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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Square-foot gardening

It’s hip to be square.

I recently read about an intriguing concept calledsquare-foot gardening. Its founder, Mel Bartholomew, believes that growing vegetables in a square-foot grid produces a large harvest for the least amount of work.

The system’s mainstay is boxed garden beds that are 4x 4 feet, a size that allows you to tend your plants from all sides without ever having to step inside the box. Garden boxes can be longer, but not wider than, four feet.

To maximize efficiency, Bartholomew promotes precise placing of individual crops within each square. Large crops, like broccoli, go one plant per square. Others may be spaced four, nine or 16 per square depending on size. This, and other information about the system, can be found at www.squarefootgardening.com .

The method employs using a soil mixture of equal parts peat moss, vermiculite and blended compost. Bartholomew says most crops require only six inches of soil, allowing his method to be adapted to containers -- anywhere you want them.

Many of square-foot gardening’s ideals – such as not wasting space with rows; not trampling your soil; and growing up, not out – make a lot of sense to me. Not having done a square-foot garden before, I cannot endorse the system, but am excited to give it a go. I’d love to hear from any of you that have experience with this.

I admit that the thought of using Bartholomew’s recommended soil mixture in my entire garden makes my wallet clench, as large amounts of peat moss and vermiculite can be pricey. I can’t justify the cost of changing out my already-established garden bed just for the sake of experimentation. Plus, I’d already prepared my plot before learning about this.

I do want to try the square-foot crop placement, however, so I made a grid in my 4 x 8 foot bed.
Bartholomew recommends using wood or vinyl slats (such as from leftover blinds) for the grid. I simply put nails in my wooden planter box to anchor lines of yarn.

My 4 x 8 bed gives 32 squares for different crops. I can’t wait to see the patchwork quilt my veggies will create.

I acknowledge that soil is a critical factor to a garden’s success. I feel OK about the soil I’ve prepared in my planter box. But so that I can more fully embrace the square-foot gardening method and evaluate how well it works, I also will make a smaller box and fill it with Bartholomew’s recommended mix.

Bartholomew’s website is mainly an introduction to the subject of square-foot gardening; his book provides a lot more information. I also found a video at my library.



Nora Mair said...

That's Emma helping! I know it. I can't wait to see the sucess. My friend Julie in Bountiful got more than 50 spaghetti squash from her square food garden.

Jennifer said...

Hmm. I don't know if I'd call 50 spaghetti squash a success! Just kidding -- we love all kinds of squash around here. (I'm slowly converting my husband.) They really are the unsung heroes of the garden -- the squash, that is.

m. & m. said...

I got and read his book a little while back and can't wait to implement it. I also noticed that my community center teaches classes on getting started in it. Because we are moving this summer it probably won't be this year so I'd be interested to see how your experience goes. You should tell us about it each step of the way!

Lou said...

Do you compost? Because a nice layer of a mild composte with some debris in there to help with air would probably do the trick.

I bet it will look great when you are finished!

dishes and laundry said...

We bought the book and last weekend we built 2 -4x4 gardens. We're starting small! We've followed Mel's Mix and should be filling our boxes this weekend. We're so excited - this garden seems like it actually might work!

verymom said...

A cheaper alternative is the Jacob Mittleider method - my parents used it while I was growing up and we're starting a garden using his method this year. Some similarities, but the mixture is sand and sawdust! And the safe, mineral fertilizers are affordable. I just posted about it here if you're interested ;o) http://balancingeverything.com/2008/04/29/gardening/

marisa said...

Wow Verymom, your parents garden was amazing, and so inspiring. Nice work on all the garden boxes, thanks for linking your site, I will be reading more about that method.

Rich said...

i've been a long time raised bed gardener and converted 1 of my 12 beds to the specs in Mels book this spring. So far it's working ok...some pluses and some minus. a plus; it warms up quicker in the spring and i got about 2 weeks head start on the cool season crops. cons so far...it's expensive, and it dries out pretty quickly which worries me with summer coming.

Em said...

I can't wait to see some photos of the garden growing, and see what comes out of it - have you had any produce yet?

Jennifer said...

Yes, I've had produce! I planted my box featured here with mostly early-season things. I've harvested spinach, peas, beet greens, swiss chard, lettuce and radishes. I've been plagued by insects, though, which have almost obliterated turnips and the rest of the beets.

Since it was an early planting the grape vine (seen behind my daughter in pic) wasn't in leaf yet. I greatly underestimated the sun blocker the leafy grape vine became for about four squares at the end of my plot. Oh, well.

I like how this system helps you rotate crops. I'm going to pull out the bolted spinach this week (which has gone to seed because it's too warm for it), and replace those squares with bush bean seeds. Then later this month when I harvest the beets I think I'll put in my spinach seeds for a fall crop.

Thanks for your interest!