Ed Eargle, a Master Gardener in La Grange, Texas, is known in the local Master Gardener community for his Square-Foot Garden. Ed presented on the topic of Square Foot Gardening at the October 2019 General Meeting of the Bluebonnet Master Gardeners Association in Brenham. Ed follows the method developed by Mel Bartholomew and made popular through Bartholomew’s book All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space first published in 1981. This technique reduces the amount of digging required to plant the garden and minimized wasting seed. Plus, more can be grown in less space.
The general concept is to create a garden laid out in a grid with the dimensions of each grid space one square foot. Only a certain number of plants are planted in a one square-foot area. The number of plants per one square-foot depends on the plant and its size.
Ed uses a raised bed Square Foot Garden, primarily to grow lettuces because he said “I do not like the stuff in the store.” He explained how to build a 4’x4’ raised bed box with 16 one-foot grid boxes inside.
For the growing material Ed follows Bartholomew’s recommendations and mixes up a batch of “Mel’s Mix”. Mel’s Mix is fertile, has low compaction and few weeds. There are few weeds because no soil or “dirt” is used.
The recipe for Mel’s Mix is:
1/3 Course Vermiculite
1/3 Blended Compost (from many different sources)
1/3 Peet Moss
Ed cautioned to be aware of the compost sources used and not to use hay or straw in the garden unless you know for sure that chemicals that may harm your garden were not used on that hay or straw. This is good advice regardless of the gardening method.
Once the garden is prepared and ready for planting, its time to understanding plant spacing. Ed explanted that in the Square-Foot Garden, spacing is 1, 4, 9 or 16 plants per square foot. Larger plants, like tomato, broccoli, cabbage or peppers, are planted one plant to single square foot in the grid. Small plants, like carrot, radish & onion, are planted 16 plants to a square foot in the grid. The Square Foot Gardening method properly spaces plants at the time of planting so there is no need to “thin” the seedlings later. This saves seed, time and work.
Here is Mel’s recommendation on spacing per square foot:
|1 Plant/Sq-Ft||4 Plants/Sq-Ft||9 Plants/Sq-Ft||16 Plants/Sq-Ft|
|Broccoli||Leaf Lettuce||Bush Beans||Carrot|
To grow plants vertically in the Square-Foot Garden, Ed attachs a trellis for plants like tomato and cucumber. He said to put trellised plants on the north side of the box so as to prevent too much shading of the other boxes in the grid with smaller plants.
Ed Eargle is a retired history teacher. He earned his Master Gardener certification in 2002 and is a fequent speaker at garden club meetings and other events on the topic of Square Foot Gardening. To learn more about Square Foot Gardening, visit Mel Bartholomew’s website.