Gardening the Square Foot Way
By JCMG Pat Kriener, a Wildbunch Writer
How many of us plan our garden during the Winter, plant our hopes and dreams in the Spring and find they turned into our worst nightmare in the Summer? A few years ago I was producing bushels of beautiful organic vegetables that I froze, canned, dried, and even chased down neighbors and family to share in my bounty. My garden was a vision of proper rows and isles, but about midway through the season I was throwing the produce straight from the garden to the compost, and I never had enough time to keep up with the weeds. So I fired myself and said NO MORE GARDENS!
That winter I ran across Mel Bartholomew’s book Square Foot Gardening. It was not the first time I had heard of his ideas, but like most of us, I had been trained from an early age to garden in one way — big areas with long rows. I was finally at a time in my life when his system could sink in and I’m glad it did because it saved my vegetable garden. I would like to share with you the basics and hope that I inspire you to follow up and get more information on the subject.
Bartholomew calls it Square Foot Gardening because you build up your garden in a series of squares. Each square is 12 inches x 12 inches, an area of 1 square foot. Grouping the small 1 foot squares together into blocks measuring 4 foot x 4 foot creates 16 different squares. Your garden can consist of one block or several, depending on how many people you want to feed. One block is enough to produce enough for salads for one or 2 people for one season. Large families would need at least six blocks.
Each square can then be planted with a different crop. The number of plants in a square depends on the variety, how far apart the plants should be planted and how big the plant will eventually get. Usually you will have 1, 4, 9, or 16 plants per square. When planting by seed, space the seeds the distance recommended for thinning. You will find that instead of planting many seeds you plant only what you need, and then there is no reason to thin. This is my favorite part because I never like to throw away good plants. For example, you would plant 1 pepper plant in 1 square because of how large it gets; lettuce you can generally plant 4 to a square; and carrots you can plant 16. It all depends on their planting directions. You can even plant climbing plants such as peas, cucumbers, and squash up a trellis in 4 of the 1-foot squares of your bed. Planning a vegetable garden has never been so easy!
When planted, I have a tidy garden with small beds that are easier to maintain and harvest because I can reach across to every side. This, in turn, keeps me from walking on my soil, which helps the soil not to compact and promotes healthy soil. I also have closer contact with my plants, which makes detecting problems such as bugs or deficiencies easier. I still practice my companion planting by planting my flowers, herbs and vegetables together, and I do not need as many of some things because everything is within reach. Crop rotation is a gardening nightmare that is overcome easily by moving from one square to another or one block to another. I guess the best is succession planting: as each square’s crop is harvested you add compost and plant again. This way you are never truly without a crop. I have applied this method to box beds on stilts (no bending and wheelchair accessible), circular beds, triangular beds, traditional flowerbeds, and even pots. Any place I could find room to garden, I have applied this method with just a little ingenuity.
I no longer grow for the compost pile, but now with this concept I can grow what I like in the quantities I need. For more information go to www.squarefootgardening.com.