Neat shoots and leaves in a square-metre garden

This post originally appeared on the Sustainable Witney website.

Those of you who followed my construction of a raised bed from pallet wood might be interested to know that we’ve already begun square-metre gardening in the resulting bed, with some success!

This form of gardening is meant to be relatively intensive, turning a quite small growing area into even smaller crop squares, in a chequerboard pattern. Also, by implementing crop rotation within each zone, and by avoiding disease by planting dissimilar crops next to each other, square-metre gardening permits the sowing and reaping of potentially several crop types, from each square, within a single year.

The square-metre bed was divided up into four columns A-D, and four rows 1-4. We began planting by… well, actually, we began planting by not planting, but by creating a Google spreadsheet to upload all the details of:

  • what we had sowed (crop, variety and “crop rotation type” e.g. legume)
  • what date it was sowed (and, later, whether sowed indoors or out)
  • what chequerboard square each crop was sown in
  • how much we sowed, with spaces to note initial yield, how much we thinned out etc.

About six weeks after the initial planting, our bed looked like this:

raised_bed_shooting_20130421

This is our raised bed, with the first few shoots, on April 21. Three weeks later, you can see a lot of leafy growth:

raised_bed_leafing_20130512

Here’s the layout in detail:

Basil Beans Chard
Carrot Spinach
Beans Chard Carrot
Chard Carrot Beans Spinach

… and with all that in mind, here’s what we’ve been growing.

Broad beans (Robin Hood) We’ve had a fair bit of success with broad beans in the past, although they always seem cramped in pots and start to spiral and get leggy. We sowed three beans in a triangle, in each of three squares. All but one have sprouted, and you can identify them by their broad, flat, grey-green leaves. We’ll need to attach these to canes as they get taller, so hopefully having more than one in each square will help to brace them either side of a cane.

Carrots (Early Nantes) An early carrot variety that the Cogges Victorian garden team have had some success with. I sowed them far too thickly, as I simply didn’t know how much would grow. I must must have already thinned them out by a factor of three or four (!) which is always dangerous with carrots as the smell attracts carrot fly (although the height of a raised bed will deter them.) Sowing in drills was much better than simply raking in, by the way: it really helped me control the density of plants as I thinned. You can hopefully spot the spindly fronds of the carrot leaves.

Perpetual spinach (Leaf Beet) A pseudo-spinach which as with the carrots we sowed far too thickly. I’ve been thinning and thinning this, and even though there’s now around 15 or 16 per square, you can see it’s getting crowded. But this crop is very much “cut and come back”, so we can probably start eating it now, and see how far we get! The spinach is a very bright green in these photographs, with broad, curvy leaves.

Swiss chard (Bright Lights This is our biggest disappointment. The chard looks like darker spinach, with red or yellow colouring near the soil. We sowed it really quite thickly, almost as thick as the spinach, but as you can see comparatively few have come up so far: maybe half a dozen plants at best, frequently with two plants growing right next to each other and requiring thinning out to one! We’re keeping an eye on it and hoping that more will appear later in the season.

Basil Straggly-looking, this is last year’s basil that we’re running to seed. We hoped to plant some tomatoes near it as they apparently make good companion plants, but just haven’t had time.

We’ve avoided putting the same plants in directly adjacent squares, and left some squares empty for lettuce (Lollo Mixed) and maybe some sunflowers, nasturtiums and anything else. We’ve also got one miniature squash (F1 Balmoral) specifically designed for square-metre gardening, but even then, it might be difficult to fit it into any of our currently fallow squares; maybe in the square-and-a-half next to the basil?

We’ve also had to do some watering to keep the surface from going really very dry and dusty. Something for you to be aware of is that as you might be able to see the soil level has settled considerably below the top of the bed, in part under the pressure of that watering. But that’s fine as far as I’m concerned, as it’ll leave room for composting later in the season and next year.

That’s it for now: one great thing we’ve found about this method of vegetable gardening is that after the initial chore of building and filling the beds, it becomes very straightforward and low-maintenance. We can recommend it for that reason alone, I think. But if there are any more exciting updates, I’ll post them here. Otherwise, do let us know if you’re trying anything like this yourselves; and happy gardening, either way!

(By the way, if there are any more useful updates I can make, I’ll also tag them “squaremetre“, so they’re easy to find.)

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