This article submitted by Prof. Chris Henke
Early in 2013 my family and I were on a long car trip, and we passed the time by listening to an audiobook of The Secret Garden, a classic children’s book by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The Secret Garden tells the story of two young children, Mary and Colin, who discover the joys of gardening on an English estate in the nineteenth century. The book makes gardening sound very romantic, and, in the deep of winter, my daughter, Lin, and I decided that we wanted plant a small vegetable garden together this year.
Colgate’s community garden now has a few small 4 by 8 foot raised beds that community members can use for growing vegetables. Just as the Spring 2013 semester was winding down, Colgate students worked with our new Garden Consultant, Beth Roy, to construct the frames for the raised beds, using lumber purchased from a local sawmill. After filling the bed with topsoil and compost, it was time to plant.
Lin wanted some of her favorite vegetables, which include peas, beans, and cucumbers. We also planted tomatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, and peppers. The largest portion of our garden, though, is planted with kong xin cai, a green leafy vegetable common in Asian cooking, which our wife/mother insisted on growing, as it is difficult to find outside of specialized Asian markets.
At this point you might be asking yourself: how are we growing all this produce in a 4 by 8 foot space? We are experimenting with a gardening technique called Square Foot Gardening, popularized in a series of books by Mel Bartholomew. The square foot method marks off a garden plot into 1 foot grids, where each square is filled in with different vegetables, as opposed to more traditional row gardening where a long row or bed might be planted all with one type of vegetable. The idea is to grow more intensively in a smaller area, allowing some of the larger plants to have an entire square to themselves, whereas root vegetables like carrots might have as many as 9 plants in one square. For plants that vine, like tomatoes, cucumbers, peas, and beans, the plants are trellised and encouraged to grow vertically in their square.
So far our little bed seems to be doing well, though the wet and cool weather that we experienced in Hamilton earlier in the summer kept growth slow. We already had to replant some cucumber starts that got beat up by the rain, and some tomatoes that we started in a barrel were flooded. But overall our square foot garden experiment has been a lot of fun so far. Stop by the garden some time to take look!