Originally created 04/27/01

Growers find dividing plots means less work



Donald Mosser's gardening philosophy is that less is more.

Mr. Mosser uses the square-foot gardening technique in his backyard produce patch. It's a technique detailed in Mel Bartholomew's book, Square Foot Gardening, and it applies standard gardening practices to a small, intensively planted area.

Mr. Mosser and his 8-year-old daughter, Emily, maintain a 4-by-12-foot raised bed. They bring in just enough produce to keep the three-member family in fresh vegetables throughout the growing season. The plot is small enough that it requires little in maintenance or cost.

"It's a more sensible approach," Mr. Mosser said. "It's got to be, just because you don't have to weed as much."

Gardeners following the method divide their plots into 1-foot squares and plant according to a formula from the book. For instance, radishes, carrots, beets and chives can be planted 16 per square. Tomato and pepper plants should only be sown one plant per square.

The garden is a project Mr. Mosser can share with his daughter. Because it is small and manageable, children are not scared off by hours of weeding.

"It's great for kids to do," Mr. Mosser said. "You can actually follow through on it. The kids can actually see something come out of the garden."

Because Emily frequently picks and eats grape tomatoes straight from the plant, Mr. Mosser opts not to use pesticides.

"That's one reason I grow vegetables," he said. "I don't have to eat the ones at the grocery store that have been bathed in pesticides."

He controls pests organically. Herbs and plants such as garlic and onions have pest-repellent properties, so Mr. Mosser intersperses them among his other vegetables.

"I'm planting the basil next to the tomatoes because the basil repels some insects. It keeps them off my tomatoes," Mr. Mosser said. "That's why they say always plant basil with tomatoes. It's not just because they make a good pesto."

Small, raised beds make gardening easier.

"Mainly, it's because it makes it look neat," said Sharyn Altman, a master gardener. "You can sit on them and work. You can just add stuff to it and turn it."

Big or small, correct soil pH is a must, Mrs. Altman said. Most of the soil in this area is acidic and requires lime to neutralize it. Lime takes about five months to become effective and is necessary for the plant to take in fertilizer correctly.

"If you don't have the right pH, you can put all the fertilizer you want, but it won't work right without the pH right."

Mrs. Altman and Mr. Mosser prefer amending the soil with compost to add organic matter, soil texture and nutrients. Mr. Mosser also adds some liquid fertilizer to his sprouts because it will filter through his weed-block cloth. Mrs. Altman prefers a time-release granular she mixes into the soil.

The square-foot method still requires regular care of the vegetables. Weeding time is minimal, but the beds still need water and fertilizer. Vegetables should be watered an average of 1 inch per week. Misting is gentle to new sprouts.

Mr. Mosser plants family favorites, including tomatoes, peppers, carrots, beets, lettuce, spinach, chives, squash, garlic and bok choy. The Mossers do not can or freeze; they harvest their vegetables to enjoy fresh.

"You do get a pretty good amount from a very small area," Mr. Mosser said. "I'm not going to end up with 300 tomatoes or anything. But who wants that many?"

Reach Valerie Rowell at (706) 823-3351 or valmac007@hotmail.com.