First Square Garden – Lessons

Zuchinni after two weeks oil treatment

This year was quite a good year for learning in my first square foot garden.  Having so many lessons also means having little yield.  But I would rather learn many lessons in a single year than struggle for years to come.

Today is Day 70

Lesson 1.  More Sun 

3 tomato plants each over 6' tall

Veges other than leaf varieties really like their sun, tomatoes especially.  Some tomatoes (brandywine / black krim) are just now setting fruit, and this doesn’t leave much time for ripening.  Per the package these are the number of days to expect ripened fruit.  So for the brandywine in the middle bed that receives more sun, these may be on track.  The others, not so much.

Brandywine  –  90 days

Black Krim – 80 days

Super Sweet 100 – 70 days

To alleviate the sun issue, we are going to talk to our arborist about removing some honey locust and apple limbs to give more sun in the morning.  We may also not plant a tomato at the farthest end of the 2 x 6 planter,  instead grow something needing less sun like leaf vegetables.

Carrots need a place where they won’t be shaded by other plants.  In my plan I had radishes next to carrots, and if the radishes had grown normally this would have not been an issue.  Unfortunately the radishes lead me to the next lesson,  fertilizing too soon.


Lesson 2.  Fertilizing Too Soon 

Radishes Too much on top - over 2' tall.

Each vegetable needs fertilization at different times, and some not at all.

This year my husband got a batch of his grandma’s great fertilizer recipe that adds a great amount of nitrogen to plants.  Its sprayed on the leaves to help keep pests at bay as well.  (Recipe to come).  But the timing of fertilizing needs to be evaluated to ensure fruit or roots set.

Sparkler white tip radishes — All tops no bottoms.  Too much nitrogen might encourage more leaf growth than root.  Also note, low magnesium can discourage root growth.  Next year I will leave off the spray, and add a little epsom salt around the plants.  Radishes are also known to like colder temps, so planting in early June may have been a little late.  The other culprit – too little sun.

Tomatoes — All leaf and flowers not fruit.  All of the tomatoes grew to over 6 feet with lots of thick stalks and leaves galore.  But again no fruit.  This MAY just be my impatience as of today I saw a number of tomato fruits so perhaps I need to keep my eye on this one.

Squash — Just right.  Talk about happy plants!

Lessson 3.  Not covering tasty seedlings

Not a single leaf seedling made it, not one!  So if lettuce, spinach or beets are in the plan, a cage to keep critters away is a must!  This will be a project for the next couple weeks and I may try again now that cooler night temps are beginning to set in and days are slowly cooling.  I want spinach!


Lesson 4.  Don’t Overcrowd Squash 

Zucchini leaf after 1 week of oil treatment

I’ve learned the hard way that acorn and crookneck squash, as well as zucchini are highly susceptible to powdery mildew.  Although I spent a couple weeks trying to keep the problem I addressed too late at bay, most of the leaves for the zucchini and crookneck had to be removed today, and the entire acorn plant was yanked.

After deciding to use horticultural oil  for mildew and applying every 7 days early in the morning too avoid bee activity, there was little change to growth of the mildew.  I think the combination of over-crowding, allowing spray from soaker hoses to create a highly humid area below the plant leaves, and not addressing the problem as soon as a single leaf showed issues caused the whole crop to be a loss.  Although not a total loss we did harvest two crooknecks, two zucchini, and hopefully at least one acorn (never grown it so who knows if they can ripen off the vine).    Next year I will not plant 3 large leaved plants like that in the same space, and I will ensure we have a trellis for them to spread upwards on to allow leaves more air circulation.  I will also ensure that any bed containing squash have their hoses covered so all moisture enters the soil not sprayed upwards.

Below are some tips from the CSU Extension Website

” Once the disease becomes a problem:

Zucchini after two weeks oil treatment
  • Avoid late-summer applications of nitrogen fertilizer to limit the production of succulent tissue, which is more susceptible to infection.
  • Avoid overhead watering to help reduce the relative humidity.
  • Remove and destroy all infected plant parts (leaves, etc.). For infected vegetables and other annuals, remove as much of the plant and its debris in the fall as possible. This decreases the ability of the fungus to survive the winter. Do not compost infected plant debris. Temperatures often are not hot enough to kill the fungus.
  • Selectively prune overcrowded plant material to help increase air circulation. This helps reduce relative humidity and infection.

An alternative nontoxic control for mildew is baking soda (similar to the potassium bicarbonate listed above) combined with a lightweight horticultural oil (Sunspray). Researchers at Cornell University have discovered the fungicidal properties of this combination against powdery mildew on roses. Applications of 1 tablespoon baking soda plus 2.5 tablespoons of Sunspray oil in 1 gallon of water are still experimental. Use it at your own risk.”


Lesson 5.  Browse Often, Address Issues Quickly

Being quite busy this summer there were more than a couple weeks that went by without tending the veges.  This allowed the dreaded bind weed to take hold and the powdery mildew to flourish.  Taking my coffee out in the garden just a few minutes each morning would have alerted me to my problem before drastic measures had to be taken.

An amateur gardener who loves to watch the garden grow.