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Square Foot and Vertical Gardening Looks Fun!

March 10, 2015

verticalgardenIt’s March, the sun is out, and thoughts go to gardening. Saturday I attended a fabulous seminar on square foot and vertical gardening. The advantages of this type gardening are many. With raised beds, there’s no need to test the soil, the soil is loose and easy to work with, drainage is efficient, and it’s easier on the gardeners’ backs and knees. And of course, vertical gardening—growing “up”–means being able to grow more on a smaller footprint.

Joan James, the seminar leader, co-owns a company called A Backyard Farm here in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. The company will design, install, grow, maintain and harvest an organic vegetable and herb garden right in your own backyard! And James is generous about sharing her knowledge at seminars such as the one I attended.

James recommends the following: 20-year weed barrier(unless you’re creating gardens on top of an existing garden): 2″ x 8″ x 8′ cedar or pine or untreated lumber held together with decking screws; and soil created by mixing one third peat moss, one third vermiculite or perlite, and one third compost (a combo such as chicken manure, cow manure, worm castings and leaves except NO black walnut leaves). She also recommends using a drip irrigation system specially made for raised beds and square foot gardening since this loose soil requires more water than a regular soil garden. James usually creates beds that are 4′ x 8′. She uses 4’ if she has access from both sides, 3’ if she can only access one side.

James loves trellises for vertical gardening. She creates trellises from EMT conduit pipe, and buys pipe that is 0.5″ x 10′. She pounds 3/8 inch rebar four feet into the ground, then sets the trellis on top of that. She builds trellises that are 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide and uses tomato netting for plants to grow on or through. Plants such as beans and squash will easily go up the trellis. Tomatoes have to be trained a bit. (A tomato tip: Be ruthless with plucking off suckers; you want lots of fruit, not lots of green.)

verticalgarden2James extends the growing season by creating mini greenhouses. She crisscrosses two PVC poles, putting all ends into the ground, and covers these with three mil painters’ plastic. Imagine gardening from March to November in Minnesota!

James recommends organic insect control products such as Pyola for Japanese beetles, Escargo (or Slugg) for cutworms and Soap Shield for fungus.

She recommends the following resources: the Square Foot Gardening books by Mel Bartholomew, Gardens Alive for products (, and drip for drip irrigation. Bartholomew’s first book has more information on soil.

Contact for A Backyard Farm: 612-296-8507 or

I have plenty of garden space and no need for this type of gardening at the moment, but I plan to adapt some of the ideas for my regular garden… and tuck the info into my back pocket for some future day when I have less space.

P.S. My apologies about the inconsistent use of numerals and spelled out words for numbers. I do know better. I am experimenting with using voice recognition software. And I’m also experimenting with letting go of some perfectionism! Now back to my seed catalog….



One Comment leave one →
  1. March 11, 2015 5:07 am

    Thanks, Julie! This was great! Thanks for sharing your experience and ideas from the seminar, in such a fun and interesting way!

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