When we posted our Square Foot Gardening 101 post a few weeks ago it got people all excited about starting up their gardens this year … and it also led to a slew of gardening questions coming from our readers on our Facebook Fan Page. We decided to have our cousin Emily, the author of the My Square Foot Garden ebooks, answer a few of these questions from our readers since she is a pro at helping beginning gardeners get started.
Hello FSME readers! I’m exited to have the chance to answer some of your gardening questions! Just a little background on me—I’m a mom of two boys, and this is my fourth year of gardening. I’m not an expert, but I am determined to learn all I can and pass it on to others. So here we go!
1. What soil mix is best for raised bed gardens?
I suggest a combination of ingredients called Mel’s Mix. It is equal parts compost, vermiculite, and peat moss. For specific instructions, go to my website and click on the Build It tab, then read the post there.
Each spring I add more compost to my boxes—I usually need to add one quarter to one third of the volume of my garden bed. Also, after harvesting you can replant in that square. Before you do, add a scoop of compost and mix it in.
2. What are cold frames and how do you use them?
A cold frame is like putting a glass roof on your garden. Imagine a mini-greenhouse, built around your garden beds. It helps you plant and grow sooner, and it extends the season later by protecting the plants. I would not suggest using cold frames if you are a beginner unless your weather conditions require it.
3a. Do higher quality seeds really make a difference?
YES! I’ve personally experienced this. You know those super cheap seeds by American Seed Company? There’s a reason they are so inexpensive. They have a very low germination rate, about 10%, which means you are paying for a bunch of seeds that won’t sprout.
3b. Where do you buy your seeds?
I have always purchased whatever brand I find at Wal-Mart, Home Depot, or IFA (Intermountain Farmers Association, the local farm coop store). I have found all of these seeds to be similarly priced and comparable in quality.
The advantage of buying seeds at a local store (like IFA) is that they often carry brands that have been developed specifically for the climate in which you live. The advantage of purchasing from a catalog is that you can choose from endless varieties and types of vegetables. I just hate waiting for something to come in the mail!
3c. What are Heirloom seeds?
Heirloom seeds, or vegetables, are varieties that were grown in the “old days.” Many have been used for over 50 or 100 years, and there are many more varieties. However, they are not as disease resistant as the seeds you will find at the store.
Since the industrialization of agriculture, seeds have been bred for consistency and disease resistance. This has resulted in fewer varieties (sort of a “one size fits all”) and hybrids, which are more expensive.
3d. How do I store seeds?
If you use the square foot gardening method, chances are you’ll have tons of seeds leftover. I put mine in snack size ziplock baggies, so if the seeds spill out it’s no big deal. Then I keep them in a cool, dry place. In the summer I put them in my fridge or basement. In the winter I keep them in the garage.
4. What are good plants for colder climates?
Root veggies (beets, carrots, onions, leeks, turnips, radishes, potatoes)
Cabbage family (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, mustard)
Peas and beans
If you have a short growing season, buy varieties that harvest in a shorter time frame.
5. Can you share any composting tips for beginners?
Don’t do it. Okay, that’s not totally true. If you have the space and want to compost for environmental reasons, by all means go ahead. But unless you have a lot of mass (think 100 gallons) and are willing to do a lot of work (turn it every week), you won’t be generating compost for this year. I live on 1/5 of an acre and with the grass clippings and the food scraps from a family of 3, combined with donated leaves, I have barely made enough compost to refill a box or two.
There is no compact, easy, non-messy, non-labor-intensive way to make compost that I know of. I am going to research composting this summer by interviewing my friends and neighbors to see if anyone has a magic composting trick.
The only composting I know of that is compact, very little work, but does use food scraps (fruits and veggies only), is vermacomposting—that’s right, with worms. I have a friend who does this. The compost she gets is like gold, but is measured in cups, not cubic feet. I’m going to do a post on this as well!
6. What’s the best way for a beginner to get started? Step-by-step instructions!
See my special offer below.
We had too many questions for one post, so stay tuned for more great info from Emily coming soon in a future post!
Gardening For Beginners
Emily is the author of a set of eBooks that are super helpful for beginner gardeners. We love her easy step-by-step approach to gardening that walks you through the entire process, just like our BabyStep program does for your food storage!