Square Foot Gardening in Florida

timetraveler(9b Melbourne Beach FL)April 3, 2011

I'm intrigued by the idea of Square Foot Gardening, since I have so little space. But most of the "All New Square Foot Gardening" by Mel Bartholomew isn't applicable to Florida, for example the seasons and watering with sun-warmed (aka extremely hot) water. I'm wondering whether his suggestions for above ground boxes, soil mix, and plant spacing work here? The plant spacings seem too close to me. I think that when the rains and humidity come, such close spacings would encourage disease.

Has anyone tried SFG in Florida? How did it work out?

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jwahlton(9B Kisimee)

I'm doing this for the first time this year. So far it is doing well. I did a mixture of compost, peat, vermiculite. I hand water it as needed. There is a forum for square foot gardening here so I read a lot over there too

    Bookmark   April 3, 2011 at 10:01AM
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I did it for 2-3 years, but I eventually gave it up. Nematodes and soil-born diseases became a big problem. This may have had something to do with the soil mix I used: the standard SFG blend, 1:1:1 vermiculite-peat-compost, which towards the end I found difficult to keep fertile. Or it may have been the cinder-block raised beds I used, which seemed to wick water out of the soil and make frequent watering necessary. Or it may have been a lack of diligence on my part. In any case, the results were good at first, but after a few seasons the yields got lower and lower.Eventually I took the SFG beds out. If I were to do it again, I would use a system like Silvia's--she's a frequent poster here on GW: sturdy wood-sided beds and planting mix which uses a lot of salt hay and black cow. She has excellent results.


    Bookmark   April 3, 2011 at 5:53PM
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My company designs and installs raised bed garden systems - we have installed a few systems in southern Florida and they all seem to be doing well. We don't install them to use warm water - they are usually hooked up to a garden hose that supplies water to the drip hoses in each of the raised beds.

Here is a link that might be useful: Teich Garden Systems Web Site

    Bookmark   April 3, 2011 at 6:16PM
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tomncath(St Pete Z10a Heat 10)

Bill, nice to see you posting again, I for one have missed you!

LISTEN to Bill, SFG's DON'T work in Florida unless you're in the far north of the state....


    Bookmark   April 3, 2011 at 7:34PM
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timetraveler(9b Melbourne Beach FL)

Putting together the information from the four posts above, this is what I'm concluding: SFG works in Central and Southern Florida, but only in the short term. After that, disease becomes a problem. The culprit might be Mel's soil mix and/or insufficient water, because other raised bed systems do work. One of the successful systems uses drip irrigation; the other uses a different and presumably more fertile soil mix. "Black Cow" is a commercial manure product, right? What is salt hay? I'll have to search for Silvia's posts.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2011 at 5:25AM
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tomncath(St Pete Z10a Heat 10)

It's so hot, humid and buggy here that crowding them all together justs makes it easy for one veggie to transmit disease to another....


    Bookmark   April 4, 2011 at 7:15AM
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sultry_jasmine_nights (Florida 9a)

I am pretty far north/east (near Jax area) and they don't work here either. Too much humidity/fungal problems. There are nematodes up here as well at least on this property. My last property was a city yard and probably the better soil kept the nematodes more at bay.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2011 at 10:01AM
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timetraveler(9b Melbourne Beach FL)

I'm convinced, no square foot gardening for me. How about raised beds with some other soil mix and wider plant spacing? My soil is alkaline sand - not great for vegies. Any suggestions for a soil mix with easily accessible materials?

    Bookmark   April 5, 2011 at 1:51PM
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jwahlton(9B Kisimee)

Well then what's the difference between SFG and what Silvia does with raised beds? I thought they were the same thing, but without the grids.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2011 at 4:46PM
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timetraveler(9b Melbourne Beach FL)

Silvia's raised bed system has been mentioned several times. I just searched her ID and waded through several pages of posts, but I can't find a description. Can someone please post a link?

    Bookmark   April 5, 2011 at 5:15PM
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whgille(FL 9b)

Hi Timetraveler

I don't think there is a link on how my beds are made. I don't do scientifically and I learn as I go along also I use ingredients that I have available at that particular moment.
They are made lasagna style first the grass is weed whack really short, layer cardboard, hay, peat moss, black cow, lime and fertilizer. I think the key when using the beds again is to replenish with organic material, I even use the leftover mix for the tomatoes once they are done. Also like to rotate the veggies. Tomatoes always go in the container.
This Saturday we are having gardeners coming to the house and they will be able to see the garden and how the things are growing. This season I was not too diligent because of family visits but still got things going. One of my brothers who has a very successful fruit tree farm was amazed at the amount of greens that I was pulling out from the garden been such a small space that I have. Our best season, at least for me is in the cooler months, nematodes are not that active and bugs are low, don't even have to spray. There are few things that I will not use in a raised bed, one is vermiculite and the other is mushroom compost.
If you have any further questions, I will be glad to answer.


    Bookmark   April 5, 2011 at 6:14PM
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whgille(FL 9b)

I forgot to thank Bill for being who he is, my favorite gardening writer and now my favorite cook. Just like Tom, I am happy to see you posting.
I have an abundance of kale so today I made kale chips.:)


    Bookmark   April 5, 2011 at 6:21PM
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timetraveler(9b Melbourne Beach FL)

Thank you, Silvia. Can you tell me why you don't use vermiculite?

    Bookmark   April 5, 2011 at 7:58PM
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whgille(FL 9b)

Timetraveler, one of the reasons would be that maybe is not so safe, I am including the link. Other reason is that it might retain too much water since I am already using peat, I don't need that, especially after the rains.


Here is a link that might be useful: vermiculite

    Bookmark   April 6, 2011 at 1:03PM
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ibarbidahl(9 (tampa-ish))

Pardon me *stepping on soap box*
Why is it SFG that is bad? Maybe 'Mel's way' isn't perfect but raised beds aren't horrible and the theory behind the beds is perfectly fine. I can guarantee you that if you have a limited amount of space to use that the beds will help retain the better soil and keep the nutrients where your plants need it.

I don't get it. Florida is hot buggy and humid- SFG didn't do that! Learn to adjust the spacing and adjust the planting so that it fits for your area - that is what is getting people down. I'll second Sylvia. No vermiculite in my beds, either. Peat, cow manure and (my own)compost here. I too replinish my beds each year Florida's sand will allow far more nutrients to leach out than other soils will. You have to MAKE soil here - you can't just dig it no matter the type of garden you have.

Pick up books, look on the web. Look, listen, and read. LEARN by doing!

Yes, Mel's theory of using 1 square foot for each tomato plant will lead to failure fast in Florida if you try to put them all in a 4x4 bed together. But if you make adjustments (kill the suckers, one main stem 2 max, open the bottoms up for air flow, etc) you CAN and WILL succeed. No one single way is right.

What kind of space do you have to use? Will you have 5 acres to plant, an acre, 100 ft? These are all considerations that have to be taken into account. If you are like me don't have the space then you have to compromise.

Good luck!

Sylvia- Oh how I wish I could be there this weekend. :-( I even saved a tabasco plant for you and one for Garden G'imp!

    Bookmark   April 6, 2011 at 4:09PM
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flyingfish2(9b w stuart)

I certainly value Silvia and Tom's advice, they are my role models in gardening. I have found 5-1-1 mix to dry out very quickly in 5 gal buckets. Do not believe there is any asbestos in vermiculite mined after 1990 and use it myself. Make sure if you use it that you do not breath the dust. I think this applys to perlite also.

look at this article if you are considering using it:

    Bookmark   April 6, 2011 at 5:03PM
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whgille(FL 9b)

Hi Ibarbidhal - I was hoping to see you on Saturday, there is still time if you decide to come and I can send you the address, let me know.

Hi Bernie - Are you coming on Saturday? I was hoping to see you and the wife, I have a new phone number in the house and you know where I live.:)

Sorry Timetraveler for getting off topic here.


    Bookmark   April 6, 2011 at 6:04PM
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gardengimp(9B Seminole Cnty FL)

Dang'it Barbie - I was so looking forward to meeting you in the flesh :)

TimeT - I grew up in gardening to learn to embrace the experiment; try different methods and see what works best for you. I have one small SFG that I am not so impressed with. I have other raised garden beds that I have 'made my own dirt' with that I'm pretty content with. Caveat - I am still learning :) My most productive raised beds are those that I started a season or two before I used them. Piled them up with cardboard/newspaper/yard debris/my compost/peat/black kow. Then let them sit and marinate. This always worked very well for me growing ornamentals; and thus far is working very well with edibles. I am finding with the edibles that a regular amendment routine is really critical for higher harvest gains. I try to rotate weekly between black cow, black hen or blood meal, 6-6-6, and our own compost. And mulch heavily. Then mulch some more. So far things are going fairly well; and I expect that as I experiment and learn I will change things and improve things. Oh, and my primary veggie bed is around 250 sqft.


    Bookmark   April 6, 2011 at 11:42PM
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jwahlton(9B Kisimee)

So maybe it's the "term" SFG that's the issue here. It seems that raised beds do well here when used with the soil that we make. Maybe Mel's mix doesn't work here, nor does the square grid, but a lot of us use the raised bed technique.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2011 at 10:17AM
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