New garden

(Question)

My 8 year old daughter is interested in gardening.  I have zero experience gardening but I have encouraged her.  I started her off with seeds and a mini greenhouse. Now things are sprouting and I don’t know how much room we will need to grow everything.  We started squash, beans, watermelon, cucumber, peas, carrots, chives, basil and parsley.  Our back yard had a large garden before but I planted grass over it years ago.  Right now there is a crab shaped plastic sandbox the kids don’t use and was thinking of using that area.  So,

1. Is the sandbox area big enough and,

2. Do I use the empty plastic sandbox or the hole below it?

(Answer)

You and your daughter are in for some fun.  The back of your seed packets should tell you how much space you need for each vegetable.  To help you determine the space required for the vegetables you’ve listed, I’m providing the requirements for intensive beds from a book by Mel Bartholemew called “Square Foot Gardening”.  The author recommends laying out your garden in 4 ft X 4 ft beds.  Note that many of your vegetables grow on vines (although there are bush types of some of them) and need to be given support.

Squash (I’m assuming summer squash such as zucchini) – vine type – 16 in X 12 in per plant – supported, bush type – 3 ft X 3 ft per plant.

Beans (assuming bush type green or yellow beans) – 9 plants per square foot.

Cucumber – 2 plants per square foot and requires some vertical support.

Peas – 8 plants per square foot may need vertical support depending on type.

Carrots – 16 plants per square foot.

Parsley – 4 plants per square foot.  The author doesn’t list chives or basil but my experience is they need the same space as parsley.  Note that chives is a perennial plant and over winters very well in our climate.

Watermelon is not included in the author’s list, I think because it cannot be grown vertically (fruit is too heavy) and the vines require lots of room to spread – assume you will need at least 3 ft X 3 ft per plant.

Use these numbers to estimate the total size of the bed required.  Note that intensive beds can be any size as long as you can reach into the middle – no more than 4 feet wide is recommended.

Once you’ve determined how much space you need, you can start preparing your bed as soon as the ground is workable.  You’ll need to remove the plastic sand box and dig up the soil beneath it to about 6 inches.  Then add some compost or sheep manure to enrich the soil.  Before planting, you’ll need to ‘harden off ‘ your seedlings by transitioning them to the outdoor environment gradually.

Here are some guides prepared by our Master Gardeners to assist you with creating your garden beds.

Organic Vegetable Gardening

Improving Your Soil Organically

I know this sounds like a lot, so keep your garden to a size that’s manageable or grow some of the vegetables in containers.  Keep it fun.  A recent book co-written by Steve Biggs and his 9-year old daughter Emma called “Grow Gardeners: Kid-tested Gardening: a 4 Step Approach”, may give you other suggestions for your project.  This book as well as “Square Foot Gardening’ should be available through your local library.  Contact us again if you have further questions.