In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.
When we first moved to our acreage, a friend gave me a pile of books to peruse, and one of them was The All New Square Foot Gardening Book, by Mel Bartholomew. I read it. It made sense. We built our square foot garden. So what’s so different about this method than the standard garden, and why is it so great? Good questions!
In a standard garden plot, you plant your seeds in rows, with space between. As you excitedly wait for your food to grow, you are soon chagrined to realize that lots of other things are also growing in your garden. So you spend most of the summer waging the back-breaking, eternal war against weeds. In fact, only about 20% of the dirt is growing your plants. The other 80% is the combat zone. The space between the rows isn’t productive. It’s what you walk on, and thus pack down. It’s space you end up wastefully watering. It’s space you whack with your weapon, the hoe. This type of garden is fine for a farmer growing acres of food with a tractor to help him. But this is not ideal for the backyard gardener.
So how is square foot gardening better? The garden is divided into square foot sections, and each square is filled with things you planted. There’s very little room for anything else, like weeds. The garden is generally 4 feet wide–you can reach in 2 feet from one side, and 2 feet from the other. No need for rows to walk down and waste water on.
Each square foot is planted with the maximum amount of seeds or seedlings, depending on what you are growing. For example, for tomatoes, I position one plant. But for radishes, I can fit 16. There is a chart in the Square Foot Gardening book, which tells you how many plants to put in each square foot, but you can also just find them on the internet, like the chart below.
Another plus is that you can start small, maybe with a 4×4 section. Then as you have time, you can add more plots. If you have bad soil full of clay, that’s no problem! Square foot gardening allows you to fill in the kind of soil you want. And it’s easy to add compost or fertilizer–you don’t have to till it into the entire bed–just sprinkle it over the sections that need it and mix with your garden trowel or fork. And if you live in a subdivision that has lots of rules and frowns on gardens, the neat and tidiness of square foot plots will win them over.
Do I still have to deal with weeds? Yes, more so at the beginning of the year when the plants aren’t yet thick and big. But they are few and far between in comparison to a standard garden with rows. And the weeds are easy to reach in and pluck as I stroll to gaze at what is growing.
Does a square foot garden have to be long like mine? Nope! You can make them all sorts of sizes–that’s part of the beauty! You can fit a garden plot most anywhere! Just Google “Square Foot Gardening” and click on “Images.” You will see some amazing, beautiful gardens.
So as you contemplate starting a garden, consider this different way. I bet you’ll be as pleased as we are.