Square Foot Gardening
Original article – Spring 2011 (Update in capsule at the bottom of the Hub. My original plan was to rewrite the entire Hub, but decided to do an update instead.)
I recently purchased a copy of Mel Bartholomew's Square Foot Gardening, and have been diligently reading it....again. I borrowed a copy from the library years ago, and was very impressed with his method. I did incorporate it to a degree, and it worked. Life got in the way, and my world (and my garden) was taken away from me, so I lost what I had done.
I am once again in a position to have a garden...this time with much more space. I do not like the weeds, so I have decided to build my garden beds Mel's way. I already have one in place...now just to put off planting until it warms up just a little more. I was going to build a few today, but the rain came and forced me inside.
Mel talks about the types of soils in his book, and I do have to say mine is clay. This method of gardening will keep the soil from getting compacted as I will be walking on paths between the beds. Any gardener knows clay has got to be the worst for getting compacted. It is great for holding moisture, though, so adding organic matter as each square is worked will open up the air flow while still retaining the much needed moisture.
I will be using Mel's gardening method, as well as the traditional rows for my potatoes, corn and pumpkins. I will be growing enough for a Market Garden this year, so will be benefiting from the crop rotation possible with Square Foot Gardening. Things like lettuce, radishes and Swiss Chard will grow quickly...and the increased harvests will give me better yields. Plus, the compact garden beds have minimal weeds, so more moisture and nutrients will go to the crops instead of the weeds.
Mel suggests beds made four feet by four feet, and a grid marked with string, boards or other narrow materials. A trellis may be placed on the North side of the grid if you wish to grow tomatoes, peas, cucumbers or other climbing plants. This way, the smaller crops will still receive maximum light and will not be shaded by the taller crops. I will be planting tomatoes and cucumbers in a couple of mine, and peas in a couple more. The shorter crops will go in grids South of the taller plants.
I do have to say adding a trellis made from a strong material is a good thing. I added the framework for one, but have come to realize (after reading more in his book) it will not be tall enough nor strong enough to support the crops I will be planting. When the weather clears, I will be removing the framework I installed and be replacing it with a taller, stronger trellis. I am glad I realized this mistake before my crops were planted.
I am very anxious for the weather to improve so I can finish designing my Square Foot Garden, and plant it. I will also be adding a trellis to one by four foot beds along the West side of my garden spot; this will be planted with peas and climbing nasturtiums. It will be pretty, yet functional and edible.
I encourage any gardeners to try this method...even just one grid for a salad garden. I'm sure you will be hooked by the ease of this method. The initial building of the beds is the hardest you will have to work having this type of garden. Good luck, and may the weeds find somewhere else to grow!
Update - March 2014
The original article was written in 2011. I have since applied the method and used my garden beds with the Square Foot method. The picture at the top of the Hub was my garden the first year. In the following years I added a couple of beds and rotated where I planted the crops. My tomatoes always did well, as did most of the other crops.
I never did get the yield required for a market garden as I had placed my beds along a row of moisture-stealing spruce trees (lesson learned).
Another lesson learned was NOT to plant zucchini and watermelon in close proximity to one another. I was very excited when I harvested a watermelon about 8” in diameter, only to have my heart sink when I cut it open. I had a perfectly round ZUCCHINI! The two had cross-pollinated and I was left with all zucchini: too bad I didn't end up with zucchini-shaped watermelon.
We moved in October 2013, so now I will have to start all over again with the garden beds. On the upside, I now have a better idea of what will work, as well as how deep I want the beds to be.