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The first snow of the winter (last night) can only mean that the growing season is coming to an end.  Usually at this time of year I’d be starting to grumble about the shorter days, and how cold and grey it is.  But after struggling to get anything apart from slugs to thrive in the garden this summer, I’m almost looking forward to an excuse to stay indoors more.  It’s time to put the kettle on, light the fire, flick through the new batch of seed catalogues and start planning for next year.

At the beginning of this year, I helped to build two big raised beds for growing vegetables and herbs at a local cafe and arts centre.  The plan was to experiment a bit and use the square foot gardening method to grow lots of tasty produce for the cafe. I hadn’t used this method before and was interested to see if it really did deliver higher yields from a small area.

The beds were divided into squares – not square feet, but 45cm squares because they fitted more neatly into the design.  And in the first warm days of spring, seeds were sown and young plants were planted.

Some plants did well.  The parsley and shallots thrived, the marigolds flowered, and the chard grew well and looked fantastic.

Others didn’t fare so well.  Slugs ate through a huge number of lettuces, had a good go at the young cornflower plants and polished off most of the French beans.

Then there was the hail storm that ripped through the leaves of the nasturtiums and courgettes –

Considering the conditions this summer, the raised beds were pretty successful.  Cafe customers really liked the lettuces that we did manage to grow, and I’ve learned what I need to grow more (and less) of next year.  Using the square foot method took a bit of planning – working out what was to be planted where, but the resulting patchwork effect looked good. I spent very little time weeding the beds and, apart from slugs, there wasn’t much pest damage.  Working out how many plants to grow in a square was a bit hit and miss, but all good experience for next year.  And I will be trying this method of veg growing again – maybe I should plant one bed with conventional rows, the other using the square foot method again and see which does best…

And of course, next year the sun will shine more, the slugs will eat less and there will be platefuls of home grown salads being served in the cafe!