Mel Bartholomew introduced the concept of square foot gardening in his book by the same name in 1981, as he introduced Americans to an intensive gardening design that allows them to grow more food in less space. Its appeal continues to thrive more than 30 years later, as many urban gardeners strive to make effective use of small areas for gardening, but square foot gardening isn't limited to urban areas. Anyone who has room for a small raised bed can take advantage of this technique to raise bush bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) in the home garden.
According to Mel Bartholomew, the ideal soil mixture for raised beds is equal parts compost, peat moss and perlite. Of course, his special blend contains five types of compost made from manure, which includes chicken, sheep and cow manure. Bartholomew's mixture is available for sale, but you can easily make your own from your own compost. The key is to create a lightweight mixture that holds moisture, provides aeration to roots and drains well.
Bartholomew recommends spacing bush beans 4 inches apart in all directions, which means you can plant nine bush bean plants in 1 square foot of soil. Two square feet will hold 18 bean plants or the equivalent of a 6-foot row of bush beans.
According to the University of Arizona Extension, you should plant 15 to 16 bean plants per person. When it comes to square foot gardening, that means you can grow more than enough beans for one person in 2 square feet. Increase the size according to the size of your family.
Square-foot gardens require less care than large gardens, since they do not require cultivating or caring for the soil between rows. Because the beans are grown close together in a raised bed, the foliage of the beans forms a canopy that shades the area beneath the beans and prevents weeds from growing. If sterilized soil mixture is used, it is weed free, further eliminating problems with weeds.
Bush beans prefer evenly moist soil and must be watered frequently in raised beds. Because the soil dries quicker in raised beds than in garden soil, it may be necessary to water your bush beans every day during hot dry spells. Watch for signs of wilting and water whenever the soil feels dry 1 inch below the surface.
Because the soil mixture is comprised of composted manure, fertilizer is not necessary unless plants show signs of delayed or stunted growth. Water-soluble fertilizer for vegetables, such as 24-8-16, can be applied safely every seven to 14 days when mixed at a rate of 1 tablespoon per gallon of water. One gallon covers 10 square foot of gardening area.
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