I love and hate Saturday. Crazy, huh? The hate part isn’t really tough to understand. I want to do so much there just isn’t enough time to get it all done. My list for the weekend was pretty long, but only got a few things done. Still those few things were the most important.

It amazes me how many things in nature and human behavior are based on the principle of front end loading. If you read books like Malcolm Gladwell’s, Outliers you get the idea that doing things early in life nets the greatest results. The idea of saving money for retirement is the same if you look at amortization charts. The sooner you start the better. The more you do upfront the better the outcome. Things in our garden are the same and that’s what this weekend was about.

One of the things that took us way too long to learn was that to grow live things required live things in the soil. It isn’t enough just to plant in the dirt and hope for good things to happen. The cocktail that Mel outlines in the Square Foot Garden method is a great start – one third vermiculite, one third peat moss, and one third compost. We noticed the first year or two were the best crop yields, but what we learned in the following years was key and continues to be something we test. The compost element is that live part that provides what new plants need to grow and thrive over the course of a growing season. The quality of that compost is far more important than we ever thought. Each year we need about a cubic yard of additional compost to make up for what’s used up throughout the year. A couple of times we have skipped the new compost and the garden has suffered.

Over the years we have tried a variety of composts from different sources. The compost available at the land fills was one of the first. We probably made that selection because it is relatively inexpensive. In the end, It wasn’t too bad, but we noticed it over powered the beds. Plants that seemed to be delicate easily burned. Several other composts followed. We have tried Nutrimulch and Replenish both gave similar results. One year we visited the conservation gardens in Utah County. There they had a set of vegetable beds with different types of soils and composts. It was what you might expect. The bed without any compost was kind of weak, with a basic compost pretty good, and the one with Millers Mix was exploding. The next year we used the Millers Mix in one bed and Replenish in another. Both beds were planted with corn. By the end of the season the Millers Mix corn was about one foot taller than the Replenish bed.

At this point you might think we only get Millers Mix now and that would be a good strategy, but we have decided to keep experimenting and try two different blends. One of our favorite places to get garden supplies is a place called Glovers. As a side note, we don’t buy too much for the gardens from the big boxes. We like to buy from the local nurseries and Glovers is one of a handful we typically visit. In future posts I’ll introduce each of our favorites. Anyway, Glovers doesn’t carry Millers Mix so this year we picked up a yard of their organic compost. Next year, we are going to try their house garden blend.

Late last autumn, we gathered all the leaves in our yard and spread them across the top of the garden beds. The idea being that they would compost and add the nutrients for what we planted. Wished I could say it was a booming success. What did happen shouldn’t surprise anyone. Although there were times of snow and storm, we still live in an arid State. The leaves dried out and every once in a while the winds would blow and send them into piles in the corner of the fence. It wasn’t a complete waste and I’ll try again next year. If anyone has any suggestions for making it better, I’m all ears.

I had hoped to actually plant the first round of new crops, but at least I laid the foundation. Because it is compost, it was necessary to dig it in and mix it with the soil from years past. As you can see from the photos there is a little bit of the leaf mix, but the boxes are filled with reach dark soil ready for planting. The other thing you might notice is we use slats of PVC that were given to us by the box builder as temporary square foot dividers. In years past when the boxes were wood I stretched strings to mark the boundaries. It really doesn’t matter what you use, but it is important if you follow the Square Foot method.

Now the beds are ready and our cold weather crops will go in this week. They are late, but not too late and the front end load has started. Don’t make the mistake we made. Compost matters, and the better the compost the, the better the outcome.