Square Foot Gardening Gives an Easy Start for Anyone

Urban Square Foot Garden

Are you ready to jump in and plant a garden in your backyard? If you have the space to move beyond an indoor garden or an outside vertical garden, a square foot garden is an ideal way for a beginning gardener to get started on the gardening adventure.

A square foot garden divides a small space into one foot squares with only one type of plant in each square. Larger plants, like tomatoes, are planted just one to a square, while smaller plants, like carrots, are planted with many (16) to a square. The method is very efficient in use of seeds, use of space, and use of water. Because it is so easy to understand and so encouraging, this method works well for gardeners who are intimidated or overwhelmed by the idea of growing their own food.

The space needed can be quite small, but the method is scalable by just repeating the 3′ x 3′ or 4′ x 4′ squares separated by spaces big enough to walk through and to stand while you tend your garden. Your squares can be dug into the ground or planted in a raised bed frame. (The official guidelines put the garden in a frame, but you can adapt the method.) The grid lines between each square foot section can be made with string or something more permanent, like strips from old blinds. You have a lot of choices within the basic guidelines for square foot gardening.

Best of all, you can start today. Draw a 3×3 grid, add dots to represent your crops (1, 4, 9, or 16, depending on plant size), then start building the frame. You can begin in any season.


Square Foot Gardening Resources

  • All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholemew. This is the square foot gardening bible.
  • Square Foot Gardening Foundation. This foundation, started by the Square Foot Gardening author, aims “to end world hunger by reaching out to families and teaching them how to grow healthy food for their daily meals.”
  • “How to Build a Square Foot Garden,” Frugal Dad. Using the method outlined by Mel Bartholemew, this gardener added a drip irrigation system. Photos and detailed descriptions.
  • My Square Foot Garden. If you are wondering how to garden for your climate, look for planting plans from many different gardeners. The plans are so simple to create and so inspiring to look at.

Image © Claus Mikosch | Dreamstime.com

Garden Fresh Snacks for Children

Vegetable Kebabs

If you planted a garden with your child earlier this year, she’s probably been eager to sample the results. Now is the season for fresh garden snacks with children.


Eat It Fresh and Raw

Fresh fruits and vegetables straight from the garden can be such an intense taste experience that they become lifelong memories. I remember very well trailing after my mother through our garden, tasting as we went. In particular, I always remember biting into a tomato. I don’t like tomatoes, and that is the only time in my young life that I remember voluntarily eating one. I just remember how incredibly good it felt to bite through the sun-warmed flesh of the tomato before the taste exploded through me. This one little fresh fruit (or vegetable, depending where you want to come down on that issue) is the anchor for all of my other childhood garden memories.

Now, without giving it much thought, we’ve put our mostly likely garden snack foods next to our main doors near our house. Because our herbs are next to the door we use most frequently, my children often stop to eat mint or fennel on their way inside. We have planted grapes by our front door, but they are only two years old and aren’t fruiting yet. I like to picture guests snacking on our grapes as they wait for us to answer the door.

Walk through your garden with your child and see what there is to sample and taste as a snack.


Choose Dark Vegetables for Micronutrients

We know dark, raw vegetables provide phytonutrients that help our bodies repair damage on a cellular level. For our smoothie series a year ago, we focused on the 5-7 color categories that fruits and vegetables can be divided into, each category rich in a particular set of phytonutrients.

Dark blue and purple foods can contain anthocyanins, which contain antioxidants that help protect cells from damage. From Sour Purple Blast Smoothie.

Carrots in particular are an incredible source of Vitamin A—or, rather, provitamin A carotenoids that can form Vitamin A. Alpha carotene is a cancer fighter, and beta carotene promotes repair of damaged DNA. You probably know that beta carotene will help your eyesight, which is related to this repair function. From Earth Orange Smoothie.

Green plants have chlorophylls, which play an important role in photosynthesis—capturing energy from sunlight and converting it into chemical energy. The phytonutrients in our smoothie included the carotenoid lutein, which works with zeaxanthin (both from raw spinach) for eye health. From Easy Green Smoothie.

As you are planting your garden then later strolling through for a snack, keep in mind that a variety of colors means an abundance of vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients.


Quick Vegetable Kebab Snack

It’s cooling down. My children have been requesting hot snacks and lunches, so it is time to put together simple, warm foods. They do like raw vegetables, but one of the ways we create variety straight from our garden is with quick grilled vegetable kebabs. My children love crunchy grilled vegetables, and it’s a great alternative to fried foods.

  • Garden vegetables – Use whatever you have in your garden, like zucchini, tomato, onion, sweet pepper, and summer (yellow) squash.
  • Oil, vinegar, and spices for marinade
  • Skewers – We use metal skewers because they are easiest to reuse.

Rather than buying anything special for this snack, it’s an adventure for a young child to go out into the garden and eat what he finds. Collect vegetables early in the morning, then prepare a marinade using oil, vinegar, lemon juice, mustard, salt, pepper, and any herbs you collect. Cut up the vegetables into large, bite-sized pieces. Place the marinade and the vegetables in a container for 2-3 hours. Shake it around to be sure that the vegetables are coated.

When it is time for a late morning snack, help your child skewer just a few of each kind of vegetable. Vegetable kebabs are wonderful grilled, but we try to keep snacks simple since we’re only cooking a small amount of food. We broil until the zucchini starts to steam and brown because we like the texture of the crunchy crust outside and the hot, soft inside.

I love the idea of simple snacks from the garden because it makes such a profound connection for children. They help grow the food with their own hands. As they eat and enjoy the foods in simple ways—either raw or just cooked but still recognizable—they begin to realize how much power they have to care for their own bodies and their expanding world.

Image © Michael Zysman | Dreamstime.com

Save Green: Winter Soup, Make It a Double

Kale and wheat berries
Duck Duck Goose and Wheatberry Soup

This is a budget-friendly winter soup that costs us about $.35 per person. The total cost of the aromatics (onion, celery, carrot) is about $.50 at my store. The rest of the vegetables are about $1.00; Kale about $1.00; and Wheatberries about $.25 ($.89/pound). Total = ~$2.75. This is enough for two meals for my family of four, so that comes about to a rough $.35/person, or $1.10/person if you add store-bought country bread like we did.

Of course, if you buy a goose and pay full price, you have a much more expensive soup. We used what was left of the birds from our holiday meal—our almost-like-Peking duck and goose with enough for company. In this case, reusing saves us from facing a big price tag.


Ingredients

2 ducks + 1 goose, thoroughly picked over from a previous meal

1 Lg Onion, diced
2 Lg sticks Celery, roughly diced
2 Lg Carrot, roughly diced
1 Sm Parsnip, diced
½ cup Celery Root, diced
1 Leek, diced and washed (used vinegar to get all of the sand out)

½ cup Wheatberries (uncooked)
about 4 cups Kale, stalks removed and chopped to about 1-2″ square

In this case, we just added salt and pepper because the ducks and goose had our homemade Peking duck flavorings (ginger, soy, honey, sesame oil).


Pot of winter soupStock

  • Break the birds into pieces and put in a large stock pot.
  • Cover with water.
  • Bring to the boil and simmer for 2-3 hours.
  • Strain off liquid into a large bowl.
  • Remove fat from top. We use a fat separator jug. Or, put it in th refrigerator overnight. The fat sets up, and you can just remove it. Reserve at least a few tablespoons of the fat to saute the vegetables.
  • Set stock aside.


Meat

  • Pick any usable meat off the bones.
  • Dice.
  • Set meat aside.


Wheat

  • Put the wheatberries in a small saucepan and cover with 2-3 cups of water.
  • Bring to a boil.
  • Simmer for about an hour covered.
  • Strain off the liquid. You might be tempted to keep and use the, but I find it bitter. I don’t keep it.

If you use pearl Barley, don’t pre-cook. Half an hour in the soup is enough.


Prepare Vegetables

  • Chop, dice and otherwise prepare the vegetables.


Combine

Now you have stock, meat, wheat, and vegetables prepared.

  • In a large stock pot, add the reserved fat and the prepped vegetables (minus kale).
  • Saute.
  • Once they have a hint of brown, add the stock a little a time in order to cook off any caramelized bits off the bottom.
  • Add the rest of the stock.
  • Add the meat and wheat.
  • Simmer for about half an hour until the vegetables are cooked the way you like them.
  • Add the Kale 5 minutes before you are ready to eat.

I love the texture of the kale and wheatberries along with the softness of this flavoring. It’s a great, warming soup without being too heavy. Perfect lunch on a cold winter day after the kids have been playing in the snow all morning.

Eat half. Freeze half. Leave at least an inch at the top of the container for the frozen soup to expand.

Duck Duck Goose soup

Today is Day #7 of my new Save Green Habit: run the stairs every day.

I’m running up and down stairs to avoid using a treadmill or stair climber. The aerobic part is easy compared to just having the muscle power to get up the stairs on the 15th time or so. Still running at least 3-4 times every day, so I’m on track with the habit. My children have been great about marking their habits on the calendar, but I think they took the day off yesterday.

What Is Your Favorite Smoothie?

Banana SmoothieWhat is your child’s favorite smoothie?

Today, my son decided he didn’t want to eat lunch at all. I suggested he just have a smoothie. It worked! I even let him choose and didn’t try to sneak in a broccoli stem or a handful of beans. He choose peaches from our neighbors’ tree, a banana, and coconut. He and his dad opened a coconut a few days ago, and he’s been trying to figure out how to use up all of that nice coconut flesh. When I asked him what he liked best about it, though, it wasn’t the two special ingredients but the banana.

My son’s favorite smoothie is anything with a banana.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve covered smoothie tools as well as the intense nutrition blast of dark purple smoothies, earthy orange smoothies, and easy green smoothies. Have you experimented? What do you like? What is your child’s favorite smoothie?

We would love to share your recipes and tips
for this easy, nutritious meal.

Monday Morning Smoothie: Easy Green

Green Fruits and Vegetables for Smoothie

This week, my children and I made green smoothies. We usually mix colors and get sort of muted orange (a lot of carrots) or dull purple, but it has been great to see how bright we could make our smoothies and still taste great. I avoided vegetables that tend to be bitter in smoothies, like broccoli, and vegetables that don’t add much color, like celery and cucumbers. We ended up with a very smooth taste, probably because of the avocado. Sweet enough that kids loved it and veggie enough that parents loved it.

  • 1/2 green apple
  • 1/2 avocado
  • 12 medium spinach leaves
  • 12 grapes
  • 2 large mint leaves
  • 1 banana
  • 1/4 soy milk

Green plants have chlorophylls, which play an important role in photosynthesis—capturing energy from sunlight and converting it into chemical energy. The phytonutrients in our smoothie included the carotenoid lutein, which works with zeaxanthin (both from raw spinach) for eye health.

Green SmoothieAlso, the spinach is a huge source of Vitamin A and folic acid; the green apple is a good source of Vitamin C; avocado is high in Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, and several other vitamins; and banana is high in manganese, Vitamin C, and Vitamin B6.

I’ve noticed a lot of my friends using liquid, vegetable-based vitamins. The best choice in making sure children have a balanced diet is to give them an abundant variety of fresh, whole foods. Smoothies are just an easy way to give your child several servings of vitamin-, mineral-, and phytonutrient-rich foods in one sitting.

As interest in color-related nutrition increases, so does research. It is likely we will know much more in the future about the exact benefits phytochemicals (plant chemicals). In the meantime, we know that it is important to get as many intensely colored vegetables and fruits in our children’s diets as possible.