The Square-Foot Garden Adventure

20140910_190847Pull up a chair…get comfy…this is gonna take a while! 🙂

Y’all know I love my husband. I do. Let’s make that 100% clear.

However life with the Jazzman is…at times…an adventure. It’s how we ended up in Texas, by way of a few years in Florida. When he gets a new project he tends to focus all that genius IQ on it, sometimes to the point of obsession. Then there’s the experimentation part of most projects. (Nothing has blown up…lately.)

For the past year he’s been reading about organic gardening.

Let me back up a few years. We’ve gone “mostly” organic and reduced the amount of processed foods in our home. My parents grew up on farms in Tennessee and my mom cooked using fresh ingredients when I was growing up, even planting a small garden for tomatoes, peppers and the occasional cucumber vine. We had friends who grew half-runner green beans and corn in bigger gardens, which they would let us pick. In the summer we’d go pick strawberries at a pick-your-own farm outside of Columbus, blackberries at a friend’s farm and apples from relatives in Tennessee. Cooking with fresh ingredients as much as possible isn’t foreign to me, so I indulged most of Jazzman’s wishes for organic foods.

Guess what peeps. Shopping at the Organic Food Stores is expensive!

Jazzman understood this, (after a sit-down with me over the budget), hence his reasoning that we should grow our own vegetables….organically…in our little backyard.

Now, one thing about the Jazzman is that he researches, studies and analyzes how to do things. So naturally, he bought books, read articles on the internet and talked with organic farmers. After many months of research, he decided we should do “raised beds in a square-foot garden, Suz.”

Which of course led to many hours of him planning all the different ways to build a raised bed and how to make it efficient. There are places where you can buy pre-made raised beds in any dimension. Nope. Jazzman decided he needed to build ours out of cedar boards. So supplies bought, you’d think we were ready to go, right? Nope.

We watched the sun rise and fall for about a week, trying to determine where the best use of sunlight would be. Jazzman’s determination? Smack dab in the middle of the back yard. OH, HELL NO! I determined the best spot would be to the side where it would get morning sun, but the late afternoon and early evening would be in the shade. We live in Texas after all. No use frying the poor plants for more than 8 hours a day. Guess where the garden is. 🙂

1617206_811228818889231_5534118429170367418_oNow we’ve got the supplies and the spot. Jazzman proceeds to build his garden. 4 square feet by 4 square feet. Remember that number, it’s important. He puts the sides together and puts plywood on the bottom. We carry it out to the spot. Then he decides to build a trough-like raised bed 4 square feet by 1 square foot. To the back of both he adds rebarb stakes with piping at the top, then ties twine up and across this frame to make a trellis. (People…I said he’s detailed to obsession, but hey, while he’s busy with this…I’m writing!!)

Next comes the compost and manure mixture. One must have the right kind of soil and fertilizer after all. Finally, it’s time for plants. Now. He’s divided the 4×4 into 1ft square spots. Total…16 (Told you the # would come in handy!) Then the 4×1 is marked off to make 4 spots. Jazzman goes to the store and comes back with…2 pepper plants, 8 tomato plants, marigolds for bug control…and herbs.


Seriously? Okay, fresh basil and chives are cool…but honestly, you can grow them in pots on the back porch. We’ve spent a few bucks and I was wanting…vegetables. He did save a space for green beans near the trellis. Sigh. He was so excited. I let it slide.

Plants are planted, watered. They look happy to be in the soil. Then it rains. And rains. And rains.10348730_811732682172178_6160723296823379236_o

Now, not being professional farmers, we were pretty sure rain was good for the plants. Well at first it was. Things grew, looked lush, beans were starting to send vines up the trellis. But then we noticed the bottoms of the tomatoes were getting dark spots. The marigolds kept dying. What the hell was going on?

After much research, Jazzman determined the cause was poor drainage. See he’d built the raise bed for being on a patio by adding the plywood bottom and not having enough drainage holes. SIGH.

But all is not lost! We live in Texas, which has a very, very long growing season and two times to harvest. Who knew!?!


Jazzman has bought more cedar and this time chickenwire for the bottom. He’s also reevaluated the soil mixture for the ultimate growing environment. So in JULY in TEXAS he’s decided to rebuild the squarefoot garden, mix up new soil using some from the old gardens, and try again.

Now picture this. He’s got the boxes built, coated them in linseed oil and is ready to fill them. He’s determined the easiest way to mix the new soil is to use a GIANT TARP in the middle of the back yard.

Temp at noon on D-Day is 102….let me repeat that…ONE HUNDRED and TWO freaking degrees.

So, I get this call from the backdoor to stop what I’m doing…(writing)…to come “help”. Help with what? Mixing manure. Yes, I got to play in manure in 102 degree heat. Jazzman pours not 1, not 2, but 3 kinds of manure, (chicken, cow and worm) along with mushroom compost, some expanding shale, and peat moss onto the tarp and we mix it into the old soil he’d dug out of the previous garden by…moving the ends of the tarp.

I KID YOU NOT! (okay, farmer peeps…stop laughing!!! That means you, Cassondra!!)

Here we are in the hottest day in Texas so far this summer, lifting 200# of….crap….over and over and over and over and over. I was not happy. Nope. Not at all. Zip. Nada! And I grumbled…and grumbled. BUT we got it mixed. He fills up the 4×4 with it. Oh wait…it only fills 1/2! WE have to do the tarp dance AGAIN!!! And repeat for the 4×1 replacement!

20140826_192832Finally, at the end of that long, hot, miserable day, Jazzman has the gardens redone, including the saved trellis from the previous ones. He’s replanted the basil…because we had a great basil bush in the old one. Bought new plants, this time, heavy on the peppers and tomatoes.

About a week later, everything is growing fine, but the Jazzman is concerned about keeping them moist so  he investigates, reads and researches how to make…an irrigation system.

Yes, people, we have the most high-tech automatic drip irrigation system for our little gardens. On timers. BUT we also have drainage.


tomato_hornwormOh, then we were invaded by aliens. Okay, maybe not aliens, but it sure looked like something from a sci-fi movie. It was actually a Tomato Hornworm. (That’s its picture over there!—–> ) We found four of them, they were happily stripping all the leaves off the tomato plants. They don’t make pretty butterflies, so we had to put them out of our misery.


20140917_191343BUT we have!!! Vegetables!! And they taste delicious!!

Are you laughing? I am! 😀 😀 😀 😀

So, do you plant a vegetable garden? Have you gone organic? Do you obsess over new projects? Got any good recipes for peppers and tomatoes?

BTW…we’re looking at planting winter vegetables soon…broccoli, onions, lettuce, peas…wish us luck! 🙂


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  • Jane says:

    Hello Suzanne,
    We live in an apartment, so all I have growing are some potted plants and flowers. I wish had a little garden to grow some veggies. I am buying more organic fruits and vegetables.

    • Morning, Jane!

      Last year my oldest daughter had a pot garden. Yes, I had to stop and say “What?!?!?!” when she said it like that. hehehe 😀

      What she meant was she bought numerous large garden pots and grew tomatoes, peppers and herbs in them. She was renting a duplex at the time. I think she’s the one that got her daddy thinking about gardening.

  • Amy Conley says:

    Back to Indiana he comes.

  • gamistress66 says:

    congrats on the veggies 🙂 it nice to be able to just go pick & use fresh. my sister is a big gardener (though her garden is smaller these days) and has used the raised bed/square foot method since early on. she’s also now using large containers in place of wood frames for some things so they fit along the tiered part of her yard & add flexability better for her. now you have to tell your husband he’ll soon have to start planning next year’s garden & look into starting from seeds (that’s how my sister does most of her items, even some flowers, stating she can get better varieties in seed packets then what’s sold at the nursery). that should help keep him out of your hair during the winter months so you can keep on writing 😉

    • Morning, GAMistress!

      Good on your sister! I hope she’s shared her bounty with you.

      We have enjoyed the cherry tomatoes on salads; peppers in sauce, salads and just by themselves. The long light orange ones are called gypsy peppers. The come in yellow then ripen to this tangerine color! Taste delicious.

      Jazzman still has a lot to learn and I’m sure seeds will be next year’s project!

  • Amy Conley says:

    Hubby is in charge of our garden. I am not allowed anywhere near it for fear whatever I come close to I will kill.
    We have huge gardens, to this summer’s tomatoes only, and wd didn’t get many of those what with all which has happened this summer. We plant organtically but with all the farmers spraying, by plane, it isn’t completely organic. I must admit, I have missed our huge garden this year, maybe next year…

    • Morning, Amy!

      So sorry you didn’t get your garden in this summer. I have cousins and friends who have enough land in Tenn, Ky and Ohio that they can plant a nice kitchen garden. That’s the thing about the Jazzman’s square-foot garden. He can get 16 plants into a small spot and use the area efficiently. (We do have a small yard, half of which has a swimming pool.) Hope you get your garden in next spring!!

  • Debbie Oxier says:

    Would love to have a man with ambition although I’m sure it gets aggravating at times. But try just the opposite, one with no ambition whatsoever to do anything. At least not around our house. It’s like pulling teeth to get him to do anything. Not exaggerating either. Just ask our kids. I recently asked him to build me a bookcase, nothing fancy just something to divide the living room from the dining room, making it more appealing to the eye. To hear his response you’d think I’d asked him to fly to the moon and back. Not fun. No sir, not at all!

    • Morning, Debbie!

      I feel your pain. While the Jazzman has ambitions for things he’s interested in…he doesn’t always have it for the things I want done. (He WILL be cleaning out the garage when the weather gets cooler…or there will be hell to pay.)

  • Helen says:

    Oh Suz

    This is awesome 🙂 we tried growing vegies when the kids were young and failed badly LOL and have never tried again we do not have green thumbs and my Hubby is not really interested in any form of gardening what has been done has been done by me. We buy lots of fruit and vegies from the fruit shop and enjoy them but I must say home grown vegies have a much better falvour to bought ones enjoy

    Have Fun

    • Morning, Helen!

      I must say I was quite surprised that the Jazzman really took to gardening like he has. Everyday he spends time out in the little garden, checking the crop, tying up wayward plants. Especially the peppers that were so full of peppers the branches were falling over!!

      Today he’s headed to our daughter’s new home which sits on a couple of acres of land. Her hubby has started composting in hopes of gardening. So the Jazzman and he are going to build four square-foot gardens, One 4×4 for the parents and 3 3×3 for the 3 oldest kids. (we’re thinking the twins won’t care yet.) Should be fun!

  • Shannon says:

    I grew up growing a huge garden-for family consumption (and the bees, birds, squirrels, and deer) at times. I tried gardening in North Carolina where I had a duplex. I found out again how much work a big garden is. Lots of weeding, tying up plants, countering bugs, and watering carefully. Once I moved to an urban area, I found that I didn’t mind not having to work in a garden but boy do I miss the harvest! What I miss most is telling time by the season–asparagus, strawberries, peas, followed by bean and corn, and ending with gourds and pumpkins.

    • Morning, Shannon!

      My mom’s sisters still live on a farm in Tennessee and they put out a very large garden. I remember as a kid going out and helping plant, hoe or harvest, depending on when we’d go visit. I, too, liked the harvest part over the hoeing! 😀

      My mom moved into a new house this year and my sister and BIL planted her a small garden of tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. She said she ate everyone of the cucumbers, but didn’t get too many tomatoes.

  • Suz –

    That is the biggest, ugliest hookworm I’ve ever seen! Yuck!

    We usually have tomato and pepper plants in our garden, but we didn’t plant any this year. It just seemed easier to pick up organic stuff from the various farmer’s markets around town. Besides, I canned chili sauce with tomatoes, onions and peppers last year and we still have jars in the pantry.

    But congrats on the garden – it looks great! It may have taken some tinkering, but Jazzman completed what he set out to do 🙂

    • Morning, Donna!

      I do miss all the farmer’s markets scattered around Columbus. I know there are some in and around our town, but not nearly like there are up there!

      Yes, Jazzman did accomplish his goal. (Had tomatoes in the tacos last night!) But you know that saying, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey? Yeah…that’s what’s fun about the Jazzman’s “obsessions”. 😀

  • EC Spurlock says:

    Congratulations on finally seeing the fruits of your labor, literally, Suzanne! Hubby and I both grew up with dads who were avid gardeners, and we used to do a fairly sizeable backyard garden for years, but after DH’s stroke I was not able to maintain it myself, so for the last two years we have done a small patio garden, with some plants in pots and others in the border around the patio in lieu of flowers. We got very lucky with tomatoes this year and had TONS of them in different varieties; the grape and cherry tomatoes were especially prolific! We also had a load of tiny red sweet peppers from a plant we grew out of a “plant pod” we got at Lowes (they had a bunch of tiny biodegradable “pods” filled with starter soil and seeds; just pull the lid off, plant in a larger pot and water. I was surprised at how well they did!) Hubby is still looking forward to restoring the larger garden, though, now that his health and mobility are improving. We’ve met the hornworms ourselves from time to time; lord those things can eat – and grow!- faster than you would believe a bug should! We had one year when we had to do nightly search-and-destroy missions on them, there were so many.

    Good luck with the winter veggies!

    • Afternoon, EC!

      Glad to hear your hubby is doing better and looking forward to his garden next year.

      I think Jazzman might have got some plants in pods you just put in the hole and they biodegrade for the second round of the garden. Very nice. I’m thinking growing from seeds will be next year’s venture. I know he’s already planning a third raised bed. Maybe I’ll get green beans!!

    • Oh and I was the one who found the hornworms, so I do a daily look and see. But none in the past week have shown up and the tomatoes are thriving once more.

  • catslady says:

    LOL I don’t know where to start. Is your husband an enginee? We have an uncle that sounds like your husband only he does the projects by himself – his new wife would never ruin her nails haha. We don’t have a lot of room so most of our garden is in large pots. We live in PA too so not a long growing season. I have done tomatoes but only cherry tomatoes really work, green onions are what works best for us and I grow lots of those. In past years I’ve tried cucumbers (got small ones but tasty), radishes which didn’t work at all, green peppers but those worms loved those and zucchini but they don’t work well in pots either. I do agree that organic is the way to go but our closest grocery store has a very poor selection and like you said, it’s expensive. I imagine your husband has read up on everything that is GMO (sigh). My mom’s parents worked a rented farm all their lives and I so can remember all the wonderful, fresh vegetables that we had when I was young.

    • Afternoon, Catslady!

      YES! How did you know he was an engineer? hehehe

      Oh dear lord, don’t get me started on hubby’s fetish with GMO’s and how we have to look for heirloom seeds…

      It’s always an adventure!! 😀

  • Suz, I stay away from plants, seeing as how my main plant-related talent is annihilation. No plant has ever survived being in my exclusive custody.

    The dh likes to have a garden–tomatoes, beans, mint (which took over!), peppers, maybe some cucumbers. He’s pretty good at it, although he hasn’t had the time to spend on it lately. We do love homegrown, vine-ripened tomatoes.

    I’m glad all this toil (not to mention 102F manure day) has paid off so beautifully!

    • Hey, Nancy!

      He’s done most of the work. I am on bug control and judging when things are ripe enough to harvest. Oh and taste control! 😀

      Yeah, he felt pretty bad about the 102 degree manure day. But it’s all a learning curve…and I suspect next year will be even more fun!

  • Susan Sey says:

    Ah, Suz, you lucky thing! You live with a genius who wants to do yard work! (And wants you to help but that’s beside the point.) My husband hasn’t mowed our lawn in ten years or more. Nine times out of ten, I shovel the driveway, too. Sounds like you’ve all got the kinks worked out so I look forward to the glory of your garden next summer!

    Also, good luck with the back half of the Texas growing season! I’m green with envy, as I know the leaves will start falling & temperatures dropping here any minute…

    • Uhm, Susan, I didn’t say Jazzman was into yard work. 🙂 I pay someone to come out at do that, as well as trim the bushes.

      No, the gardening was an experiment. One I think he will continue to delve into and tweak. Being able to eat the fruit of his labor…that had him hooked.

      Yeah, I think winter veggies, as long as it doesn’t include squash, will be interesting.

  • Suz, that was hilarious! And you got a good laugh AND fresh vegies! Win-win in my opinion. When I grew up on the farm, a couple of times my mother (and occasionally my brother) put in a small vegie garden. I can still remember how fabulous fresh peas and beans were straight from the garden. Beat anything you’d buy at a shop into a hat. And we used to get wonderful fresh mushrooms whenever we had a rainstorm. Those too picked straight from the lawn tasted like manna from heaven and not like the ones you buy in a shop. Hmm, ALMOST makes me want to plant something. Well, it did but I went and read a book and forgot about it. 🙂

    • Hey Anna C!

      My mom and I were chuckling about the gardening and she said, “One thing about the Jazzman…you can’t say he doesn’t go all in on things!” AND I have great tasting veggies, too!

      You picked mushrooms from the lawn? Now how cool is that? I’d probably end up with poisonous ones.

  • Becke says:

    OMG, this was too funny. You should write a book!!!!

    Yes, I have planted a garden in SC– for the freaking squirrels. Since they breed like bunnies and have few predators, they are everywhere and they will eat anything.

    And of course I recognized that gruesome caterpillar. I had those too. They are just nasty.

    Yep, I love fresh tomatoes. However, we have a little farmer that has a stand 1 mile away. Let him mess with the stupid squirrels.

    • Hey Becke!

      We have some squirrels, but Rusty Puppy seems to keep them from the yard most days. The hare population, is another matter. We’re pretty sure one of them likes tomatoes!

      LOL…I love your idea of the farmer’s stand 1 mile down the road…hmmm, maybe that could be an extra job for the Jazzman next year?