Experiments: No Dig Gardening, Square Foot Gardening

I’ve been hobbling, crawling, sliding and scootin’ for the past 3 weeks now – after this fall and a front-jump-kick that ended up as a front-jump-FAIL in Tae Kwon Do class, I needed surgery to replace my ACL and repair a torn meniscus in my right knee.

Because of travel and hosting the Dumpling Festival (btw, we raised $46,000 for the Food Bank for NYC, beating out our last year record of $44K! woohoo!) I did manage to delay the surgery for 2 months — I can’t believe that for an entire 2 months, the only thing that was holding my leg onto my body was probably just a 1/2″ piece of ligament. Oh, scary, right!??

The surgery went well, I’m such a lightweight on meds that the relaxing pill they gave me PRIOR to the anesthesia knocked me out and all I remember was a flurry of nurses tending to other patients in the recovery room.

So I’m on a full leg brace and crutches for 6 weeks, I even traveled to Nashville to host Food Blog Forum last week in full leg gear (more on FBF in next post). I’m not so great on crutches (uh, duh! it’s my uncoordination that landed me in this spot in the first place!) and so at home I go barefoot, even when outside.

The problem with barefoot outside is that on our property, from

HERE………………to……………..THERE, where I need to go to feed the chicks……

……live approximately 500,000 fireants. You know, the ones that swarm your body and bite you, injecting their hate-juice that make you do that freaky OW! OW! OUCH! dance and itch for the next 19 days.

But I had to take the risk – Scott was taking the boys to school, the chicks were starving and the garden plants were sagging from extreme thrist. Okay, I had to dramaticize the scenario to amp up my bravery for hobbling into the ant field, barefoot, on crutches (bravery or stupidity???) Oh, I forgot to tell you, I was also on some niiiiiicccceeee pain meds, so I justified that I probably wouldn’t feel a thing even if I did get bit.

Garden Experiments

Speaking of garden plants, here are the 6 raised garden beds that Scott built for us last month. We’re experimenting with lasagna gardening a.k.a. sheet mulching or no-dig gardening, where you layer cardboard-straw-grass-manure-soil in the garden bed. The straw and compost will break down, providing an entire season of rich soil without having to dig, mulch, fertilize or weed.

We combined this method of preparing the beds with Square Foot Gardening (I highly recommend this book) – where you divide the bed into square foot sections – each section can be planted with 1-4-8 or 16 seedlings, depending on what type of plant. For example, carrots, onions, beets and radish take up very little space, so in 1 sq.ft., you can plant 16. Lettuce and corn is 4 to a square, tomatoes and other large plants are 1 per.

This method not only makes the most of your garden space, but also prevents weeds too. We’ll be able to 16x our yield vs. traditional gardening in the same space. The vegetables will grow so lush  and full that there’s just no room (or sunlight) for weeds underneath. I’ll report back our progress in our experiment throughout this season.

As for seedlings, I’ve found another use for my mason jars – they’re currently protecting the very delicate seedlings in the garden.

The jars protect the babies from the wind, hard rain and also traps in the moisture for humidity. I’ll remove them when the seedlings get a little stronger.

As for the Earthbox garden – things are growing so FAST! I took this photo a few days ago, but this morning the cucumber plants have just about doubled in size! We’re already harvesting Japanese cucumbers after just a month (they were itty bitty seedlings just a month ago!)

The zucchini is flowering, edamame is popping….

….bell peppers are growing. We’ve already been getting lettuce leaves for our salads and I just planted more  pea plants…..

….because they can’t seem to grow very well. Everytime a new set of leaves grow, the very next day, they get chomped! At first, I thought it was caterpillars because of the bite marks.

But then the other day, I found this gal pecking at and eating the leaves of my cucmber plants, lettuce and peas!!!!

To my horror, she called her friends up.

AAAAACCCCKKKKKK!!!!!! Naughty birds! You’re supposed to eat the BUGS off the plants, not the plant itself!!!!

Dear World….

…. come meet my friend John Gregory Smith from London. He’s a spice dude and you just have to watch his pilot to see how vibrant, handsome and talented he is. John just came out with his first book, Mighty Spice (gorgeously photographed!) and I helped with setting up a television spot in Tampa, which really was just my way of making him stay with us for a few days and cook for me while I was healing after surgery. Sneaky me!

We made him play farmer too – it was his first time holding a live chicken. No, John, you can’t cook her!

This is Oreo, by the way– isn’t she HUGE!???

Here’s her baby pics from just 2 months ago!

And this is Fireflapper, the most friendly of all of them. She eats treats (bugs) out of our hand!






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Comments 43

  1. Paige

    Your garden looks gorgeous, Jaden. I’ve had a square foot garden in my backyard for about a year now and have had a ton of success with it. Looking forward to following your successes too!

  2. Rachel (Hounds in the Kitchen)

    It’s all so beautiful!!

    We’re in full on leaves falling, autumn harvest mode in Ohio. It warms my soul to look at your new baby plants.

    Our chickens will nibble at and dig through most every garden plant. They don’t seem to bother cucumbers, sweet potato vines, hard squash and green beans. Other than those crops, we’ve had to fence around every bed. Next year I think I’ll fence them out of the whole garden itself!

  3. Alicia

    Just another reason I love Mason jars-thanks for sharing that little tip 😀
    Your boxes are lovely and so are the chickens.
    I’ve done 3 seasons of SFG (96 sq. ft.) and have been sorely disappointed each year. The first year our biggest crop was grass. I see that yours are deeper than the six inches though, and that may be one of my problems. Last year was better than the first when we covered some of the crops to protect from birds and bunnies. Ah well, there is time for brainstorming before next year.

  4. Allison

    Wait, brace and crutches for 6 weeks?!? I’m about to have ACL reconstruction and they told me 1 DAY in a brace and that I would be up to jogging at 4 weeks. Now I don’t know what to expect….

  5. Beth

    Jaden, where did you get those raised boxes built? From the book?
    This looks like a good way to keep the weeds at bay here in florida, and control things a lot more. Your garden boxes look great. I think I plant too much for boxes, but sure looks good. I’m about to get chickens also, its a win win thing. manure for the garden, eggs to eat, and I dare not say the third good….. they are sweet.

  6. Jean | Delightful Repast

    I’ve been square foot gardening for decades, since I was very young! It’s the only way to go! No chickens in my garden, though – that wouldn’t fly around here! Wishing you a quick and complete recovery.

  7. Jan

    Jaden, your stories are alwaays so interesting and informative. We plan on trying the raised boxes next year since our garden this year was not very successful. We also raise chickens and enjoy them so much–and their eggs.
    It is a delight to read about your family and how your too are teaching your children that to have means to also give back. I applaud you for this.

  8. Jan

    Jaden, your stories are always so interesting and informative. We plan on trying the raised boxes next year since our garden this year was not very successful. We also raise chickens and enjoy them so much–and their eggs.
    It is a delight to read about your family and how your too are teaching your children that to have means to also give back. I applaud you for this.

  9. Janet in Maine

    Hi Jaden

    Glad you posted some recent pics of the chicks. They are looking happy and healthy. Yep. Chickens can’t be trusted in a garden. I know geese are good in a garden and do well with eating weeds and bugs. Some wineries are using them now for that reason.
    I am still so glad that the kids have chickens and a dog. I hope you heal soon.

  10. Lynn Marie

    I’m not sure what type of procedure you’re having… But I’m currently recovering from ATL ligament reconstruction (ankle surgery, not knee) and see a LOT of knee patients post-surgery at my physical therapist’s office. I would recommend that you try to search around on the internet for stories about recovery from your particular type of surgery, because knee surgery does not generally have that short of a recovery. I knew my ankle surgery would not be a picnic to recover from, even though I wound up being lucky and having a more minor procedure than the one I was anticipating (I had a completely tear of the ATL and they were able to sew it back together, rather than putting a metal anchor in the bone and attaching the ligament to the anchor, since the attachment to the bones on both sides was better than the MRI had shown). Ligaments generally take a LONG time to heal. If your injury is serious enough to require surgery, it will probably take a good deal of time to recover from surgery. I personally feel like it is better to go into treatment knowing that it may not be a picnic (while hoping for the best) than to expect everything to be fast and easy, and have it be more difficult.

  11. The Mrs @ Success Along the Weigh

    Glad to hear you’re on the mend though I am now very nervous about hubby taking up martial arts to complete his childhood goal of becoming a black belt. So jealous of your garden. Mine is a big fat fail every year (of course I’m confined to container gardening but at least my herbs still love me!) What a cutie patootie your guest is! 🙂

  12. deb

    You need some ducks! They eat the bugs but not the plants. You have the pond, but if you still have the gator….

  13. Michelle

    Ihow exciting! You inspired me to do something with my garden boxes oin the backyard! And… You reignited my chicken flame, I have been wanting one of those stealth chicken coops.. Shhh don’t tell my mayor,lol!
    I hope you heal quickly and enjoy a bountiful fall harvest! 🙂

  14. Kim Bee

    I am loving the garden space Jaden. Really fantastic job on it. Not only functional but so pretty. I love all the pics, makes me feel part of the action. Great plan to have a friend come in and cook for you. Your a smart chick. And he’s a total cutie, I’ll have to check out that pilot. Glad you’re healing up nice. Stay away from ant hills! xx

  15. Fran

    Bummer about the knee, but it sounds like you’re on the mend. The garden and Chickens look pretty cool but … John! Wow! Yes, he’s gorgeous and has that amazing accent, but his cooking is right up my alley. I made a kehadi tonight — just made it up and it sounds so close to his. I am a spice fanatic and am going to have to check out his book. I hope if he has a show, we get to see it here. He has a great on screen presence. Thanks for sharing him with us!

  16. Kim in MD

    Oh, Jaden…you poor thing! I hope you mend quickly and are on the road to recovery soon! Your garden looks amazing! The chickies have gotten so big…they must be lots of fun.

  17. imee

    Oooh.. i just sooo… love this blog! brought me back to my childhood days of chasing chickens and being chased by a goose up on my uncle’s Mango tree. staying in Dubai now for 6yrs makes me missed home even more

    thanks for you beautiful blog! and also for the easy and delicious recipes!

  18. imee

    Oooh.. i just sooo… love this blog! brought me back to my childhood days of chasing chickens and being chased by a goose up that i end up being on my uncle’s Mango tree. staying in Dubai now for 6yrs makes me missed home even more

    thanks for you beautiful blog! and also for the easy and delicious recipes!

  19. rita

    i don’t blame you for being sneaky… with a cute dude like john, who will be cooking for you while you heal – all i can say is, “you rock!” i hope you’re recovering fairly quickly. the boys are are getting so big and even more adorable! take care.

  20. Tammy

    oh wow did Oreo ever grow! that pic of you holding him is just priceless! sorry about your acl downtime, but thanks for continuing to keep us loyal ‘listeners’ clued in on all of your goings on. continue to LOVE your entire blog, recipes, etc!!!

  21. Rebecca O

    I’ve been leaning toward this type of gardening and after seeing yours I am completely sure I want to do it! It looks wonderful!

  22. Ronnie Maiden

    Sorry to hear about your leg; as for the fire ants, you might want to get a garlic spray, like mosquito barrier, to get rid of them.

  23. Jesse

    Wow, Awesome Garden, Cute Kids, Lucky Husband and kewl Chickens.
    Looks like the Garden of Eden.

  24. Lynde F

    Really amazing garden-hope to replicate it next Spring. Love that your boys seem to enjoy it, as well! Trying to conjure up reasons the cute spice guy can come & cook for us;) Hope your leg is healing. Have a wonderful Holiday season & thanks for all the hard work you do to make your fantastic Blog!

  25. sarina

    I am so envious of your long growing season.. we are in zone B and it is Cooooold right now. I miss my summer edamame & tomatoes!

  26. andy matthews


    Just wanted to let you know that your link to the Mighty Spice book is broken. You left off the h from the http:// portion of the link to Amazon.

  27. Heather

    Did you do the lasagna method on the soil in the beds months in advance? When reading the link you provided to Mother Earth News it seemed as if the “lasagna” needed to be assembled in the Fall so it could sit over the Winter to decompose and be ready for planting in the Spring. I’m using your blog as inspiration for my first attempt at a real garden (and hopefully Chickens, too) and I’m about to build the raised beds, but I’m wondering if I’m already behind the curve on this method of prepping the soil. I’m in Maryland, so we have all 4 seasons here, and it’s soon time to plant early veggies. Your blog is so informative. I love it.

    1. SteamyKitchen

      My attempt at the lasagna gardening didn’t go as well as I would have liked – I planted immediately, and I should have let it hang out during the winter. There just wasn’t enough soil for the roots to really thrive. I’m now filling the raised beds with good soil, compost — and then on top, a layer of straw about 3″ thick. This keeps water from evaporating and the weeds from growing.

  28. Denise @ Creative Kitchen

    I’ve done the square foot gardening before. It’s amazing how well it works. It was my first attempt at gardening, and I think I was shocked that veggies would actually grow for me from a seed. I never considered myself much of a gardener though my grandpa still is an awesome one!

    Unfortunately I didn’t get to harvest those crops….I got pregnant with my thrid daughter and got severe morning sickness….din’t even what to look at food! Good thing that was before food blogging. 😉 I’m still bummed I didn’t get a picture snapped of it. 🙁

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