- Adding trellises and archways
- Substituting with new materials
- Adding automatic watering systems
- "Thinking Outside the Box" with creative configurations and shapes
- Square Foot Gardening in dense urban areas with little or no yard
- Square Foot Gardening with kids
- Crop protection
About the Author
The Square Foot Gardening Foundation is a nonprofit organization that operates an extensive outreach network to bring Square Foot Gardening to vegetable gardeners and to countries with hunger issues. Consisting of several full-time staff and a small board of directors, the Foundation is based in Halesite, New York. Through a large network of certified Square Foot Gardening instructors, the Foundation conducts seminars and classes throughout the United States to teach the Square Foot Gardening method pioneered by the late Mel Bartholomew.
Read an Excerpt
Mel Bartholomew began developing his method of gardening relatively late in life, after he retired in the mid-1970s from his first career as an engineer. It was born to some degree out of Mel's pointed disagreement with the most traditional gardening methods that didn't make practical sense to him. There's irony to the fact that this man who made growing "in a box" so famous developed his methods by thinking entirely "outside the box" when it came to rebelling against conventional wisdom. It is perhaps this attitude of the stubborn revolutionary that makes the Square Foot Gardening method so very popular to this day.
When Mel began gardening in about 1975, it was simply a hobby for a newly retired fellow to pursue, a chance to get out in the fresh air and mingle with other hobbyists. At that time, of course, vegetable gardening was a rather utilitarian activity in which large rectangular plots of ground were churned up, fertilized, planted in long rows spaced about 3 feet apart, and regularly watered. And weeded. And weeded. And weeded.
Mel's analytical mind, bolstered by a common-sense attitude, soon picked up on many limitations to traditional gardening methods — reasons why the activity was neither as enjoyable nor as productive as it might be. Among the questions he asked:
Why do gardeners grow in rows spaced 3 feet apart? That space is nothing more than room for weeds to grow.
Why do gardeners always grow more food than they can possibly eat? Almost every gardener wastes food by growing too much.
Why do vegetable gardeners plant such long rows? It takes up too much space.
Why do they fertilize so much? It is costly and inefficient.
Why is it necessary to weed constantly? All that work spoils the fun.
Over the next few years, Mel systematically found solutions to all these problems and more. And as his method was perfected, more and more people wanted to learn how he did it. Mel soon was in full swing in his second career as a community activist, lecturer, and author, promoting efficient and enjoyable methods of vegetable gardening.
The insights Mel developed would revolutionize gardening forever:
Vegetables can be tightly spaced. Vegetables can be planted mere inches apart and still can grow quite productively, and you can get far more produce in a limited space than people realize. A lot of produce can be grown in a very small space. In fact, a single 4 × 4-foot raised bed subdivided into 16 squares using dividers can grow a lot of the produce a normal family needs. Simple succession planting — introducing a new crop when the previous crop is done — allows a single 4 × 4 Square Foot Garden to make a huge dent in your grocery bill.
Weeding is not necessary. The reason weeds grow so rampantly is usually because too much fertilizer is applied — and because it is often dumped on ground that is not even planted with vegetables. Instead of churning up a huge garden bed and tilling in massive amounts of fertilizer that then stimulates weeds, Mel saw that confining vegetables to a 4 × 4 Square Foot Garden filled with controlled growing mix can eliminate most weeds and make it extremely easy and quick to pull them when they do appear.
Garden "dirt" is not a very good medium for growing produce. It contains too many weed seeds and not enough natural nutrients. You can create your own growing medium that is far better for growing vegetables than ordinary garden soil. "Mel's Mix" was born out of experimentation to find the perfect growing medium.
Traditional gardening methods are wasteful. You can grow better produce in less garden space, planting fewer seeds, using less fertilizer, watering less often, and with almost no weeding necessary. Rather than planting scads of seeds over long rows, then thinning out the seedlings once they started crowding each other, Mel recognized that very careful planting of seeds right from the start could eliminate a great deal of work and could make a single pack of seeds last for several growing seasons.
Similarly, Mel saw that careful application of water where it was needed in a small, carefully planted Square Foot Garden was infinitely more efficient than dumping untold gallons over an enormous vegetable garden covering most of your yard.
ADVANTAGE TO BEGINNERS
Although the so-called experts were slow to embrace the Square Foot Gardening method, novices quickly learned that it was both much easier and more productive than traditional gardening methods. That, of course, makes it a lot more fun too. Mel's vision of Square Foot Gardening has now been around for 40-plus years, yet it remains as revolutionary today as it was when he first created it. There are still some "experts" who look down upon doing anything the easy, fun way, but there are also millions of real-life gardeners who enthusiastically practice Square Foot Gardening in exactly the way that Mel would want. We humbly smile and listen to experts trumpet the virtues of row gardening, while harvesting enormous quantities of delicious vegetables to feed our families and friends.
Have a look at some of the very clever ways in which everyday gardeners have used the Square Foot Gardening method.
SQUARE FOOT GARDENING IN PRACTICE
Don't discount the sheer appeal of a Square Foot Garden as a landscape feature. The various shades and colors are nourishing in many ways.
This stacked pyramid garden is perfect in an urban space. Ordinary concrete block is used to edge the garden, with the voids in the blocks used for additional planting.
When gardening with kids, downsizing to a smaller box (2 × 2 or 3 × 3) will make it easier for the little ones to tend their garden.
The small size and high density of a Square Foot Garden makes it the perfect method for family gardening with kids of all ages. Raised beds are also ideal for seniors, for whom accessibility can be a challenge in a traditional single-row garden.
Truth be told, a Square Foot Garden need not be "square" at all, provided the area of the grid squares is about the same. This gardener has created a visually striking pyramid box with triangular planting spaces.
A raised bed like this one can be fitted with a grid to make a perfect Square Foot Garden for a gardener in a wheelchair.
In this major Square Foot Gardening setup, the gardener has adapted the classic square box into narrower 3 × 7 shapes to take advantage of the space. Each box is equipped with a standard conduit trellis frame, some with traditional nylon netting, others with simple strands of vertical twine.
This garden is being built with convenient raised-bed kits made of PVC plastic with corner connectors.
A serious Square Foot Gardening practice can easily be integrated into an ordinary suburban landscape as part of the decorative border to the yard. Here, the owner has built a series of classic 4 × 4 boxes, plus two narrow boxes to take advantage of a space near the privacy fence.
In this rural setting, a gardener has created a major operation using nothing but Square Foot Gardening boxes, each equipped with a classic conduit trellis.
Equipped with a trellis, a Square Foot Garden can support climbing vegetables and make a strong vertical statement as an element of the landscape design.
A YEAR OF SQUARE FOOT GARDENING PRODUCE
On the following page, you'll see all the produce you can grow in one Square Foot Garden in a moderate climate with a regular growing season. If you live in the South, you might get even more food than this. Our 16 grid squares are planted as follows.
This Square Foot Gardening setup is a standard 4 × 4 box. The back side is mounted with a classic conduit-and-net trellis. It was planted with maximum diversity in mind, with one different type of vegetable in each grid:
(1) pole beans, 8 seeds/plants
(2) climbing peas, 8 seeds/plants
(3) cucumber, 2 plants
(4) musk melon, 1 plant
(5) tomato, 1 plant
(6) green pepper, 1 plant
(7) eggplant, 1 plant
(8) potato, 1 plant
(9) head cabbage, 1 plant
(10) broccoli, 1 plant
(11) cauliflower, 1 plant
(12) curly kale, 1 plant
(13) leaf lettuce, 4 plants
(14) onions, 16 sets
(15) radishes, 16 seeds/plants
(16) leaf spinach, 9 seeds/plants
Some of these vegetables bore fruit only one time, while others were constant producers, and a couple of the squares were replanted for second harvest at midseason.
THE HARVEST FROM ONE 4 × 4 SQUARE FOOT GARDEN IN A SINGLE GROWING SEASON
2 gallons green beans
2 gallons peas
4 muskmelons or cantaloupes
12 green peppers
1-3 heads cabbage
1-4 heads broccoli
1-4 heads cauliflower
4 gallons kale
8 shocks lettuce
2 gallons spinach
IN MEL'S WORDS
It all started in 1975 after my retirement from my engineering consulting business in New Jersey. To celebrate, I moved my family to a waterfront home on the North Shore of Long Island. After a year of rebuilding the house and another year of landscaping and improving the grounds, I decided to take up gardening as a hobby. My first step was to attend a lecture on composting given by a local environmental group. It was a warm spring day in April — a great time to be out in the garden. A small group milled around at the advertised meeting point, but no instructor ever showed up. So, rather than disband, I suggested to the group that we each share our knowledge with each other and tell what little we knew about composting. We had a wonderful time and actually learned a little bit from each other. As we prepared to leave, someone asked me, "Can we do this again next week?" And I said, "Sure, why not?" Thus began my new career of teaching gardening while I was still a novice myself.
The next step was organizing a community garden for this same environmental group. I found some land and convinced the town to cut down all the weeds and fence it in. A local farmer delivered two truckloads of well-rotted manure, and, after the ground was all fertilized and plowed up, we laid out plots and aisles and opened for business. All the spaces were quickly taken by people in the community, and everyone started with great enthusiasm. Because most of the participants were novices who didn't have a garden at home, they were enthusiastic about obtaining instruction and insights on gardening.
So, I initiated a Saturday-morning gardening workshop and presented information on a different subject each week while everyone sat around on bales of hay, listening. I was teaching basic single-row gardening because that's all anyone knew back then. The local county agricultural agent helped out and everything went well until about midsummer. It was about then that our once-enthusiastic gardeners stopped coming out to the garden. However, the weeds kept coming — and growing! Pretty soon the place was overgrown and looked a mess.
I was discouraged and thought I had better do some research to figure out why we had failed, so I visited many backyard gardens. What I found was a big space way out in the farthest corner of the yard, about as close to the neighbor's property line as possible. In most cases, these individual gardens were also filled with overgrown weeds. The first red flag went up in my mind, indicating that there was something wrong with traditional single-row gardening. I thought about all the conventional gardening practices we'd been taught and began to question the efficiency of each. Gardening shouldn't be a lot of hard work. Gardening should be fun! There was something wrong here.
This led to further questions. Why do the planting instructions on packages of seeds direct the gardener to pour out an entire packet along a row, only to have you later go back and tear out 95 percent of the seeds you planted once they sprout? Why use up an entire packet of seeds for every row you plant? Isn't that rather wasteful? Why would they instruct us to plant that way? Who's in charge here, anyway?
I soon realized that I had a lot of questions with very few answers, so I traveled all over the country seeking out the best experts: agricultural college professors, county agricultural agents, garden writers, radio and TV gardening personalities, gardening publishers, book writers, garden clubs — all those who were supposedly knowledgeable in the field of gardening. I sought answers to all the gardening questions I had, but, no matter where I traveled throughout the country, from Maine to California, I kept receiving the same answer. Can you imagine what that answer was? It soon became apparent that the only reason traditional single-row gardening methods continued to exist was "Because that's the way we've always done it!" Right then and there I said, "I'm going to invent a better way to garden."CHAPTER 2
THE 10 BASICS AND 8 STEPS OF SQUARE FOOT GARDENING
Mel Bartholomew was something of a rebel, an engineer turned garden revolutionary who challenged many aspects of conventional gardening wisdom and, over time, developed some core innovations that formed the basis of the Square Foot Gardening Method. He also continued to innovate throughout his life. The original Square Foot Gardening method became All New Square Foot Gardening, which became the second edition of All New Square Foot Gardening, and today — with the information gleaned from hundreds of instructors and many thousands of home gardeners — the innovation continues with this third edition.
Among the core innovations that make today's Square Foot Gardening methods so very different from traditional gardening methods are the following. You can think of these as the 10 principles of Square Foot Gardening:
1. Plant densely. Don't waste space. You can grow a lot of produce in much less space that you dreamed possible. A huge row garden just isn't necessary — placing a few Square Foot Garden beds in a relatively small space can be more productive than a large row garden that occupies a good portion of your yard.
2. Grow up. The greatest productivity comes by growing up, not out. A variety of easy-to-build trellis structures allow vining vegetables to use the vertical plane rather than sprawling out and taking up space, as they do in a traditional row garden.
3. Mel's Mix, not garden soil. You don't need garden soil at all to grow great vegetables. You not only don't need it but shouldn't use it. The best results come if you make your own growing medium — the fabulous formula Mel Bartholomew created, which we call Mel's Mix.
4. Garden close to your home. Gardens are more efficient when planted close to your house, not in a distant plot. It's human nature to pay attention to what is close by hand, and Square Foot Gardens need to be close to your house when you can admire them and tend them easily, rather than carrying tools out to a distant garden and lugging produce back to the house.
5. Grow shallow. Raised beds don't have to be large and deep: a mere 6 inches of growing medium is all it takes for most crops. Gone are the days of laboriously digging and double-digging a row garden to mix in soil amendments to improve the soil.
6. Fertilizer is not needed. Mel's Mix includes a rich mixture of different composts, and in its first year provides all the nutrients that plants need.
7. Keep aisles between boxes narrow. Rather than long rows, a vegetable garden is most efficient planted in small boxes with aisles set about 3 feet apart. The traditional practice of planting long rows with wide, empty spaces between them just creates more ground in which weeds can grow.
8. Be stingy with seeds. Rather than planting lots of seeds, then thinning them out to the desired spacing, you can plant very carefully to make maximum use of a seed packet. Mel was very big on economy and efficiency, and he found ways to make a single packet of seeds last for two or more growing seasons by being very careful with planting.
9. Plant in squares. Planting in carefully arranged 1-foot squares is the most efficient way to plant — simplifying both planting and care and maximizing yield. Mel viewed this as one of the very important basics of his method. The grids are key to planting efficiently and rotating in new crops when the first crop has produced its bounty. And by planting with diversity — many different types of plants intermingled in a single box — you eliminate many of the disease problems that can plague a traditional garden.
10. Rotate crops. Rotation planting gets the maximum yield from your garden. The yield from a single 4 × 4-foot SFG will surprise you, and the reason is that those many of the squares can be planted at least twice in a gardening season — either with two successive crops of the same vegetable or swapping out a new crop for late-season produce.
In practice, these 10 principles of Square Foot Gardening become the core of an eight-step process by which you can garden with remarkable efficiency. The first steps can be done well before the growing season starts — and don't we all like to dream and plan during the late-winter and early-spring months, when we are just itching to get out in the garden again?(Continues…)
Excerpted from "All New Square Foot Gardening"
Copyright © 2018 Quarto Publishing Group USA Inc..
Excerpted by permission of The Quarto Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 INTRODUCTION, 13,
2 THE 10 BASICS AND 8 STEPS OF SQUARE SQUARE FOOT GARDENING, 29,
3 PLANNING YOUR SQUARE FOOT GARDEN, 45,
4 LAYING OUT YOUR SQUARE FOOT GARDEN, 59,
5 BUILDING BOXES & GRIDS, 71,
6 SQUARE FOOT GARDEN EXTRAS, 95,
7 MEL'S MIX: THE MAGICAL GROWING MEDIUM, 125,
8 PLANTING YOUR SQUARE FOOT GARDEN, 143,
9 MAINTAINING YOUR SQUARE FOOT GARDEN, 165,
10 HARVESTING YOUR SQUARE FOOT GARDEN, 183,
11 OUTSIDE THE BOX: COMMUNITY OPPORTUNITIES, 199,
12 THE SQUARE FOOT GARDENING GUIDE TO VEGETABLES, 209,
PHOTO CREDITS, 269,