One of the easiest and most satisfying ways to cook up fresh vegetables is by stir-frying them. Using the square-foot gardening method to grow these ingredients yourself, is equally simple and rewarding.
Square-foot gardening is the practice of planting vegetables in 12-inch (30cm) squares, varying the type of plant in each square. This method has many advantages over the more traditional technique of planting in long rows of one variety. It allows intensive planting, which reduces weeds, and companion planting, which can provide natural insect control.
Square-foot gardens also let you put together theme areas in your vegetable patch, like this stir-fry garden, composed of sixteen 12-by-12 inch squares to make one 4-by-4 foot plot of scallions, peppers, Napa cabbage, peas, broccoli and Asian eggplants:
- These vegetables require a sunny patch in your garden with soil amended with high quality compost.
- Avoid the hottest days of summer when planting cool weather plants.
- Peppers and eggplants thrive in heat but can’t tolerate frosts.
- Napa cabbage, broccoli and peas grow best in cool weather and suffer during the hottest part of summer.
- Scallions aren’t picky as long as they have sun.
- Apply mulch to retain moisture and keep the roots cool.
- Ensure your plants receive about 1 inch (2.5 cm) of water a week, more in times of extreme heat.
Scallions: 16 plants
Spacing: You will plant 16 onion sets (small bulbs) in a single 12-inch square. Evenly space the plants and set them about an inch (2.5 cm) deep in the soil.
Days to Maturity: Bulbs will produce green onions in as little as 30 days.
Harvesting: When the scallions reach the thickness of a pencil, harvest them by loosening the soil around the base of the plants and pulling it out, roots and all.
Bell Peppers: 2 plants
Spacing: Place each bell pepper plant in the center of its square foot. Peppers are especially sensitive to cold, so make sure the soil is warm and all danger of frost is passed before planting.
Days to Maturity: Peppers ripen around 40 days from transplanting for green peppers and 60 days or more for the sweeter, full color (red, yellow, purple) peppers.
Harvesting: When the pepper is the size and color you want, harvest by cutting the stem above the fruit.
Pro tip: Pests will leave your peppers alone, but as the fruits develop, you may have to stake them to keep the branches from breaking.
Napa Chinese Cabbage: 3 plants
Spacing: Place one transplant in the center of each square.
Days to Maturity: Allow 50-70 days for your cabbage to mature. Napa cabbage does not like high temperatures.
Harvesting: When the cabbage reaches the size you want, harvest by slicing at its base.
Asian Eggplant: 2 plants
Spacing: Like peppers, eggplants are heat-lovers that cannot tolerate a frost. Plant a single eggplant in the center of its square.
Days to Maturity: In about 30 days from transplant, your Asian eggplant should have fruits that are at least 12 inches long and purple in color.
Harvesting: Harvest these by cutting the stem, careful not to break the branches.
Pro tip: Many insects enjoy munching on young eggplants. Your best defense is to cover them with a permeable insect barrier until the plant begins to flower. Uncover it at this point to allow for pollination, and though the pests will still attack, it should be strong enough to produce a good crop anyway.
Broccoli: 2 plants
Spacing: Broccoli plants grow larger than the other plants in the stir-fry garden. To use space wisely, plant broccoli in the center of an 18-inch corner square and fill the surrounding 6 inches with peas.
Days to Maturity: This is a cool weather plant that takes 50-65 days to mature.
Harvesting: Your broccoli head is ready to harvest when the buds swell, but before the yellow flowers start to show. Cut off the broccoli heads leaving a 6-inch stem. After the initial harvest, sideshoots with smaller heads of broccoli may develop.
Pro tip: Watch for cabbage worms, a small green caterpillar, on your plants. Keep this pest out by covering your broccoli with a permeable insect barrier.
Snap Peas: 32 plants
Spacing: Plant a row of 16 plants, 3 inches apart, bordering the two inner corners by the broccoli. Provide a trellis for the pea vines to climb.
Days to Maturity: Produces pods within 55-60 days of planting.
Harvesting: Pick peas daily to maintain continuous production. Pick in the morning, when the pods are most crisp. Peas keep for about five days in the refrigerator or they can be frozen to use later.
Pro tip: Peas grow best in temperatures below 70 degrees. Support peas through the heat of summer with regular watering and light shade.