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Square Foot Permaculture?

Phil Hawkins
volunteer

Joined: Sep 13, 2011
Posts: 227
Location: Gippsland, Victoria, Australia
    
    8
I am reading the Square Foot Gardening book at the moment, and it got me thinking - it's a really great book for the novice gardener like me because it's a good system for managing a garden.

However, it's a bit low on the eco scale - lots of "don't waste time improving soil - truck it in!" type advice. So I'm thinking what if you took the SFG approach, but augmented it with some more "systems feeding systems" plantings and other perma-goodness?

For example, I am picturing a 4' x 4' hugelkultur mound, where only 8 of the 16 "squares" are planted for my benefit, and the others being for soil improvement, etc., with a perennial legume (like an acacia) in the top, that you would coppice to shock some nitrogen back into the soil.

Thoughts?


I have a sporadic blog at http://philarly.com/
I twitter via @philarly
Alan Stuart


Joined: Feb 24, 2012
Posts: 42
The combination of square foot gardening and permaculture is called "bio-intensive gardening." There are lots of resources that come up with a simple internet search. Here is a preview of the book "The sustainable vegetable garden: a backyard guide to healthy soil and higher yields," it's all about it. Put down the SFG and pick up this book! Biointensive is what you are looking for it is all about building the soil the best you can so that tight nit plants can all thrive. If you find any really cool sources of information please do share!
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
Official Biointensive website: http://growbiointensive.org/

The book about it I recommend is "How to Grow More Vegetables" by John Jeavons. A book about how to grow a basic diet using the techniques is "One Circle" by David Duhon.


Idle dreamer

Phil Hawkins
volunteer

Joined: Sep 13, 2011
Posts: 227
Location: Gippsland, Victoria, Australia
    
    8
Thanks for those resources - watching some of those John Jeavons videos now.

I should say that the appeal of SFG is less about the spacial efficiency or output, and more about the fact that it's a recipe you can follow. As is often noted on the podcast, the Permaculture answer is usually "it depends", which is a lot less helpful for beginners such as myself. I think it was Jack Spirko (possibly in a podcast with Paul) where he said (something like) if permaculture was about cooking, it would consist of an encyclopaedia of the properties of every ingredient and cooking utensil, but without recipes.
Alan Stuart


Joined: Feb 24, 2012
Posts: 42
I feel ya Phil! I am still learning pretty much everything. It can be a bit challenging to get started with permaculture because everything is site specific. I have noticed though that there is a few basics that are universal and that if you start with them and spiral out you will slowly build confidence in yourself.
Phil Hawkins
volunteer

Joined: Sep 13, 2011
Posts: 227
Location: Gippsland, Victoria, Australia
    
    8
I guess what I'm trying to do is grab hold of the permaculture bits I understand, and then apply them to something that is fairly prescriptive (SFG) about the stuff I am less confident about.

I note that the bio-intensive stuff still involves a lot of tilling and watering (although I appreciate that it no doubt uses less of both than conventional horticulture).
Alan Stuart


Joined: Feb 24, 2012
Posts: 42
That is what I did too. The first permaculture principal I did was to stop picking weeds. I simply break them at the soil then drop them on the ground as mulch. My garden is small but it has greatly impoved the soil. I also stopped tilling my beds. My garden is in no way a permaculture garden [yet!] but baby steps will get me there
Leila Rich
steward

Joined: May 24, 2010
Posts: 3614
Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
    
  71
Phil, I understand your discomfort at the inevitable permaculture "it depends". Hey, there's another t-shirt design
I'm one of those people that likes the 'it depends' factor, but then I come from a gardening family, so a lot of that knowledge is practically genetic.
Aside from having heard talk of 'Mel's mix' etc, I don't know much about SFG. What appeals to a beginner gardener? Rules and schematics are very comforting when the alternative is "it depends"!
If the concept/aesthetic of SFG appeals, but you balk at the 'buy my proprietary mix' thing, cherry-pick. Use the X in X square info and string up squares over a hugel bed or whatever.
I recommend looking at ' John Jeavons/biointensive gardening' for more ideas. Some of it's insanely retentive and he loves double-digging. I don't, so I ignore that bit. Jeavons is really into growing fertility on-site and anyone who recommends fava beans gets my vote
Cj Verde


Joined: Oct 18, 2011
Posts: 2389
Location: Vermont
    
  44
Phil Hawkins wrote:So I'm thinking what if you took the SFG approach, but augmented it with some more "systems feeding systems" plantings and other perma-goodness?

For example, I am picturing a 4' x 4' hugelkultur mound, where only 8 of the 16 "squares" are planted for my benefit, and the others being for soil improvement, etc., with a perennial legume (like an acacia) in the top, that you would coppice to shock some nitrogen back into the soil.


How about a plant like Elaeagnus multiflora (Goumi, Gumi, Natsugumi, or Cherry silverberry)? This would improve your soil (nitrogen fixing) and feed you and/or your chickens. That would me more like "systems feeding systems."


My project thread
Agriculture collects solar energy two-dimensionally; but silviculture collects it three dimensionally.
Phil Hawkins
volunteer

Joined: Sep 13, 2011
Posts: 227
Location: Gippsland, Victoria, Australia
    
    8
Leila Rich wrote:Some of it's insanely retentive and he loves double-digging


That's putting it mildly...

Mike Dayton


Joined: Dec 15, 2010
Posts: 149
Location: sw pa zone 5
I like the double digging idea because it loosens the soil down deep so that the roots have a space to run. Tomatos and peppers roots will run down over 3 feet if they can penitrate the soil that deeply. It also alows you to improve the soil down deep when you are doing the double digging thing. Adding leaves, grass clippings. old hay, mulch etc down deep will really help your plants. Using Permaculture ideas like putting logs down deep in a hugelbed to help hold water makes alot of sense as well. It is alot of work one time, but it pays dividends for years. If you are making new beds I would not make them wider than 4 feet so that you only have to reach 2 feet from either side to pick your produce. You maybe young now and be able to reach alot farther, but at some point you will be older and an easy reach is so much easier on the back. I have been an organic gardener for many years, I only resently discovered permaculture so my back ground is from the double digging thing. I know that it does work. Adding permiculture ideas to that mix can only improve your results. Tending the soil instead of tending the garden plants pays off in the long run. Don't worry about making mistakes, the only people who never make mistakes are the people who don't do anything. Go ahead and get started, make some mistakes and learn from them. I am sure that you will be pleased with the fresh veggies and you will enjoy your new garden. Bottom line here is that there maybe a better way to do something, but if you pick a way and get started you will make things grow. You really can't screw this up too badly. It does not have to be rocket science. Good Luck.


Never doubt that a small group of dedicated people can change the world,  Indeed it is the only thing that ever has. Formerly pa_friendly_guy_here
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
Personally I think once the soil has been improved one can dispense with the double-digging. Jeavons also says in "Grow More Vegetables", "The U-bar can be used as a substitute for the ongoing double-dig in soil which is in reasonably good shape. This usually means after one normal double-dig or more." The U-bar is what most of us know as a "broad fork." Once could also include deep-rooted plants in the rotation.

Phil Hawkins
volunteer

Joined: Sep 13, 2011
Posts: 227
Location: Gippsland, Victoria, Australia
    
    8
Just another question for you permaculture experts. I would call what they're doing (at least in the videos) monocropping, because they have about 100 square feet with a single plant type. That being said, they have many such beds with different crops in each one. I assume when people talk about polyculture, that they are talking about lots of different plants all mixed in together (eg: a tomato next to a pepper, and a beanstalk next to a cornstalk, that sort of thing)?

I think what I might do is try three different approaches, all the same size in the same location (eg: next to one another) and see how each one works.

On that note, how do you permaculture folks stop grass from crowding out your pumpkins?
Brenda Groth
volunteer

Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Posts: 4433
Location: North Central Michigan
    
    8
my problem with square foot gardening is that it seems you are doing an awful lot of extra work..might be a good time to re read One Straw Revolution and think more about do I really need to do that rather than thinking up more work to do.

(love that guy)


Brenda

Bloom where you are planted.
http://restfultrailsfoodforestgarden.blogspot.com/
Leila Rich
steward

Joined: May 24, 2010
Posts: 3614
Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
    
  71
I couldn't make it out in the vid, but Jeavons is very into companion planting; not so much for it's reputed mutual beneficialness but in order to squeeze fast-growers in between slow ones and so on.
I try and mix up the families a bit; not so much because of disease, but different plant families have specific nutrient needs and I like spreading it around a bit.
As far as polycultures are concerned, something to keep in mind is plants' differing water reqirements. For example lettuce and radishes need lots of water but chillies don't, so maybe put chillies in a dry spot.
I generally grow plants in a recogisably permie way: I have self-sown lettuce, nigella, buckwheat, carrots, radishes, coriander, beets, rutabaga and who knows what else, all coming up at the moment in a small area. I'll have to thin them brutally!
Most of my gardens are very heavily mulched so I can generally control self-seeders; but my root-crops need clear soil. I generally keep the carrots fairly monocultural, mainly as they take so long to germinate, that by the time I lift the jute coffee sacks, there's all sorts of anaemic, skinny things that popped up a week earlier.
How do I stop grass? I have a small place and a negative attitude to grass: I generally pull it when I find it! Clover's my main groundcover, with a whole variety of other plants mixed in. So my situation is fairly extreme, but generally speaking, if the answer's not "it depends", or "compost", it's "mulch".
I plant cucurbit seeds into thick mulch and keep them heavily mulched all season. Aside from the competition thing, they need loads of water, so reducing evaporation really helps.
Phil Hawkins
volunteer

Joined: Sep 13, 2011
Posts: 227
Location: Gippsland, Victoria, Australia
    
    8
Wow, I have never seen someone put so much work into compost.




Also, I have never seen compost that's dried at the end?!
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
My main criticism of Biointensive is "it's too much work!" But I have found much of value in it, though I don't utilize many of the techniques anymore. It is meant to be a way to grow the most food in the smallest amount of space, not meant to be the easiest way to grow food!
Travis Halverson


Joined: Mar 25, 2011
Posts: 91
Location: Minneapolis, MN
    
    1
Seems like you came up with something that hasn't really been pursued in the way you've envisioned.

Maybe forget the "Bio-intensive" advice and proceed with your idea. It makes sense to me.

If you do it, please provide pics.
Leila Rich
steward

Joined: May 24, 2010
Posts: 3614
Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
    
  71
Phil, I hope it's clear I'm just throwing out ideas and concepts to investigate; I'd be mortified if someone took anything I said as being prescriptive!
Judging by your posts, that's not a danger, but just in case...
Alan Stuart


Joined: Feb 24, 2012
Posts: 42
Tyler Ludens wrote:My main criticism of Biointensive is "it's too much work!" But I have found much of value in it, though I don't utilize many of the techniques anymore. It is meant to be a way to grow the most food in the smallest amount of space, not meant to be the easiest way to grow food!


I have to agree. If I had to choose between a fully functional biointensive operation and a fully functional permacultural food forest, I would choose the food forest in a heart beat. All the work goes into the design of the system once you finish that and do it of course it will provide for you. Nothing against biointensive, it has it's place in the world of sustainable ag for sure.

And thanks for sharing those videos Phil I will definitely be using some ideas form them
Phil Hawkins
volunteer

Joined: Sep 13, 2011
Posts: 227
Location: Gippsland, Victoria, Australia
    
    8
Alan Stuart wrote:Nothing against biointensive, it has it's place in the world of sustainable ag for sure.


You really get the sense that they're trying to save the world. That Tim McLeod guy get's *really* excited about stuff.

One thing that was quite interesting to me was that in the crop selection video, they suggest 10% of your land is used for nutrient crops, 30% is carbohydrate crops (eg: potatoes), and 60% is dedicated to compost crops like alfalfa!

Alan Stuart wrote:And thanks for sharing those videos Phil I will definitely be using some ideas form them

No dramas - I created a playlist that contains all the Grow Biointensive videos in order for anyone else that's interested in watching it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPeAvYrfKkU&list=PL0D27877C92B6994E&feature=plpp_play_all

Leila Rich wrote:Phil, I hope it's clear I'm just throwing out ideas and concepts to investigate; I'd be mortified if someone took anything I said as being prescriptive!
Judging by your posts, that's not a danger, but just in case...

Interpreting something prescriptive on a permaculture forum?! I'd need my head read

Permaculture:
12 Principles
3 Ethics
1 Rule To Bind Them "It depends..."
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
Phil Hawkins wrote: 60% is dedicated to compost crops like alfalfa!


Some of the compost crops are also calorie crops such as grains. In a more permacultury manner, the compost crops could be trees or shrubs, instead of annuals, especially if they also yield food.

Cj Verde


Joined: Oct 18, 2011
Posts: 2389
Location: Vermont
    
  44
Tyler Ludens wrote:
Some of the compost crops are also calorie crops such as grains. In a more permacultury manner, the compost crops could be trees or shrubs, instead of annuals, especially if they also yield food.


From memory, corn was a big calorie/compost crop. I'm kind of anti corn for livestock feed but I grow some for the family because it is tasty. Lots of compostable material. I think permaculture in general isn't too big on compost piles though. I've used the bio-intensive methods for about 19 years.
Brenda Groth
volunteer

Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Posts: 4433
Location: North Central Michigan
    
    8
i agree that the food forest garden is the way that I go on my property, although it might not be for everyone, esp small shady properties, I can see it fits in nearly every situation. Also my goal here (as I'm 60 and partially handicapped) is to get as much permanent cropping in as possible to reduce work (fukoka) as I never really know how much I'll be able to do with my health considerations. Want to be able to walk out to the property during the growing season and pick my meals, at least for the most part, without having to go to the grocery store which is a 20 mile drive one way and with $4 / ga gas, I'd rather avoid that.

Here before our housefire we had beautiful food forest gardens, but had to replant over the last several years and are just getting them into bearing at last..but as I age I'm more and more grateful that I have the trees and shrubs and vines in and growing and that the older I get, the more I'll have producing right here in my own yard
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
I'm of a similar opinion, Brenda. High-work gardening like Biointensive is fine for those who are physically able to do it, but it might not suit when folks are older or disabled. Like you I'm trying to move my garden toward a less-work future, as even at this young age (50) I'm feeling a lot more achey pains than I want to, and imagine in another ten years I probably won't be up to the amount of digging I currently do. Mulching instead of composting, perennials instead of annuals, are two ways one can avoid a lot of the work in Biointensive, while still utilizing other concepts such as root crops for staples, close spacing of plants, and companion planting.
S Haze


Joined: Feb 14, 2012
Posts: 145
Location: Southern Minnesota, USA, zone 4/5
    
    5
Strange, I was just thinking about square foot gardening today, but on a bigger scale. Maybe "square 10 ft gardening" or "decimeter gardening". I'm trying to set up the foundations to convert farm land into a permaculture based system, maybe similar to Mark Shepard's. In order to do so I need something that works with record high land prices and near-record high net profit on corn and soybean acres.

In my area there are a few hearty souls who grow grapes, apples, hazelnuts, forage crops and more with good yield data, but in a monocrop situation. How about extrapolating out with a design of poylcultures or guilds on some type of square or mosaic pattern that tries to follow the contours. If the 80 acre field has 20% wet drown-out land or sandy soil, etc. then the a proportional number of "tiles" can fit that ground. Normally I'm not so business-like but in order to ever get my farming partners on board I'm going to need a bulletproof plan.

The engineer's approach has it merits.


Scott Haase
Check out my house project!
Cj Verde


Joined: Oct 18, 2011
Posts: 2389
Location: Vermont
    
  44
S Haze wrote: I'm trying to set up the foundations to convert farm land into a permaculture based system, maybe similar to Mark Shepard's. In order to do so I need something that works with record high land prices and near-record high net profit on corn and soybean acres.


This sounds like a bad premise because prices, as they say, fluctuate.

S Haze wrote:
In my area there are a few hearty souls who grow grapes, apples, hazelnuts, forage crops and more with good yield data, but in a monocrop situation. How about extrapolating out with a design of poylcultures or guilds on some type of square or mosaic pattern that tries to follow the contours. If the 80 acre field has 20% wet drown-out land or sandy soil, etc. then the a proportional number of "tiles" can fit that ground. Normally I'm not so business-like but in order to ever get my farming partners on board I'm going to need a bulletproof plan.


I'm not totally sure, but it sound like you want to monocrop several different crops in a quilt like fashion. I don't think that's going to give you the results your looking for. What they call "stacking" might be a better approach. Take your friend who monocrops apples and hazelnuts. There are permaculture setups that space out the tree crops to grow forage (alfalfa or clover) in the orchard. It reduces your yield by 75% but if you bring in sheep to do controlled grazing, and then pigs in the fall to harvest the fallen apples, you wind up with a 150% total return of yield on the land then if you had monocropped. Of course if you use the 20% "drown out land" to raise water loving crops (watercress?) or turn it into a catfish farm, further increasing your land yield, then it's even easier to justify the stacking approach.
S Haze


Joined: Feb 14, 2012
Posts: 145
Location: Southern Minnesota, USA, zone 4/5
    
    5
Cj, Thanks for the input. Maybe trying to outperform industrial ag on only a dollar per acre basis is foolish and I won't be trying it anytime too soon, at least not until a few other major projects have started to wind down. Conventional farm profit will sooner or later go back down the proverbial composting toilet.

What I was really trying to do was get more insight from the group about a square foot approach to permaculture. I completely agree about the need to stack functions within the tiles or squares not just between them. The diversity would only be limited by what one is able to plant and the availability of our natural helpers who would hopefully return in great numbers after the monocrop has been replaced. And of course, domesticated animals would have to be designed in as well.

I see square permaculture as a possible way to transition large tracts of land while making it easier to do some of the accounting that will probably be needed in order to carry out a larger-scaled project.


P.S.
I don't know enough about cress to know if it'll survive on soil that will dry out on top. The watercress I've seen growing was in a spring-fed pond. Just for fun I put some "highland cress" from a grocery store (roots left intact) in a pot with stones and water and so far it's doing well on a window sill.
David Goodman
volunteer

Joined: Dec 14, 2011
Posts: 325
Location: Zone 9a/8b
    
  13
I'm a mad permaculturist who scatters seeds everywhere and like to garden with a machete - but my wife likes order.

At the beginning of the growing season, I helped her put in some traditional square foot gardening beds, Mel's Mix and all. I have to admit - the yield thus far has been excellent. The plants thrive in the mix, are weed-free, etc. I can see the draw.

The main advantages of the system seem to be its ease of maintenance - no weeds - and the ease of the recipe. As Mel designed it, it works very, very well. Of course it relies on inputs from outside, at least to begin with, and some extra building materials - but for a lot of folk, it's a great way to grow food on-site rather than rely on the pesticide-laced trucked-in fare they're used to.

I've put in a few Jeavons-style double-dug beds this year as well. I'm comparing the two methods and using both "by the book," even as I continue my crazier permaculture approach outside of my zone 1/2 gardens.

Keep experimenting - I'd love to hear what you come up with.


Permaculture, bio-accumulators, rare plants, tool reviews and lots and lots of gardening inspiration - a new post every day: http://www.floridasurvivalgardening.com
Tom Pavlo


Joined: Jul 22, 2011
Posts: 18
I read through that book last night. I was just wondering whether anybody had an opinion about his soil mix. I am in the process of building some raised beds and am definitely a novice. I was going to fill the bottoms of the beds with logs, possibly some cardboard, shredded newspapers, twigs and leaves. From there, I was going to layer on a ton of compost (my town gives it away for free).

On top, I was going to add just about six inches of topsoil/dirt from around the area and mix in some of my homemade compost.

The SFG book recommends the following mix:
1/3 vermiculite
1/3 peat moss
1/3 compost

The compost I get and have no problem with. My question regards the peat moss and the vemiculite. I am not at all famililiar witht he latter. However, peat moss I have heard is not produced sustainably. He argues that these two parts of the mix help with water retention and soil compaction. Is there something else that I should consider using in my soil mix?

Thanks for all of your thoughts!
David Goodman
volunteer

Joined: Dec 14, 2011
Posts: 325
Location: Zone 9a/8b
    
  13
While it's true that peat moss is not produced sustainably, the square foot method is a very responsible use of it. Someone will consume peat moss - might as well be a system that uses it well and uses it for a long time. Leaf mould is a good replacement for peat, however.

As for vermiculite, that's wonderful stuff. It's basically puffed mica, if I remember correctly. Very light, good for fighting compaction and holding water. It's often used for rooting certain cuttings in nurseries. I don't believe there's a good replacement fir the perfect blend Mel recommends, but I do think you'll do decently if you had a really nice light compost to garden in.

As other have said, something like the biointensive method is probably the best if you want to intensively garden without the buy-in and build system required with the true square foot method.

Devon Olsen


Joined: Nov 28, 2011
Posts: 990
Location: SE Wyoming -zone 4
    
    5
this biointensive techniques not only seem to have too many monocultures, though closely planted together, but it also seem like way too much work, so why would you bother doing all of this work if its possible to intensively plant using polycultures that will loosen the soil for you?


Current Cheyenne, WY project
"Do you Hugel?" T-shirts and other products
David Goodman
volunteer

Joined: Dec 14, 2011
Posts: 325
Location: Zone 9a/8b
    
  13
It's about the highest production of food in a short period. Bartholomew's approach is more poly-culture, though less engaged with the land.

Jeavons does advocate polyculture in some cases, though I think he also believes that healthy plants with deep roots will fend off many pests even if planted together. Their research is incredible and worth reading.

I admit, however, that I like digging and feeling the soil. If I were to create the most amount of food possible in a location - and had time - I'd polyculture all the way and plant lots of long term perennials and trees with annuals around them. But if I had little resources and needed to eat soon or starve, I'd go with the Jeavons method.

(And... RP 2012 for sure. He's the only one even mentioning raw milk and consumer choices. The gov't needs to get out of my farming.)

Alan Stuart


Joined: Feb 24, 2012
Posts: 42
Cj Verde wrote:

I'm not totally sure, but it sound like you want to monocrop several different crops in a quilt like fashion. I don't think that's going to give you the results your looking for. What they call "stacking" might be a better approach. Take your friend who monocrops apples and hazelnuts. There are permaculture setups that space out the tree crops to grow forage (alfalfa or clover) in the orchard. It reduces your yield by 75% but if you bring in sheep to do controlled grazing, and then pigs in the fall to harvest the fallen apples, you wind up with a 150% total return of yield on the land then if you had monocropped. Of course if you use the 20% "drown out land" to raise water loving crops (watercress?) or turn it into a catfish farm, further increasing your land yield, then it's even easier to justify the stacking approach.


CJ,
Where do you find this information? I would love to read more!
Cj Verde


Joined: Oct 18, 2011
Posts: 2389
Location: Vermont
    
  44
Tree Crops -- A Permanent Agriculture by J. Russell Smith, the Grandfather of Permaculture.
Raven Sutherland


Joined: Nov 09, 2010
Posts: 128
Location: Massachusetts
the most important things about square foot gardening is
A> it's " making nature your bitch" to quote Paul
but also and more importantly
to learn about spacing your plants ever so accurately in a timely fashion
so that the plants outside leaves just touch creating a microclimate

if the spacing is to much the soil dries up and the weeds have plenty of sunlight
to take hold of an area and you can loose the war

if the spacing is to close then there is to much shade forcing the plants
to grow tall in competition with one another forcing the bolt pattern

the other point is to replace something growing in a spot that is being harvested
and have it waiting to go in....


Digging around on a piece of ground in my home town
waiting for someone or something to show me the way.
Kay Bee


Joined: Oct 10, 2009
Posts: 471
Location: Jackson County, OR (Zone 7)
Tom Pavlo wrote:I read through that book last night. I was just wondering whether anybody had an opinion about his soil mix.

The compost I get and have no problem with. My question regards the peat moss and the vemiculite. I am not at all famililiar witht he latter. However, peat moss I have heard is not produced sustainably. He argues that these two parts of the mix help with water retention and soil compaction. Is there something else that I should consider using in my soil mix?

Thanks for all of your thoughts!

Mel's Mix is a very high quality soil substitute to work with. I've used it for self-watering container gardening and it works great.

If you were going with containers, I would strongly recommend including either vermiculite or perlite in the mix to keep the soil light enough to work with throughout the various seasons.

Since you indicated that you are building raised beds, I don't think the vermiculite is necessary. If you have a lot of gravel or clumps/clods in the soil, screening it first is a good way to get the tilth that works best in sq foot gardening. Instead of peat moss, well rotted wood that has been broken up and screened through hardware cloth works well as a substitute. If you don't have any well rotted wood, you can get some started by putting logs or thick branches under a good thick layer of leaves in a shady area. wet it down thoroughly and within a year or so you will have great material to work with. Don't add nitrogen. The slow process of letting it break down gives a very good product that is stable in the mix.

Square foot gardening is great for vegetables. With a couple of hundred square feet of really good quality soil mix that gets sufficient light 6-8 hours a day, it really is possible to produce a huge amount of vegetables. Enough for a family of five. It is a great way to get started and become confident that you can do it well. A couple hundred square feet of space is small enough to pay attention to everyday, weed, water and harvest. More than that and the attention and quality can be compromised with effects on the results.

FYI, rabbit manure is a great substitute for compost in sq foot beds. Even if you don't want to eat meat rabbits, keep a rabbit or two for feeding your scraps, weeds and yard trimmings, and you will never have to make compost. It comes free, every day


"Limitation is the mother of good management", Michael Evanari

Location: Southwestern Oregon (Jackson County), Zone 7
Cj Verde


Joined: Oct 18, 2011
Posts: 2389
Location: Vermont
    
  44
Raven Sutherland wrote:
to learn about spacing your plants ever so accurately in a timely fashion
so that the plants outside leaves just touch creating a microclimate

the other point is to replace something growing in a spot that is being harvested
and have it waiting to go in....


This is also strongly emphasized in the BioIntensive method.
John Wheeler


Joined: Nov 06, 2011
Posts: 40
Location: Slippery Rock, PA
Tom Pavlo wrote:I read through that book last night. I was just wondering whether anybody had an opinion about his soil mix.... From there, I was going to layer on a ton of compost (my town gives it away for free).

On top, I was going to add just about six inches of topsoil/dirt from around the area and mix in some of my homemade compost.

The SFG book recommends the following mix:
1/3 vermiculite
1/3 peat moss
1/3 compost

The compost I get and have no problem with. My question regards the peat moss and the vermiculite. I am not at all familiar with the latter. However, peat moss I have heard is not produced sustainably. He argues that these two parts of the mix help with water retention and soil compaction. Is there something else that I should consider using in my soil mix?


I would be very careful in changing the mix. The entire SFG system is predicated on having "perfect" soil. By all means feel free to experiment with tweaking, but I would absolutely use the recommended mix as a control to compare results against.

Peat moss and vermiculite are indeed mined and/or energy intensive products. The nice thing about the SFG system is that you only add them once. After you set up the bed, you add a trowelful of compost every time you replant.

If cost, availability, or ethics is a problem for peat moss and vermiculite, you do have the option of using pure compost. This is what he teaches in third world countries with his Square Meter Gardening system. Similarly, the raised beds and grid can be made of logs or stones if that is what is plentiful.

A few other points I would recommend you consider for SFG in a permaculture system:

* I would strictly use SFG in Zone 1. Biointensive is suitable for Zones 1 and 2.
* One of the best ways I have found to loosen up soil is to have it covered with organic matter. Right now I am putting in SFG beds where I plan to put in a hugelkulture bed next year. I'll just move the SFG beds over and dig in.
* You can think of each 4x4 bed as a guild. I try to make each a mix of vegetables, legumes, grains, flowers, and herbs that complement each other.
* For people who are new to gardening I personally would recommend mastering SFG for a year. Get some easy successes under your belt before trying the more complex biointensive and permaculture techniques.

Disclaimer: I am taking the correspondence course for teaching SFG, so my answers may be on the sophomoric side. If you want to know more about my curriculum hortum, you can read my blog entry on The Garden Path


jdwheeler42
http://goingupslope.blogspot.com/
Lloyd George


Joined: Jan 25, 2012
Posts: 159
instead of square foot gardeneing..which tends to be rigid...consider instead a set of keyhole beds, arranged with high maintenance plants close to the walkway, with low and medium maintenance plants farther away from the walkways...cooler shapes too...lol
 
 
subject: Square Foot Permaculture?
 
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