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Book Review: Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew

Updated on September 22, 2014

A Contemporary Approach To Gardening In Small Areas

Square Foot Gardening is a systematic approach to high-yield gardening in a relatively small space. Rather than cultivating row after row of widely spaced plants, Mel Bartholomew's approach to gardening uses 4 x 4 foot raised garden beds planted heavily with mixtures of seasonal vegetables mixed with herbs and nectar producing flowers. The structured planting grids are based on one-foot by one-foot squares, resulting in 16 square feet of gardening per raised bed.

The Square Foot Gardening approach offers several benefits over the traditional row style of vegetable gardens that I found very appealing. Bartholomew recommends using raised planting beds that are easy to build and maintain. The maximum 4 x 4 foot square sized planters make it convenient to reach into the center of the bed for setting out plants and seeds, and then harvesting the mature vegetables -- without ever stepping onto the planting areas to avoid soil compaction. Instead, defined pathways between each planting bed provide easy access for planting, harvesting and maintaining the garden.

All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew: Available at Amazon

Square Foot Gardening:

Maximize Planting Space Throughout the Growing Season

Our Square Foot Garden
Our Square Foot Garden

As shown in the photo, I used Square Foot Gardening as a guide for designing my veggie garden. The author clearly outlines the steps to creating a square foot garden from choosing the proper location to the basic layout design for the planting beds, from creating a nutrient-rich soil mix to suggestions for selecting and rotating crops to extend the planting season.

For as long as I can remember, my grandfather tended a garden. I can still envision the neatly planted rows of tomatoes, peppers and eggplants along with the trellis filled with cucumbers and beans, and the sprawling zucchini plants escaping from its confines in corner of the garden. I also remember all of the hard work every spring: carting in wheelbarrow loads of compost, spreading it out evenly and then turning it into the soil with a pitchfork.

When I moved into my own house, I really wanted to plant a garden that would make my grandfather proud. But the rocky soil was not suitable for growing veggies, and made digging nearly impossible.

The area designated for the veggie patch was perfected suit for Mel's Square Foot Gardening approach, however I modified the size of the raised beds to 3 foot by 3 foot. Though smaller than recommended in the book, the planting area provided lots of room for growing tomatoes, peppers and herbs. Building the raised planters meant that I only had to cart in enough soil, compost and amendments to fill the planting areas; the rest of the rock-hard soil between the planting beds became the pathways.

Photo by the Author

More Than A Garden Design Book

Beyond his innovative raised planter design, Square Foot Gardeningthoroughly outlines the concept of high-yield succession planting in small areas by planting an early spring crop followed by a fast-growing summer veggie, then planting fall bearing crop -- all in the same space. The grids and tables demonstrate basic spacing and planting methods for seeds and seedlings, and how to conserve space through vertical gardening by training cucumber and beans to climb a trellis.

Clear and concise instructions helps the Square Foot Gardener to determine how many of each type of plant can fit into a one-foot square. Start by dividing the 4-foot by 4-foot planting beds into sixteen 1-foot squares. Large fully grown plants like peppers get one whole 1-foot square to themselves. Smaller plants such as lettuce are planted four to a one-foot square, while 16 carrots are spaced evenly in another 1-foot square.

Following these concepts, here's an example of what can be grown in one 4-foot by 4-foot planting bed over in just one growing season:

32 carrots

12 heads of leaf lettuce

18 spinach plants

16 radishes

16 scallions

16 beets

9 turnips

1 bell pepper plant

1 eggplant

1 head of broccoli

Lots of peas!

Image Credit: J.Deramo -- Square Foot Gardening on Amazon

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    • lesliesinclair profile image

      lesliesinclair 5 years ago

      square foot gardening sounds like a rich idea.

    • profile image

      ohcaroline 5 years ago

      I've enjoyed watching him on tv and have his Square Foot Gardening Book. I am eagerly anticipating the day that I have a plot of land to put his techniques to work.

    • SandraWilson LM profile image

      SandraWilson LM 5 years ago

      Nice lens.

    • VSP profile image

      VSP 5 years ago

      I will have to pass this on to my husband our resident gardener. We're involved in a community garden that this would be perfect for. As for a gardening tip I say grow broccoli, the taste diff from store bought is amazing.

    • Judith Nazarewicz profile image

      Judith Nazarewicz 5 years ago from Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

      Nice lens! I have this book and it's really good!

    • profile image

      IsobelDeSantis 5 years ago

      It's a great book and I love the way you've implemented it :)