This spring we decided to plant a garden. We have had a few experiences row gardening, but this year chose to plant a square foot garden. A couple of our friends and bloggers online had recommended it and said that square foot gardening was much easier than the traditional row garden. In this article I will outline what square foot gardening is, where and when it started, and include a quick course on how we built and planted it.
Square foot gardening was started by an older man named Mel Bartholomew, a former consulting engineering business owner who took up gardening as a hobby after retirement. After a failed community garden attempt, he started to question the methods of row gardening. While talking with multiple gardening experts he realized the gardening methods taught were very inefficient and a lot of work. So, after studying and experimenting, Mr. Bartholomew took the idea of flowerpot gardening and thought about planting vegetables in boxes above ground. He experimented with different sizes, materials, etc. and came up with a very neat gardening system.
There are many advantages to square foot gardening. First, there is less work involved. In row gardening you have to till the soil, and then water, and weed it constantly. In square foot gardening there is no soil to till, and no weeds except for a few which may find their way in there. Secondly, is the soil itself. No longer do you have to worry about what type soil you have, or whether it is fertile. You can even build your garden where there is no soil at all, such as a patio. Third, square foot gardening takes up approximately 20% as much space as a row garden that produces as much fruit. It is amazing how much you can fit into one square foot of soil, which brings me to my fourth point. The soil is made up of peat moss, vermiculite, and compost. There are no weed seeds in it and it holds just the right amount of water letting the excess drain. The soil also has all the nutrients plants need and stays loose and friable. Furthermore, by containing the soil in boxes you are not walking all over it and packing it down. This allows air to circulate and water to penetrate, resulting in a healthier plant. These are just a few of the advantages of square foot gardening.
In this section I will give you a quick course of how we constructed our garden and also how Mr. Bartholomew recommends you build it. Mr. Bartholomew recommends 4ft. x 4ft. boxes for the garden, but you can make other sizes such as 2ft. x 2ft., 2ft. x 6ft., 3ft. x 12ft. etc. We chose to stay with the 4×4 boxes and built three. The boxes can be made out of any kind of material, but wood probably works the best. We used 2×6’s cut into 4-foot lengths. The bottom of the box is lined with weed cloth and filled with a soil mixture Mel Bartholomew calls Mel’s Mix.
Mel’s Mix is composed of 1/3 vermiculite, 1/3 peat moss, and 1/3 compost measuring by volume (cubic feet). Mr. Bartholomew recommends building a compost pile of your own but if you buy compost he recommends that you buy at least five different brands or kinds of compost. The reason for buying 5 different kinds of compost is that one variety of compost consists of just a few waste ingredients from a business, farm, or factory. By buying more kinds the more variety the compost in your mix will have and the soil will be much better for growing vegetables.
After filling the box(es) with Mel’s Mix you construct a grid of 1’ by 1’ squares. The grid lies or can be screwed to the top of the box and can be made out of a many materials such as string, twine, even window blinds! We chose wood laths which Mr. Bartholomew also recommends; they were inexpensive, sturdy, and looked great. We screwed them together where they intersected with short decking screws and it has held together very well. The boxes with the grids are the main part of the garden, but after you have built them you can add different features to your garden such as a vertical frame.
A vertical frame is basically a 4-ft. or higher vertical grid on the north side of the garden box. It can be used to hold up vine tomatoes, pole beans, vine cucumbers, vine squash, and even watermelons and pumpkins! Mr. Bartholomew recommends constructing the frames out of electrical conduit pipe and trellis netting. However, living in the country and owning horses we had some old cattle panels we weren’t using and decided to use the panels and t-posts to build a much sturdier frame. To build the frame we drove two t-posts into the ground just outside the north side of the box. Then we attached the cattle panels to the t-posts by wrapping old electric-fence wire around the t-posts. The resulting frame was so strong that I couldn’t pull it over throwing my whole body weight against it; plenty strong to hold watermelons!
However, if you live in town or don’t have other materials, then the electrical conduit pipes and trellis netting are probably the way to go. I’ll give you a quick course on how to build the frame Mr. Bartholomew recommends using. First drive 18” rebars into the ground 4 ft. apart. Connect two five foot electrical conduit pipes at a 90-degree angle on each side of a four foot pipe with elbow connectors. Slide the ends of the 5 ft. pipes over the imbedded rebars and then cut and tie the trellis netting to the pipes to complete your vertical frame.
As you see square foot gardening is easy, compact, and fun. I hope this article has helped you if you are considering planting a square foot garden or just searching for the best options. If you are interested Mel Bartholomew’s book All New Square Foot Gardening is available in stores and online. He also has a website www.squarefootgardening.com that you may like to visit to find out more. Have fun and God bless!!