SFG Update – October 2013

Winter vs Summer

I mentioned in a previous SFG post that, according to my research, if you live in the tropics, you can plant anything, anytime.

Not true.

Well, you can plant it, but it won’t grow.

This is what I think: there are two seasons in the tropics – winter, when most plants are dormant, and summer, when they wake up and take off with a vengeance!

I planted my Square Foot Garden bed in July, and the only things that produced a crop, were the snow and sugar snap peas, and the bush beans – I guess they’re a winter crop.

Most of the other seeds germinated, but the seedlings remained tiny until very recently.

I’ve had 3 failures – despite having tried three different Roma tomato varieties (a number of times), they have yet to germinate. I’m also having trouble with germinating the English spinach and Cos lettuce.

But I refuse to give up – there are hundreds of seeds in those little packets, and if I have to sow every last one of them, I will!

Harvest and Growth

After tasting the peas and beans, we finally understood why people grow their own vegetables – they were unbelievably sweet and tender – we became addicted, and ate them every night.

Sugar snap peas

Sugar snap peas in their prime

First harvest

The very first harvest – not many, but delicious all the same

I initially planted one square of bush beans (9 per square), and seven squares of peas (4 per square) – this yielded enough for the two of us over a couple of months.

I’ve since planted two more squares of bush beans, and have just replanted the square that got infested with mealy bugs.

Bush beans

Diseased bush bean square

Mealy bugs

Revolting!

Most of the pea plants are dead – I’m not sure if it was the heat, the dreaded mealy bugs, or simply that the season is at an end, as we were overseas when they started dying. I’m letting the remaining pods dry on the vines, so I’ll have more seeds for next year.

As an experiment, I recently planted a few sugar snap peas to see if they’ll grow through the summer.

I bought 3 small basil plants to go near the tomatoes, as basil is supposed to aid in their growth.

As I mentioned, the Roma tomatoes have yet to make an appearance, and the Grosse Lisse tomato has only just started to grow – in the meantime, the basil has gone berserk – I’m going to have to make pesto, or give some to our local Italian restaurant – way too much for the two of us!

Soil Composition

I didn’t find either vermiculite or peat moss before I started planting, so the soil is a mix of topsoil and compost.

I’ve since bought a bag of potting mix made from fertilised peat moss, and spread that around the seedlings.

Then I found perlite and coco peat – as I replant each square, I’ll mix some of both into the soil to aid with water retention.

For those of you living here – all of them were from Lolo Supermarket in Morcellement St André.

Fertiliser

Now that the plants are actively growing, I’ve started watering them with a seaweed extract every couple of weeks.

Plants

Herbs: basil, oregano, mint, parsley, thyme, spring onions (scallions), dill (not doing well – I think it’s rotting)

Veggies: carrots (baby), bush beans, snow peas, sugar snap peas, silverbeet (Swiss chard), parsnips, red onion, celery, Chinese celery, Grosse Lisse tomato, Roma tomato (one day), cos lettuce (also one day), English spinach (ditto), iceberg lettuce, capsicum (peppers), hot chilli

Fruit: strawberries

All that in a 5×10 foot space, and there are still plenty of empty squares.

So, as the bulk of it’s growing, I’d call it a successful first foray into the wonderful world of Square Foot Gardening.

I need a life.

Strawberry cage

A cage to keep the mynah birds away from the strawberries

Carrots

One of the carrot squares and silverbeet

Parsley and spring onions

Parsley and spring onions

Parsnips

Parsnips

SFG bed

Lettuces in the forefront

SFG bed

Tomato dwarfed by basil plants

Shaded from the afternoon sun

Shaded from the afternoon sun

SFG bedIf you’re interested in starting a Square Foot Garden, this website is the one I used to gather all the information I needed – it’s a one-stop shop!

Introduction to SFG, and Shopping

Square Foot Gardening

I was googling vermiculite, and I discovered this website.

Wow – what a great idea for growing vegetables and herbs– you divide a raised bed into square foot sections, and depending on the fully-grown size of the plant, you simply follow a formula to plant up each square.

For example:

Tomato – 1 plant needs four squares

Capsicum – 1 plant needs one square

Cos lettuce – 4 plants to a square

Carrot – 16 plants to a square

We already have a raised bed, although it’s a foot wider than they recommend (10’ x 5’ instead of 10’ x 4’).

If I can’t reach into the centre, never mind, because Alf can – he’s got big long monkey arms.

No, not really, just normal man-size arms.

The beauty of this system, is that:

  • you can grow a large variety of plants in a relatively small area
  • your seeds last a long time (they recommend storing them in the fridge) as you only use the number that you need, instead of sowing the whole packet, thinning out the seedlings and throwing them away
  • again, because of the restricted size of the bed, you aren’t wasting water, as you’re watering a very specific area
  • as you harvest a square, you can top it up with compost, then plant it up again

I love this idea – I really hope it works for me.

The soil they use is a mix of compost, vermiculite and peat moss:

  • compost adds goodness to the soil, and thereby feeds the plants
  • peat moss helps retain water
  • vermiculite keeps the soil light and open, and allows air to circulate. It also helps with water retention.

We can get compost.

Apparently I can get peat moss, as it grows in the Black River Gorge National Park. No problem – I’m sure the rangers won’t mind me hiking through and stealing twenty or so kilos of it!

I know for sure you can get vermiculite (or something like it) because one of the local nurseries sticks it on top of their pots in the hope that you won’t notice all the clover growing in them.

What remains to be seen however, is whether they’ll sell me some or tell me who the supplier is. Probably not is my guess.

‘Cause that’s just the way it is here.

Shopping

Shopping in Mauritius is frustrating – the Yellow Pages are useless, so unless you’re lucky enough to bump into the right person, you’ve got little chance of sourcing things.

Most shop assistants aren’t very helpful – if they don’t stock it, they’ll rarely tell you who does. Maybe they just don’t know.

And when you ask a local where to buy something, 9 times out of 10, they’ll answer “Port Louis”.

What shop or at least which part of Port Louis? It’s a city for God’s sake, not a street!

It’s best to ask around the expat community because someone, somewhere, has at one point, wanted the same thing that you’re now after.

Also, if you see something you like, buy it now. Because if you go away to think about it, it will have sold out when you go back.

Anyway, back to my Square Foot Garden bed.

I’ll be starting work in it in the next couple of weeks, but it’ll be a while before my next SFG post as I have a lot of preparation to do before the actual planting.

Soil-wise, I’ll probably just end up mixing compost into the pile of soil that’s currently in the driveway, and go from there.

I hereby rename you, Square Foot Gardening Mauritian-Style.

Also known as Square Foot Gardening Without Peat Moss or Vermiculite Because I Couldn’t Find Any.

(Please drop me a line if you know of an outlet selling either of them. Cheers!)