20 years ago. I still remember my little 3 year old son pulling up the radishes on Canada Day.

    Tomatoes love heat, so you will get better ones from hot sunny weather. With the leaf lettuce, you can just keep picking the outer leaves off to eat and leave the rest to continue growing, until the heat causes the plant to bolt, then it is a goner.

    A nice thing to grow, if you like them, is green beans, you can grow them upright in a small space. They taste fantastic right out of the garden, I can never find ones very good in the stores. You might want to devote a small amount of space to herbs. It is nice to be able to walk outside and pick a bit of fresh parsley to go in your dinner. Fresh basil, too. I grow it and make my own pesto, still expensive with the pine nuts and parmesan, though.

    1. @Barb,

      Ya, we thought the stone would look much nicer as well. In a few more months, we won’t miss the extra $200 spent on the stone over lumber. Besides, the stone will last forever.

      Tomatoes do love the heat, but with it being so hot in Ottawa, they need more water and cooler temps. We’ve been without rain for almost 2 weeks in Ottawa, it feels like the desert here….sadly.

      We haven’t tried green beans yet, but will likely give them a try next year; I’ve heard they taste great out of the garden.

      I must say, it is very nice to step outside and pick part of our dinner. We’re growing mint as well, but it goes fast, too many Mojitos this vacation 🙂

      Thanks for your comments Barb!

  3. Hi Mark, looks like your garden is coming along nicely. The time and effort will be worth it come harvest time. Our garden is also doing well, the Ottawa weather has been pretty good so far. I expect we’ll have more tomatoes that we can eat this year.

    Thanks for the mention, like I said before it is an honour to be in the company of such great blogs.

    1. Just like the portfolio Mich, diversify 🙂 Rosemary would be good, we didn’t plant that this year. That would be a great herb to plant. I think we should put that on our list for next year. We did grow a bunch of mint, but it’s used for Mojitos 🙂

  4. You built a beautiful garden. You spent more money than I would of. But the size you made was a perfect start, not to much work but enough to get some results. I guess it’s better to start small and if it works out to expand every year to get more of a result. Good luck on your garden.

    1. Thanks Dave. You’re right, I thought we’d spend less than we did but in the end, I feel it was worth it. We are indeed starting small with only 15 sq. feet so we’ll see how 2012 goes and make some adjustments for 2013. So far, so good though.

      I appreciate your comment, do stop by again.


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