Carolines Square foot garden

Carolines square foot garden with a twistI've always loved gardening and growing herbs and vegetables from home is something I cherish. 

 The problem for myself and many other city dwellers are the lack of available ground and the low fertility of the space available to me. But by using many of the practices that are used to set up a square foot garden I only needed very little space and having access to worms and worm castings helped me to increase the fertility of the sandy soil that I used for my gardening project.

Carolines square foot garden

In late September (The first month of Spring here in South Africa) I dug the plot, removing the grass, digging over the black sandy soil to about 40 cm. Before replacing the soil I placed a layer of compost and urine soaked newspaper, balled up and densely placed (but not flat sheets!) in the 

The peace of lawn I picked for my garden.

trench, which was buried by the moving of the soil. I watered the area with urine about three times, and then began with water. I use only water that has stood until the chlorine evaporates. Lastly I placed a layer of worm compost and worm castings on top, giving the soil a much darker color, and forked it in.

Carolines square foot garden after the application of worm castings and the placing of planks.


Below you will find a detailed description how I converted a piece of lawn into a green herb/salad garden.


Costs and equipment:

Fork,  spade, watering can, small hole (available), about 100 reeds (free)

11 raw planks approximately 150 centimeters in length, 

Costs: R200, $25, 18 Euros)


Plants and seeds used:

Thyme, Oregano, Marjoram, Grey leaved artichoke, Rosemary, Variegated sage, Grey leaved curry bush, Six pack of lettuce white frilly, Six pack of lettuce – red frilly, Six pack of blue petunias, Six pack of green basi, Six pack of red basil

Total cost for seedlings: R400, $50, 36 Euros.


6 Self sown chili plants, 10 self sown Rocket plants, 10 self sown tomato plants, 20 self sown chard plants, 4 self sown dill plants.                                 

Total costs for seeds: R100, $12.50, 9 Euros.

Total budget = R700, $87.50, 63 Euros.

(Huge savings would be  possible by using found/recycled wood, or other paving, and sharing seeds and raising own plants from seed)


How I prepared my square foot garden.

My flat looks out over a piece of lawn with a shabby dead patch, and I was looking for space to grow vegetables. I applied in June for permission to plant a herb garden in the back of the block of flats, at this spot. The application went to the body corporate, the manager and was eventually approved.

Then I let the bed lie, watering regularly for two weeks. I brought in the planks and reeds and constructed a parallelogram of triangles outlined by the planks and a reed trellis for the future tomato plants.

The planks laying in a triangle allowed me to make use of an important aspect of a square foot garden. I used the planks to walk on when I work on when I worked in the garden.
This left the soil undisturbed which greatly aided the plants in their development. 

My sister sponsored the purchase of seedlings and we put the posts and trays in the garden.  The next morning a snail had demolished the red basil and started on the red lettuce (strange color preference !) so I carted everything upstairs again put out snail traps with beer, lettuces etc. and caught no snails at all. I kept the seedlings upstairs on my balcony where the wind tried its best to desiccate them, until my sister and I both had time to plant out.

This picture was taken the day after planting. The tree branches are to keep cats away, to stop them from using the freshly turned soil for a toilet.  The fence of vertical reeds driven into the ground is to slow the wind, which is bad in our area. Both methods achieved their desired purpose. For the snails, only early morning and after rain collection was effective, I eventually got about 80 of them. Put them in the fridge in a yoghurt tub, for a few weeks till I got the chance to take them to my Koi breeding ex who fed them to his fish.

The seedlings began to put out bigger leaves after a week or so, but they really increased in size when I went away for the weekend, and my neighbor, who is also in on the harvesting, watered the lettuces every day for three days! I must remember this country is dryer than all the places where the mother plants for our vegetables came from. The pine needles are there to protect the basil and lettuce from snails, as well as prevent the soil around them from drying out, and they seemed to work, I eventually removed them when I saw a snail crawling on them. I had read in a gardening blog that snails hate prickly stuff… perhaps they did their job when the plants were extremely young and tender.

One of the advantages of a square foot garden is that the plants are growing closely together and forming in this way a micro climate and protect the soil from drying out to quickly.

Next we see a progression as the plants get bigger. Soon they completely cover some areas of the garden. This little micro-climate, like a miniature forest, is I imagine good for plants in our dry, hot and windy summers, as the cover offers some protection from all of these things, and as this cover develops they shelter each other from the wind and grow higher than the little wind fence. I planned not to water often, and encourage the roots to go down deep, but that choice was taken from me by other people who also want to do their bit to help the garden. The tomato trellis had blown itself to shreds before we even bought the seedlings, so when the tomatoes really needed crutches, I installed another trellis which is long and low, and can be seen in the background of the last pictures. It has withstood 46km/hour winds already, and should keep the bushes about 50cm off the ground.

The lettuce, herbs and chard growing well.

Now I am slowly replacing plants that die, or placing in seedlings to fill bald patches. I added quite a few chard plants at first to fill space, now I am using chili, a midsummer herb. It is very, very hot (the weather, I haven’t tried the chili yet!) I planted about six varieties of chili. The gardener of the flats started watering the salad garden too… everything boomed except the sage which died almost instantly, it must be one of those plants, like cypress trees which are very sensitive to pH or additives in tap water.

I harvest a leaf at a time from the chard and lettuce, and cautiously from the basil. Then the lettuce and chard started to sprout upwards, so I lopped them off. We will see if this delays setting seed. The rocket needs cutting back so I harvest it severely. I sat on the rosemary by accident while installing the new trellis, so most of its top branches were hacked off and eaten. My sister, I, and two neighbors have more greens than we can eat. I wish I could grow beans, I love lazy housewife, but the wind is too awful here.

All in all I am very pleased with my vegetable and herb garden and hope that my square foot garden with a twist will inspire many hobby gardeners to start their own project and grow organic vegetables and herbs from home

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