Square Foot Gardening

  • Last summer, my mom told me about a garden book she picked up, All New Square Foot Gardening, by Mel Bartholomew. She decided to follow his method to create a couple of raised garden beds. It sounded like a cool idea, but I didn’t think much of it, considering I had already prepared my garden patch the previous summer. Then, I saw her photos. The success she was having made me curious. I went out and purchased the book, which is loaded with great, simple gardening advice.

    What I like most about Mel Bartholomew’s book is that he just makes gardening so approachable. I think there are a lot of people out there who really want a vegetable garden, but find it too intimidating to start. It can also be a challenge to find the space in your yard, etc. The square foot gardening method is extremely adaptable. You can basically create raised beds in any size, shape, and number you want. Start with one and build from there. Bartholomew explains that most herbs, flowers, and vegetables only need a soil depth of 6 inches. So, if you make shallow beds and fill them with supreme soil (he has his own formula for making the best mix), you should have success growing just about anything. If you think about it, this is actually easier than container gardening- you could easily pick up an old table or bench for your patio or deck, put a 6-inch deep planter box on it, and grow lettuce, tomatoes, and basil all in one place. That said, I think container gardens are awesome and really interesting to look at.

    So, I enlisted the help of my husband to build me a frame, and decided to put the method to the test. I picked a spot along our fence that gets great sun. It was previously just wasted space with grass. I thought it’d be a perfect place to grow tomatoes. I decided I wanted a rectangle to span the length of that stretch of fencing. We purchased two 10 ft long, 2 x 6 inch boards. Adam cut 2 feet from the end of each board to make the sides of the rectangle and put the frame together for me (Two 3 inch deck screws at each corner makes for a sturdy box). This produced a rectangle of 2 x 8 ft (so I have 16, 1 foot squares). I painted the frame red, to make it look pretty. We also stapled plastic to the bottom, to keep the dirt in. (If you were putting this on a table, or wanting to move it around, you’d want to put plywood or something more sturdy than plastic on the bottom.) Now, it’s my opinion that you can stop at this point and just plant whatever you want. But, I did follow the square foot plan exactly, and put the lath boards in to create the squares. It does make everything organized, and you can plan for your crop rotation and new plantings easily. I also followed Bartholomew’s instructions for building a trellis, using conduit pipes. (Again, when I say I followed instructions, I really mean, I instructed Adam to build it). Growing plants vertically is awesome; it saves tons of space and is really good for the plants because they get good air flow, and aren’t on the ground (cucumbers, zucchini, etc). His trellis is not as attractive as some of the wood trellises you can buy, (sort of looks like a soccer net) but it’s much more affordable, super sturdy, and once it’s covered in plants- who cares!?!

    My tomatoes did awesome last summer, as did the other things I planted in my squares. I completely buy into this method of gardening and sincerely recommend the book. Besides the basics of his method, Bartholomew offers a lot of other advice that will save you time and money. I could go on and on, but I won’t. Instead, I will show you a few of my pictures. Unfortunately, I did not anticipate writing this blog when we built my frame, or I would have taken pictures along the way. It’s pretty straight-forward, though.

    Vertical view: You can see how the lath boards divide the squares. The trellis is about 5ft tall- imagine tomato and cucumber vines covering it…

    I typically do herbs and lettuces in the front row of squares. This tarragon plant came back from last year- always a nice treat!


    June 25th, 2011 | girl has thyme | 1 Comment | Tags: ,

One Response and Counting...

  • Emily 06.25.2011

    Since I gave up on my vegetable garden after only one try and turned it into an herb garden I’ll have to go back and try again next year using this method. I love the idea of having plants climb up the nets! And I love how you paint your boxes red – so fun!

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