A Journey to Grow a Little Food Close to Home

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Square Foot Gardening

Some time ago, one of my wife's friends mentioned to her that she wanted to try 'quadrant gardening' this year. Not having spoken to her, I am guessing that she meant some version of Square Foot Gardening (though she could have meant that she was planning to purchase these.)

Either way, this will be a post on Square Foot Gardening...a method developed by Mel Bartholomew. Think of this as an exploration of a gardening method as well as a book review.

Mel Bartholomew's method is not a new concept. The idea of using close spacing and of growing vertically was used by the Myans, the 18th century French, and the 19th century English. What Mel Bartholomew has done, though, is make it easy!

Here's the basic idea.

After building a square frame (i.e. no bottom) that is 4ft long on each side, lay out dividers in each direction spaced 1 foot apart. You should end up with a checkerboard-style grid. Now, after adding dirt of course, place one plant in each square (some plants, like lettuce and carrots can have more than one per square). The result should look something like this:

Notice the trellis in the back. Here's another look at a trellised SFG:

The trellis allows climbing veggies like peas and beans to really stretch themselves and grow to their full potential.

The beauty of this ststem, too, is that it can be scaled up as a person wants to grow more, like this

So...how do you know how many plants to put in each square or how to arrange them? You could but Mel's book or you could consult planning software like this. The planning software will show you that you could, in 3x6 foot space, create a high yield garden
an All American Garden
or about a dozen others.

The planning software that I have linked to goes on to show a grid of the layout for the garden as well as outline how many of each plant to place into each square. I structure my garden similar to some of these plans and to Mel's methods and I get HUGE results from a small space!

Mel Bartholomew has done something else besides make small space gardening techniques easy - he has built himself a business! What started as a single book has become a full blown website with a brand new edition to the book as well as a store selling everything that you need to get started and be successful at gardening.

While I applaud Mel for taking a lot of the guesswork out of the process, I don't know if gardening is quite as easy as he makes it seem. I think that his method of dividing the space into visible squares makes the garden seem more organized and managable in the mind rather than actually making it foolproof.

I do plan to test one of his claims this year. His book states that '16 square feet are needed to provide one person a daily salad throughout the growing season.' He then claims that 'an additional 16 square feet will provide all of the dinner table vegetables for that one person.' A final '16 square feet will provide all of the veggies needed for preserving.' This adds up to 48 square feet or just three of the 4ft by 4ft boxes that are Mel's standard!

While I don't plan to preserve too much of this year's harvest, I do want to see if my 110 square foot garden can provide all of the salads and veggies that my family needs this growing season. Based on 32sq ft per adult and half that per child, I should only need 96 sq ft for my fresh veggies. We shall see!

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