While the soil in Athens County might not be the most fertile, gardeners can save time and money by introducing non-native soil and using space-saving techniques.

Square foot gardening is the method of gardening that utilizes a wooden box placed in a garden that is filled with soil and sectioned off into square-foot grids, each for a different plant. By making those above-ground gardens, Athens gardeners can bypass the poor soil and potentially enjoy more productive plants.

The techniques were taught at the “Planning Your Planting: Square Foot Gardening” event hosted by Community Food Initiatives. Kathy McCorkle, a certified Master Gardener, gave a presentation on the space-saving method of gardening Monday at the Athens Fairground Grange Building.

The gardener must construct the boxes and then pile in all of the soil and compost when they first begin, which is one of the hardest aspects, McCorkle said.

“The work in the beginning is going to be intensive, I’ll be honest with that,” she said.

For beginners, McCorkle said some easy crops to try included broccoli, peppers, onions and parsley.

McCorkle has constructed more than 30 of the boxes in the four years she’s been square foot gardening, and said each has cost around $30.

But even after the initial hard work and purchases of soil and materials, the pros outweigh the cons, McCorkle said. The gardens don’t need to be hoed, only occasionally weeded. Instead of wasting water by tending to an entire lengthy garden, square foot gardeners can choose to only water the specific grids that require it. While many gardeners spread a bag of seeds without much rhyme or reason hoping some will grow, a square foot gardener can simply plant the few that they need in the square grid of their choice.

“The production from a small space is just phenomenal,” McCorkle said.

Janice Brewer, the community garden program coordinator for Community Food Initiatives, said the event was purposefully held near the beginning of spring.

“For our community gardeners or anyone who’s trying to grow a lot of food in a small amount of space, this is really beneficial knowledge,” Brewer said.

Brewer herself has a garden with plants such as tomatoes, kale, spinach and arugula, but has never utilized the square garden techniques.

Patty Mercer, an Athens resident, attended the event. She has been gardening for more than five years, she said, and described herself as an “experimental gardener” due to her trials and errors.

The most beneficial aspect of the presentation, for Mercer, was the section about creating homemade compost and using it in the garden. She said she hoped the new techniques will result in a more favorable yield in the future.

“What I’m doing, my husband says it’s really good therapy, but it’s not really productive,” Mercer said. “So I’m hoping I can figure out a way to not only enjoy what I’m doing, but have more productivity.”



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