A New Way to Garden


Getting things growing—early summer

This year, we decided to try the new version of Square Foot Gardening. Mel Bartholomew, the author that rocked the gardening world in the 1970′s with the idea of grow boxes, has revised and drastically simplified his method and written a new book called, of course, All New Square Foot Gardening. No digging, no hoeing, no rotortilling, no raking, no pitchforking, no weeding, all you need is hand tools! . . . by the time I read these descriptions, I was convinced it was the right method of me. Mel has made it so easy, that I was eager to give it a try.

So, after getting my husband enthused, we scrounged used supplies: wood scraps, old carpeting, old buckets and barrels. My husband cut the wood and made it into 4′ x 4′ frames (approximately—no exactness here). These frames are bottomless boxes. We divided our former garden area in half, keeping half of the space in the “old method” and covered the other half of it in old carpeting we gathered that was being disposed of. Then we moved around the frames on top the carpet, just like arranging furniture, until we got them just where we wanted them. We left plenty of room between the frames, making it easy to maneuver around, but also allowing the plants to spill over into the carpeted area.

Next, we stirred up a soil mixture made to Mel’s (the author) specifications: 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 vermiculite, and 1/3 mixed compost (composted from steer, horse, turkey, chicken manure, as well as grass and garden clippings, wood shavings, etc.) by volume. And we filled up our frames. The bottom of the frame was the old carpeting we had spread out. Just 6″ depth of his “perfect soil” mixture is able to grow any vegetables or flowers you want! There is no need for any more. Even tomatoes grow in just 6″ of this perfect soil.

At first, buying and putting new soil in the frames didn’t seem right. It seemed like a cheater’s way of gardening. But after years of continually assessing and trying to improve our soil, adding amendments, digging it all in— all the work that involves, and then growing a great crop of weeds (along with some veggies) I decided to listen to what this author had to say. And it made a lot of sense! The book is easy to read and very encouraging. More than this, it is easy to do! This fun read is a very different type of book than his first volume with all its exacting directions. This is the relax-and-enjoy version of an exciting new concept in gardening!

Then we marked off the square foot areas with a grid. We used yarn and just stapled it on one side of the wooden frame, pulled it across the top, and stapled on the other side in square foot divisions— but yarn isn’t very permanent. Mel suggests finding old vinyl blinds at yard sales and using the slats to create a grid—he is very practical! The purpose of the grid is to help you plant each square foot in a different plant, creating natural crop rotation, beauty, variety, and abundance.

So, here we are at mid-summer and everything is growing great. Best of all, it is so manageable. The ground is covered with old carpeting, which is faded to a nice “dirt” shade. The soil filled frames are nice and neat looking, and for the first time in years of gardening, I don’t “lose” things. Previously, I would plant parsley seeds, but the weeds overtook before the parsley came up. This year I have not only parsley plants, but basil, cilantro, dill, lemon basil, chard, lettuce, carrots and all the other “tiny” lose-able seeds are thriving and producing!

And how is the other half of my garden in the old method doing? Well, the weeds got away from me. I’ve been out there every morning for an hour at least working at it, but I now have clinical proof that morning glory weeds can grow 12″ overnight! I will still get a good harvest of the “big stuff”, but all the little seeds are irretrievably lost. The bush beans I planted in the Square Foot Garden are robust and blooming. The bush beans I planted at the same time in my old method garden are struggling along–no doubt the soil is not as rich, nor the water so even due to all those pesky, thirsty weeds.

You can start now! Mel has many informative charts, one of which tells when everything germinates, and how to plant now for fall harvest. This is an ongoing, most-of-the-year project. He even has “how-to” steps for making easy “lids” to cover and protect your crops beyond the normal killing frost.

My experiment is not conclusive yet, but thought I’d give you a mid-summer report!

Here’s how it looks in mid-July—things are thriving!

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