Green Your Square Foot Garden

green your garden

“Soil is different than dirt.”

~my dad: micologist, Master Gardener educator, landscape architect and man with the biggest green thumb I know

Square Foot Gardening (SFG) Is Kinda Genius

Mix equal parts compost, vermiculite and peat moss, place it in your 6″ deep raised bed and BOOM! – instant garden. I’ve been doing it for a few years now and am slowly but surely getting better and better yields on my crops. My friend’s Square Foot Garden is off the hook.

There’s Only One Problem

– peat moss is no bueno for use in horticulture, for a few good reasons:

  1. Like rain forests, peat bogs are ancient ecosystems. Unlike rain forests, they can’t be replicated or replaced once destroyed. It has taken thousands of years for these bogs to become what they are today.
  2. The mining of peat bogs negatively impacts water systems for the environment and the people living near them. Last I checked, clean and abundant water is something that should be preserved not squandered.
  3. Peat bogs hold and store carbon dioxide indefinitely. Breaking down of peat bogs releases carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere, greatly contributing to global warming. Which we (you, me and all the scientists) can all agree is actually happening.
  4. Peat bogs are entire ecosystems unto themselves, containing specific flora and fauna that can only be found there. The breakdown of an ecosystem also means the breakdown of the flora and fauna.
  5. Despite it’s popularity for use in gardening, there are actually better soil amendments than peat. (sources 1, 2, 3, 4)

Alternative For Your Square Foot Garden

Since the Square Foot Gardening formula calls for a specific amount of peat moss, the alternative that I found that most easily replicates the use and measurements is coir (pronounced koi-er), or the husks of coconut. Not only does this use a product that was once considered the waste of coconut harvesting, it does a great job of holding moisture, which is what peat is used for in Square Foot Gardening.

When you use coir, it comes compressed in a very tight block. VERY TIGHT. If you only want to use a section of it, you’ll have to saw (that’s right SAW) off the sections you want to use or save for later.

The directions say to let it soak in water for 5-10 minutes. This is clearly a joke by the folks who labeled the package, because I’ve never had it soak and be ready for use in less than 45 minutes of soaking and labor.

I haven’t had the patience to try, but you may want to let it soak for a few hours before using it. Maybe that will take out some of the scraping, pounding and jabbing that will ensue. Truthfully, it’s not as bad as I make it sound. No harder than turning soil to garden in.

The Most Important Thing When Using Coir

Make sure it’s entirely broken down into a dirt like substance. Don’t let any chunks of dried husk remain. I was too impatient my first year of doing this, 3 years ago, and I’m still finding chunks of coir in my bed. It does your garden and plants no good if it’s not entirely broken down. On that note, don’t be afraid to get dirty. Get in there with your hands arms and toss it up. If you garden, then I suspect you don’t take issue with getting dirty. Am I right?

The Process

The Setup
The Setup
In a wheelbarrow add your coir and copious amounts of water. You'll eventually add more.
In a wheelbarrow add your coir and copious amounts of water. You’ll eventually add more.
Sitting for 5-10 minutes. HAHAHA!
Sitting for 5-10 minutes. HAHAHA!
After soaking, scraping, jabbing, more water and tossing you'll have this.
After soaking, scraping, jabbing, more water and tossing you’ll have this.
Like fine soil.
Like fine soil.
On the tarp combine the coir, compost and vermiculite.
On the tarp combine the coir, compost and vermiculite.
To mix: fold the tarp, thereby combining the soil.
To mix: fold the tarp, thereby combining the soil.
After each turn, open the tarp and pull in a different direction. Repeat 15-20 times. In the process you'll find small clumps of soil, break them apart by hand and continue.
After each turn, open the tarp and pull in a different direction. Repeat 15-20 times. In the process you’ll find small clumps of soil, break them apart by hand and continue.
You should have a well mixed soil.
You should have a well mixed soil.
Drag the tarp next to your planter bed and amend the existing soil.
Drag the tarp next to your planter bed and amend the existing soil.
Plant!
Plant!
Enlist any help you can get. Keep in mind, my helper is 2, which meant that the hard parts were done by me alone. I'll still share the bounty though.
Enlist any help you can get. Keep in mind, my helper is 2, which meant that the hard parts were done by me alone. I’ll still share the bounty though.

This post featured on Party Wave Wednesday, Tasty Traditions, Thank Your Body Thursday, Fight Back Friday, Small Footprint Friday, Fat Tuesday, Scratch Cookin Tuesday, Sunday School, Thank Goodness It’s Monday

Garden: Gearing Up

In the continuing saga that is my backyard we have moved onto phase 2, landscaping. By landscaping I don’t mean adding a couple of pretty flowers. We are moving, no, making mountains (aka berms). Check out phase one in the post Garden: Revolution. The plan is to flood irrigate grass from the canal behind our house, so it was important that the land be graded for that purpose. We took bids from 3 local companies. One was really low but wasn’t willing to grade the land the way I wanted. The second was full of great ideas, but would have cost a small fortune. Thankfully, Cutting Edge Lawn Company came in with a reasonable bid and was perfectly happy to grade the land accordingly. I would highly recommend them to anyone looking for landscaping/gardening help here in the Treasure Valley. The project took two days and I didn’t have to lift a finger. That’s the kind of landscaping help I can appreciate!

Here comes the mighty Bobcat Excavator! And a quick glimpse at the yard before the destruction.
Misty, checking out the heavy artillery.

This is David, our friendly landscaper. He’s setting up his fancy grading gizmo which beeped accordingly. He was friendly, professional, happy and has a 1.5 year old daughter, so he got along with Porter really well.
Plucking dead trees from the ground.

Porter was in big machine heaven.

Midday it looked like this. There was a lot more topsoil than the gardener expected so he was able to do some really big berms around the edges. It’s awesome.

Meanwhile, Porter ate raspberries. Hurray!

Hands down his most favorite food of all time.

Isn’t it the prettiest soil you’ve ever seen?! Okay, so maybe it doesn’t look like much, but in person it’s a huge difference. There is a huge basin in the center of the yard, awaiting grass to be installed this Saturday. There is compost laid and it’s graded perfectly. Tomorrow I plan on putting plants in the ground.

While this is totally off topic, it’s also totally cute. I’ve been trying to get Porter to feed himself for the last couple weeks and he’s finally taken. In fact, he won’t eat anything unless he can shove it into his own mouth. Tonight he looked like the last of the  Mohicans with applesauce/pea/sweet potato puree smeared on his face. Sigh, I wanted this independence from him, I just didn’t expect to need so much Spray and Wash!

Mmmmmmm, dinner. I started this meal feeding him from a spoon, which he quickly forced from my fingers and threw onto the ground. He then proceeded to grunt and screech like a monkey. I thought he didn’t want to sit in his booster seat. Turns out that he just wanted to feed himself. It then quickly became face paint, but he had genuine intentions of getting it into his mouth. Bigger boy!
I couldn’t decide on one video of Porter feeding himself, so here’s two.

Garden: Revolution

Before I really get into the gardening part of this post, let me give you a little background as to why I’m so pumped up about working on our ever expanding garden. As most of you know, before I was Porter’s mom I was a teacher at Challenger School. For me, teaching is a calling. It is what I was born to do and it comes very very easily. As someone who wasn’t an especially good student, I’m a great teacher. I knew I wanted to be a teacher from when I was in second grade, and moving to Idaho allowed me to fulfill that destiny.

I worked at Challenger for almost 5 school years. I taught preschool 3 year olds through first grade. The majority of my teaching was with kindergarteners. There were many things I loved about teaching but the top few reasons were:

  • while the routine stayed the same, everyday is different
  • I relate really well with young children
  • I love to sing and be silly
  • watching children learn to read, write and explore their growing world is an incredibly satisfying and rewarding experience
I stopped teaching in November 2010, not expecting that I would be pregnant for another 2.5 months. It was a glorious time to reflect on my past career and prepare for my next calling as Porter’s mom, which I embraced whole heartedly.

Since finishing at Challenger I have been asked by many people, in the last 9 months, if I missed working. My response was always no. I certainly couldn’t leave my new baby with anyone other than family, of which there is non in Idaho. I still wouldn’t change my answer today. I love getting to be with my baby to watch him grow and make sure that he receives the kind of attention that I think he deserves at this young age. 

My friend Chelsea has recently taken a job teaching preschool at Challenger, and today is her first day of training. Up until today I was always sure that I wouldn’t miss working, but to my surprise I was wrong. Knowing that today is the first day for all of my co-teachers, and I’m not there, makes my heart ache in a way that I hadn’t expected. I’m realizing as the day progresses that I miss the anticipation of the new school year, the preparation, camaraderie and the feeling of beginning the school year anew. I think I am mourning the end of a really good relationship. One that I left to begin another amazing relationship, but it’s not until now that I realize how much I miss teaching.
Thankfully, there are a few things that are helping me improve my mood today. One is that I get to spend my days (and nights) with this cool cat,
Ready for our morning stroll to the store and to grab a latte. Gotta protect those baby blues! 
Another is the knowledge that I will have many opportunities to go back to teaching once my kid(s) are older. It’s a profession that isn’t going anywhere. The final thing that is helping me move forward is a large project that has been ongoing since we bought our house 6 years ago, and that is the improvement of our large and majorly unlanscaped backyard. It is this project that gives me something to look forward to, and gives me the opportunity to dig my hands into the earth and make something grow. Not unlike teaching, watching a garden move from dry, parched earth to a fecund oasis is heart warming.

When we bought our home in Boise there was no landscaping and the two large trees in the front yard were dying and had to be removed.  This left us with close to 1/4 acre of weeds, dirt and some crazy grass that grows in the spring and fall when it rains. For my birthday about 4 years ago I received a pre-designed low water garden from High Country Gardens. This was a great gift and it gave life to our sad front yard.

Our house when we first bought it. Those two trees had to be taken down immediately because they were threatening to fall on our house or our neighbors houses.
After getting most of the roots from the old trees removed we planted a Norwegian Maple in their place. As you can see, there was dead grass and weeds as a ground cover. Not as pretty as it could be in my opinion.

We also planted 3 hydrangeas in the planter directly in front of the house. They fit in the back seat of the Corolla.

 This is what  they look like today. They are taller than me and touch from side to side.

 They bloom from mid-late summer when most of the other plants are finished blossoming.

The blooms start as a greenish white and in the fall they turn a lovely shade of light pink.

 The next step was to put in our low water garden and we planted a plum tree on the left.

 You can hardly see them, but all the plants are in the ground.

This is the view from the front step right before we mulched all the baby plants.

 The garden is really at it’s most beautiful in the spring.

 View from the front step in the spring. You can see the Thyme Lawn is in full bloom too. Follow the link for the post I did on this lawn specifically in It’s About Thyme.

“Moonshine” Yarrow

 Rudbeckia

 Pink Yarrow

A volunteer wildflower

Juniper berries, gin and tonic anyone?

 This is what my yard looks like today, mid summer (mostly) weeded, dead headed and cut back. I’m hoping for second blooms on a lot of my plants when the temperature cools a bit.

It is because of the success of my front yard that I have high hopes for our backyard, which looks like this:

That’s our above ground pool. It cost $7.99, what a deal!

 I also have plans to work on my square foot garden next spring. It will work!

 We planted this maple in the backyard at the same time as the one in the front. It’s fall colors are beautiful.

 We also planted this Russian Sage at the end of the cement patio. We’ll have more of this, please.

This is the view from the back of the yard towards the house. As you can see we have a lot of yard space and very little done. Here is the plan for the backyard,
With the exception of having a professional come to scrape off the grass and level the land we are going to install the garden ourselves. It’s going to be very water wise, including the Buffalo Grass lawn that will hopefully be installed next spring. This fall we will be installing the butterfly bushes around the back edges, more Russian Sage in the middle of the yard and a pre-planned Xeric Aroma Garden from High Country Gardens to the right of the grass area. I have high hopes for next summer when my family comes out to celebrate my mom’s birthday in July. It probably won’t be complete, but there should be major transformation by then. While my life as a teacher is on hold for a few years, stay tuned to find out how my life as a home gardener pans out!
And for those of you who made it to the end of this post, I reward you with these:

 Porter looking like a Wilson baby…

 …and 30 seconds later he looks like an Alton baby.

 I’m under attack!

 Gramma Mikie showing Porter her toes, pretty flexible for a gramma!

 He’s smitten with her.

Coming soon: crawling.

It’s About Thyme

My thyme lawn that is! In an effort to be a good steward to the earth we planted a low water garden in our front yard. Since regular lawn tends to be water hog, and Boise is in the high desert, I decided that I wanted to do a dark green thyme “lawn”. A few years ago Luke and I took the time to plant 100+ tiny Reiter Creeping Thyme plants from High Country Gardens.┬áIt has taken a few years and many many many hours of weeding before it grew in, but now it looks like this,

Getting ready to burst into tiny purple spring flowers- gotta support the local bees!
It’s not as smooth as grass, but it is really cushy, smells wonderful, is virtually pest free, doesn’t have to be mowed and only needs minimal watering in the hot summer heat.
The first few springs Luke and I would spend hours and hours pulling weeds from between our growing plants, but it has finally grown in enough to choke out most of the weeds, dandelions especially. I was able to get almost all the weeds this year in about 2 hours, and that’s because I pull them all by hand. It’s the only way to make sure they never come back and it keeps my garden organic. Porter joined me outside, under an umbrella, on a lovely Spring day. He was the supervisor, cracking the whip, while I was on my hands and knees yanking those suckers out of the ground. I had 2 piles that looked like this,
If I was really good, I would have picked the dandelions before they bloomed and then washed the leaves and eaten them, but I’m just not there yet.
My supervisor, propped up on the Boppy.
Thanks Arleen @ Napili Point for knitting this awesome baby beanie.
What a life!

 

First Day Of The Rest Of Your Life

I have come to use the word tender to mean sweet, happy, or for any circumstance that is just…well… tender. Sometimes it’s a photo, or kind words or sentiments expressed, or a thoughtful action. As a person and active member of this world I try to live in a conscientious and tender way towards others and myself. Sometimes it’s difficult, and I don’t always succeed, but it’s a worthy ideal. In these posts my goal is to express how I and my family aspire to live in a tender way with each other, our friends and neighbors, and the earth itself.

Now, so you know where I’m coming from, I’ll introduce myself. My name is Megan and I am at a turning of seasons in my life, so to speak. My first child is expected to be born any day, I just ended my career and my husband and I are attempting to live on one income. We’re working on being a nuclear family, for all the good and bad connotations that may have. I am many things to different people, a daughter, wife, sister, friend, soon to be mother, recently retired Kindergarten teacher, Doula, hopeful stay at home mom. These are titles that I wear proudly, but not one can define who I am as a person. Maybe the one true thing I know about myself is that I am painfully normal. No matter the situation, I can always bet that I’m not the first person to to experience it, nor will I be the last. It is this simple knowledge that provides small amounts of peace in times of chaos, and pushes me to be a more unique individual on my good days.

If this blog goes according to plan, which has about a 50/50 chance of happening, it will be an account of me and my family’s day to day existence. It is an attempt to find wonder and fulfillment within this ordinary life. Bear with me, I can be painfully optimistic. I won’t try to list all of the possible things this will include, but a few will be:

  • Living on one income
  • Being a new mother, staying at home to raise our baby
  • Cooking
  • Gardening
  • How we attempt to stay healthy
  • Being married
  • Living in the capital of a state that most would consider middle America
  • Working to leave a light footprint on the earth, because it’s the right thing to do

You get the idea. Any and everything that involves living and breathing is fair game. My hopes are to document this life I have created and share it with anyone who wants to read about it. Which are probably the 12 people my mother will send the link to. I value comments, feedback and questions, especially since I’m out of the work force and have to create my own social circle now. Read on, dear readers, to witness how I am attempting to live a tender life, and consider how you’re living your most tender life too. Now I must go, because even though in my head I am becoming an amazing and in depth blogger and am beginning to believe this is going to be my next BIG THING, the heater guy is here to fix our ailing heater, which resides under the house. The fact that someone is willing to crawl under my house to remedy this issue is pretty tender on his part.

Oh yes, I can’t fail to mention my friend Chelsea and her blog www.beingchelsea.com as she is one of my closest friends, she has inspired me to race in triathlons, live in a healthy way, and to start my own blog. Thanks Chelsea.