-Technical Writing Assistance by Wayne Zitkus
In this article, we’re going to cover the soil and seeds for your 3FS² garden. If you missed the previous article on how to build one, click here. -> [Building A Square Garden]
This garden technique is all about maximum yield in minimum space and ease of care. My “Three French Sisters Squared” method, or 3FS², is a Three Sisters garden, growing in soil prepared with French Intensive method, built in the Square Garden style.
To grow 80 plants in that small a space, you have to start with good soil.
Soil Prep and Amendment
1) Dig twelve inches down into the native soil.
To mix the best soil, you’ve got to dig deep. As the Sun beats down on the earth, the UV light breaks down minerals and nutrients in the upper layer of dirt. Grass and weeds also sap the upper layer of these nutrients. However, the soil just beneath (about 2″ down) is dark and moist because it is protected from the Sun. So the first thing to do is dig…
2) Break up dirt clods.
You want to break all the clumps up into the smallest bits you can get them. Just pick the chunks up and rub them together. This will get them to crumble into somewhat even particulate. It also helps to evenly mix your amendments in.
3) Mix in amendments.
This is my list of stuff that I put into the garden soil. I formulated this mix for Dallas soils to help with moisture retention/drainage and to combat the hydrophobic sandy clay. It will also attract beneficial soil organisms, provides calcium for strong cell walls, and give the roots objects to anchor to. I recommend using as many of the following as possible:
- Last year’s plant bodies
- Fish Emulsion
- Rotted Wood Bits
- Pine Needles
- Bat Guano
- Poultry Litter
- Semi-composted Cow Poop
[NOTE: Texas soil has a pH of 7.5-8.0 which is a bit on the alkaline side. Go easy on the peat, as it can raise the pH levels too high.]
Add in your amendments. I just dump all my stuff in the garden and mix it up by hand. Add until you raise the volume enough to mound the soil 1″-2″ in the center of the garden, sloping down to level with the bricks.
Madison Square Food Garden
<- This is the garden map. We’re going to divide it up into sixteen one foot squares. I use string, wooden dowels, or tiki torches. Lay them across the top of the garden as shown on the garden map. Remember, a great deal of accuracy is not required. Here’s how to eyeball it:
- Place dividers in the middle of the second brick to the left, across the garden to the brick directly opposite.
- Do that again with the bricks second to the right.
- Then place one divider in the space between the middle two bricks, across the garden to the space directly opposite. This gives you four roughly equal slices.
- Repeat this process in the other direction to get sixteen one-foot by one-foot squares.
No measuring needed! Now to the planting!
Planting the Seeds
When you read the seed packets, they tell you to plant 2″-6″ apart. With a little geometry, you can remove the walk space and “square up” the rows. This gives you lots of planting area in a small space. Plus, we’ll be doing a little Intensive Farming by Companion Planting.
The Native Americans had this figured out centuries ago. The garden we’re planting here is similar to what they planted. They called it a Three Sisters Garden. The three sisters are corn, legumes, and squash. For this garden, we are going to grow: 16 corn plants, 16 sweet peas, 40 bush beans (2 varieties), and 8 yellow squash plants. These are Companion plants, meaning they benefit each other by being planted together. The sweet peas grow up the corn stalks adding strength to them, plus they and the beans fix nitrogen in the soil. Corn requires nitrogen rich soil. The squash leaves provide shade on the dirt to keep it moist and growing them around the garden perimeter keeps critters out because of it’s prickliness.
Now that your grid is laid out and you’re ready to plant, let me introduce you to the greatest seed planting tool ever…
Your index finger!
All your planting and measuring can be done with this one simple tool. First, we’re going to make the holes for the squash. All you have to do is press the handy dandy index finger down into the dirt, one knuckle deep. [See Garden Map above for layout pattern]
When you’re done, it should look like this:
Drop in your seeds. [See Garden Map for which seeds go in which holes] Then, lightly tousle the dirt over the holes to cover the seeds and finish off with a good watering. In 7-14 days, you should see things starting to sprout. Make sure to keep the soil moist during that time.
[PRO-TIP: Sprout two or three extras of each plant in starter pots in case some the ones you planted in the garden fail. You can just pop the extras in if needed!]
And that’s your 3FS² garden! ENJOY!