This Mother’s Day was for Seizing the Moment and the Helpers

Mother’s Day! What a grand holiday  for mothers that are also gardeners!  For it is without a doubt the best day of the year to recruit “garden helpers.”  It is a day where the willingness to do something nice for Mom combines with the fresh breath of Spring helping the most hesitant of gardeners get engaged.  I know this because last Mother’s day I organized a garden helper day for my mom and even the most resistant gardeners –  my two brothers –  got into the spirit.

This Mother’s Day my goal was to involve my immediate family in a garden activity – planting one of our raised beds in the popular square foot gardening method.  I attended a local workshop on square foot gardening a couple of weeks ago and was ready to put it into action.

The letters represent the exposure of this raised bed

However, as luck would have it we woke to overcast skies and a light rain gently hinting “not gonna get much gardening done today.”  Mothers can be stubborn though and I decided to get on the computer and detail a square foot gardening grid for our raised bed.  Just in case the weather cooperated later, I’d have a plan to share with my helpers.

One of the great things about living in a semi-arid climate is if it’s raining in the morning it will probably be clear by the afternoon.  And sure enough, by around noon the rain had stopped and the wind hadn’t taken its place.  The soil was moderately moist from the morning rain making it perfect for planting. It was time to seize the moment!  I printed my plan, gathered some other supplies, rounded up my garden mates and headed to the garden.

My  youngest garden mates started out by top-dressing the raised planter with  2-3 inches of compost.  Next, in order to truly follow the square foot gardening methodology the senior garden helper who should really be named ‘the builder’ marked the 4’w x 8’L box in one foot sections with small finish nails so that we could build a grid over the top of the box.  The young gardeners joined in, driving a few nails into the side of the planter while the senior gardener instructed on the proper way to use a hammer and then straightened the nails that went in crooked anyway.

The garden mates next wrapped  garden string from nail to nail under the supervision of ‘the builder.’  First lengthwise and then widthwise creating an admirable square foot grid on top of the raised box.  The grid is said to be essential in getting the most use out of your space and  I liked it immediately because of the easy organization of planting.  All we had to do was take a look at my planting diagram, pick a square and plant.

Fun and easy for everyone!  After an hour we had planted as much as we could for the day and I was thankful for my garden helpers and the fun we had together on this Mother’s Day.

Did you partake in a garden related activity this Mother’s Day?  How have your family or friends helped you with garden activities? 

A Bit on Square Foot Gardening:

This method was developed by Mel Bartholomew in 1981 and it utilizes high-density, intensive planting in small raised planter beds.  Smaller raised beds vs. larger row gardens allow a gardener to easily reach the entire area without stepping on and compacting the soil. Square foot gardening supports common practices of organic gardening such as companion planting, using compost as a source of plant nutrients and efficient use of water and space.

Square foot gardening promotes a controlled environment and is a great way to start a food and flower garden without becoming overwhelmed.  Typical square foot gardens are 4’x4′ raised planters that are easy to work in, easy to manage and can produce enough food (via succession planting) to feed one person.

A variety of different crops is utilized in square foot gardening because each square is planted with a different kind of plant.  The number of plants per square depends on the individual plant’s size but the principle of high-density is always followed.  For example, strawberries may be planted 4 to a square foot and right beside them could be a single tomato plant taking an entire square foot.  The most frequently used spacings are 3 inch, 4 inch, 6 inch and 12 inch or 1 foot.  A benefit of this type of mixed companion planting is that insects cannot easily find a large source of the crop they are most attracted to thereby cutting down on infestations and the need for insecticides or pesticides.  The large variety of crops also cuts down on the easy spread of any plant diseases that may arise.

To learn more about square foot gardening, attend a local workshop, check out a book from your local library or maybe purchase one of Mel Bartholomew’s books or DVDs.

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