Square Foot Gardening by Byron Chitwood
Small scale gardening has been around for a long time. In our time, there has been the salad garden, kitchen garden, victory garden and just some small garden plots that didn’t happen to fit under a name. Leave it up to an Engineer, a retired one at that to fully develop the square foot garden concept and publish a book expounding on the subject. Mel Bartholomew, an Engineer who sold his consulting business is the person who really pushed this method of gardening and published his first book “Square Foot Gardening”.
Mel’s early experience was typical gardening with long rows which were spaced wide apart and with three foot wide pathways between some of the rows. When he questioned some expert gardeners as to why there was a need for these wide pathways, the answer was “so we can get in there and chop weeds”. Nobody really likes the weeding process involved in vegetable gardening and Mel noticed that a lot of gardeners were dropping out of the hobby because so much effort was needed just to keep the weeds out. He began to experiment with smaller gardens until he came up with the concept of square foot gardening.
Basically, the square foot garden (SFG) is four feet wide and four feet long. The sides of the SFG are constructed o f 2X6 inch boards that are nailed or screwed together to form a 4X4 foot box. The box should have a bottom of weed cloth to prevent weeds and grass from growing in the garden plot. A lattice work of inch wide strips of wood or some other material should be constructed that is then fastened one foot apart on the tops of the side boards of the completed box. The one foot spacing will form sixteen one foot squares within the box.
Soil to fill the SFG can be either purchased from a gardening center or you can make your own using a mixture of 1/3 vermiculite, 1/3 peat moss and 1/3 well composted material such as leaves or grass clippings or any other organic plant material. The six inch depth as mentioned above is sufficient to grow almost all vegetables except some of the longer ones such as long carrots, leeks or potatoes. If you want to grow some long root vegetables, simply make a much smaller box in length that is approximately one foot deep. In case you purchase the gardening mixture, you will need eight cubic feet of the mixture for each 4X4 foot SFG. Of course, the one foot deep garden will require one cubic foot of potting soil for each foot of length.
Mel’s book recommends the following plant spacing within each one foot square as follows:
- One plant per square for broccoli, cabbage, or pepper plant.
- Four plants per square for leaf lettuce, Swiss chard or marigolds.
- Nine plants per square for bush beans, spinach or beets.
- Sixteen per square for carrots, radishes or onions.
Once you have mastered SFG techniques, you might want to expand your garden capacity by constructing more four foot wide SFG’s. You will be amazed at many vegetables each SFG will produce. If you are interested in pursuing square foot gardening, Mel Bartholomew’s newest book “All New Square Foot Gardening” will be a most valuable addition to your library.