Thursday, September 6, 2012

Square Box Gardening - # 4

How to Do and Use Square Box Gardening

Why I use a Plastic Sheet Bottom on my Boxes

 Go back to the very beginning of this article and view the Large Introduction Photo.  In the background, you will see a few light green boxes with plants in them. But no grass or weeds at all in these boxes. Only between boxes or on the outside of the boxes do you see unwanted grass or weeds.  I have spent maybe a half-hour on all 20 of my Pickle Cucumber Boxes - all Summer! 

 In the front close to these green boxes is a redwood colored box setting next to the redwood trellis just packed with grass as well as a few onions, a cucumber plant and a few leeks with large ''Pom-Poms" at the top. This box has no bottom and sets right on the ground. I have weeded it maybe 4 times this summer and the Grass - since it is coming from the ground Below the Box - is terribly hard to Keep out and Get.  This is how I started growing in boxes. I had a lot of work cut out for me since the boxes were setting directly on the ground. I wanted drainage but the boxes had to be weeded and de-grassed at least every week to keep clear. With the Green Colored Boxes, I rarely have to pull out a weed even once a month. Part of the reason is the Plastic Sheet Bottoms and the other is the soil mix that I use. It is usually clean of most weeds when I first use it.  The wind carries a few weed seeds and grass seeds occasionally in inspite of the caution to keep them out.  With the Drainage Holes around the bottom of the boxes, I never have to worry about plants being drowned by a "Gully Washer" rain. [ A Kansas term for a very heavy Rain Storm]. We know, don't we guys and gals... When the soil is put in the boxes, I press down a little firmer around the edges of the box when I pack the soil mix down.  Since watering is easy and takes small amounts, and the holes are on the sides of the box instead of the bottom, very little soil is lost. Maybe a half inch of soil this year from each box. 

Grow More Plants in a Whole Lot Less Space

Since these are square foot boxes, and I can control the amount of water and  nutrients going into each box, I can grow more plants in a smaller area.  For example, 3 cucumber plants (as in most "hills") in one box. - since I grow them under a rope trellis and they grow UP instead of Out, They take up only 1 square foot of garden space. Not only that, I could probably put one box against the next with no space between and have about 90 plants in a 30 foot row! But I haven't tried that yet so I don't know how that will work out.  I put about a 2 inch space between the boxes and let the grass grow between them. If it gets too long, I give the grass clumps a haircut with a kitchen scissors.I have figured out a simple method to keep the grass growing through much without cutting it. A herbicide is completely out.

Check Out:

More Square Box Gardening #5

There is more to come so stop by often to catch the latest up date on Square Box Gardening.  Please go to the bottom of the page and check one of the Comment Blocks.  More important, Please leave a comment and let me know how I am doing and what articles you might want me to write and ideas and experiments You have tried.  I might even have You write an Article for us!

Coming Soon: "How to "Winnow" Onion Seeds"  and also Leek and Chives using the same method - like the pros probably did 3 thousand years ago! Subscribe Below to keep from missing a post!




To write a personal note, I will always respond and soon. E-mail, . I am always glad to hear from my garden friends!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Square Box Gardening # 3

How to Assemble Garden Boxes.

Cutting the Sides
Lets say you want to start with 10 boxes. Just buy 8 Cedar Fence boards that are 6 foot long. This will give you enough sides to make 10 boxes. To see how this works, we will make 2 "Story Sticks".  One for the Short Sides 12 inches long and one for the Long Sides 13-1/4 inches long. Any stick that is straight will do.  Cut these sticks to exact measurement. With these you can quickly mark the lengths off on your board. Be sure to allow 1/8 inch for your cutting blade between Side pieces. If you don't your boards may be short! You can make 4 short pieces and one long piece or 4 long pieces and one short piece. You should have about 5 inches or so of scrap on the Dog-Ear end of the fence board. 

Keep track of parts for each Box.
Keep track of the sides. Stack sides for one box with 2 short sides and 2 long sides. Just change direction when you add another stack of sides to the last stack. Or just keep them separate. It will help keep you on track!

 Almost Everything You Need to Know is in this Diagram. /|\

The Rest is Here \|/

 Note that the long sides are attached to the small sides. If you change this around, you will no longer have a box where the insides are 12 inches X 12 inches - or a square foot inside.
The small circles on the right side are the screw points. The larger holes around the bottom of the box are 3/8 drain holes for when the big rains come! If you leave these out, You plants could easily drown as the boxes are pretty water tight. 

 Drilling the Drain Holes
After screwing the sides together, now is the time to drill the drain holes.  They should be from 1/2 inch to 1 inch at most from the bottom of the box. This will allow adequate drainage in deluges and too exuberant watering by Grand-Kids!  You can drill the holes later but I find it easier to do at this time.

Attach the Bottom Plastic Sheeting
 There are two reasons for using a plastic sheet bottom instead of just nailing a piece of plywood to the bottom. You could do this and just skip the whole plastic sheet-slats or trim boards subject. But.  You expose your box to rot underneath and add extra weight to the box. When the soil in your mix is just damp, you can pick the boxes up easily - soil and all - without having a breakthrough in the plastic. Think of how handy if you are moving. You will be able to take the smaller plants with you. For the Large plants - like mature tomatoes, you Could slip a  thin board underneath for extra support when moving. If you find that your tomato plant is not getting enough sun, like any container, just move the box, plant and all to a brighter place!
 Cutting the Landscape Cloth
I don't quite know why they call it "Cloth" at some places. I guess the word "Plastic" is just to tacky.  From here on out, I am just going to call it Plastic Sheeting. There are various places you can probably get sheets of heavy plastic Free.  For example, you could cut down one side of a TopSoil Sack and get at least enough plastic for 2 boxes. Larger Cotton Boll sacks [ 2 cubic feet of compost] from your nursery, (very good compost by the way) would probably get you 4 box bottoms easily. Both 4 and 6 mil Construction Plastic can be bought by the roll at most hardware stores. Smaller 4 mil plastic sheeting rolls can be found in some Dollar Stores which are sold as Paint Cloths. 

You will notice, that I have rolled out the cloth at 15-1/4 inches and cut through it all with a box knife. Next I fold this piece out and cut out the width of each box 2 inches or 14 inches. I have one bottom 14 inches X 15-1/4 inches. This leaves an inch extra all around the box when it is tacked on. Why is it necessary to overlap? Because my Wife said so! When you see the box being used, you will sometimes notice the plastic edge hanging outside the edges of the bottom. My wife is Always Right so there Must be a good reason for the overlap.  Eventually I will see the light!

Cut the Wood Slats
Cut 4 strips of wood to the exact lengths of the sides. I use a small coping saw to cut them off at the box. Notice the cutting mark

Tack the Plastic Sheet Down
Center the plastic so it overhangs about an inch all around and tack the strip down on it.  Here you see I have use a small inch and a quarter galvanized nail but they don't have much of a head to hold the wood. They are a little cheaper and wont rust as well.

Tack the strips all the way around.  Trim the extra plastic off if you have any hanging over. This is more likely with pieces of plastic like Plant Nursery sacks as mentioned before.  Work around the box until the whole bottom is tacked down securely.   Here you see extra plastic hanging over. 

 Were Nearly Finished
Your box is now ready to drill holes if they haven't been drilled. After applying a stain and drilling holes as is needed here, the Garden Boxes are finished and ready for you to add a good soil mix.

Part 4 will show you how to use these boxes that could change you way of gardening forever saving you a lot of work each spring and tons of water (and water bills) that usually runs off to no use to your plants whether they be most vegetables or flowers. By using various color stains and colors of paint, you can really wake up your garden! I will also give you a soil mix that I have developed for my boxes that will work anywhere. It works very well for me.


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Square Box Gardening # 2

Square Box Gardening # 2

Today I will be showing you how to build a simple Garden Box.  To keep this project simple and fairly  inexpensive, I have based the lumber for our boxes solely on regular  6 Foot - Dog Eared Cedar Fencing.  Most are about 5- 1/4 inches wide, about 5/8" to 3/4" thick and have a "dog ear" at one end about an inch long.  They average about $1. 69 at most Big Box Stores. But shop around and it could save you a few bucks.

 Painting or Staining
Cedar fencing is actually more rot-resistant than pine and you will find that regular cedar fence boards are usually much cheaper. The best wood fencing of course is of course Redwood...but it's like buying Gold! Boxes made from Redwood will last practically for a lifetime.  These boxes will last about 2 to 5 years if you paint them or use an outdoor wood stain. I bought some out-of-date outdoor wood-stain at my local hardware store for $1 a gallon. Great bargain. It had a slightly unpleasant smell to it but it worked great and the smell disappears when it dries. Look for Bargains. I saved about $25 a gallon. (and my Garden didn't notice) I bought 6 gallons.  Here in Wichita we have a Free Recycle Paint Outlet provided by the City. Yard Sales often have cheap paint. Dilute it by half and use as a stain on your boxes and save even more.

 Plastic Sheeting Material
 Remember, your boxes will not be set on the ground directly. The Bottoms will be made of heavy plastic material. Believe it or not, A few hours after even a heavy rain, you will be able to pick the boxes up with your hands. Including the soil within and the plant too (unless they are really tall and cumbersome). If your planning on moving, you can pick up the box plant and all and set it in your truck. When you get where your going, set it down in the garden space you have chosen, and your good to go. Just add water! My boxes all set on a back lawn that I am converting into a garden. I set them ready to grow right on the grass. The heavy plastic material - "Black Landscape Material" or use heavy plant material bags left over from Mulch, Top Soil, Wood Chips, Garden Soil, Cotton Boll etc. Just slit them open down one side. If your lucky, you will have enough Box Bottoms to complete 4 - Square Foot Boxes.

Copper Nails
As you will see in the diagram, I like to use Screen Trim nails. Small copper nails most often seen in "Plastic Storm Window Kits that you can get for a few bucks. (Copper Nails with heads can be purchased at most hardware and lumber outlets. They are usually about 3/4 of an inch long and have a common head.)  However, the plastic in the kits, is way too thin if you are setting your boxes on weeds or grass. They will poke right through and you will be weeding your boxes. Weed or grass seeds blow in or in you soil mix already has weed seeds and grass in it. Using heavy plastic sheeting will save you 95% of the weeding you have to do with regular gardens.  All I have to do is Mow the grass between the boxes and weed eat around the boxes. I learned to keep the weed eater string close to the ground, after whacking off a few new cucumber plants!

Until this year, I didn't use caulking. However, I was sometimes loosing water from the boxes when I watered through the 4 corners.
Below the soil level was no problem in most cases. The soil filled any corner cracks. However, when I want to water maybe once or twice a week - depending on the heat and lack of rain of course, I like to fill the box to the brim with water. 

This gives me the equivalent or better of a One-Inch Rain over the one square ft. Area of soil that the plant sits in.  I pour a half-gallon or more per plant. I also mix my fertilizers like wise.  Also, if I use a gallon per Garden box, I know exactly how much water I am using.

  Since my hose puts out a gallon of water every few seconds, I can just point the hose, count off the few seconds, and water each plant easily and exactly. With the plant boxes in increments of 1 square ft, you can know exactly what your watering should be and even the soil mix and fertilizer amounts with a few simple calculations.  No waste of water, fertilizer, etc and you have complete control. 

Wood Strips or Screen Trim
Wood Trim or Screen Stock is plated in Gold at the Lumber Outlets. It is about 1/8" thick, 5/8" wide, and 8 Ft wide. Along with the copper nails, it's great to nail the plastic to the bottom of the boxes as shown below.  However, get a few scrap 3/4 (1x- nominal name) white pine and have a  woodworker friend rip you a bunch of slats.
 One 6 ft board will give you enough slats for about 12 boxes. And cost you half the price of One Wood Trim at the store!

  | Do Not do this yourself if you are not an Advanced Woodworker or Carpenter.  It is a dangerous procedure for those who have never had much experience with a power saw! |

1-1/4" Dry Wall Screws
(Often called Multi-Purpose Screws lately)
These will be used to Screw the sides of the Garden Boxes together.
 One small box (1-1b Box should do about 20 Square Ft. Boxes.

Waterproof Glue
I like to use Waterproof - outdoor approved Glue. My first boxes tended to have the screws coming out on occasion but not severely so. But I use it now to avoid the nuisance. It is optional. I use Tite-Bond III (trademark). It's very good and not as expensive as Gorilla ( trademark) Glue. Which ever you prefer. 

 Tools You Need
Hammer      (Or a Small tack hammer instead is easier to handle but not necessary.

Small Handsaw - to cut strips to length.

Power Drill - Can be done by hand but tedious to assemble boxes.

Power Drill - Phillips Bit to help put in dry wall screws.

 End of "Simple Box Gardening" Part 2.
Keep watching for Part 3 coming soon where we will give you simple plans for building the Gardening Box and Photos of yours truly finally doing some work.

All Rights Reserved. Copyright Robert Mader 2012