Make square-foot gardening
work for you –
almost anywhere!


Short on room to garden?

With square-foot gardening, you can
raise great vegetables
and create a beautiful living patchwork --
all in a patio-space!





To my mind, square-foot gardening is an ingenious, miniaturized form of French Intensive gardening. When done right, it manages miniature plots of ground so efficiently that you can achieve good crops in tiny spaces. This makes it one of the easiest ways to start organic gardening.


French Intensive gardening’s child prodigy was made famous by Mel Bartholomew, originator of "Square Foot Gardening," who has founded a non-profit organization to educate the world on SFG, and ultimately ban world hunger.


This method beats the system by thinking so small that it’s not that hard to prepare the whole garden area, even if you spade it yourself. In his 1981 square-foot gardening book, he explains how to avoid much of the continuing cultivation, thinning and weeding by calculating just how much you need of a given vegetable, and how often.


This way, he keeps the very minimum of soil under cultivation, so only tiny plots require work at any one time. They provide a regular supply of food for the table, instead of having too much to eat from a larger space.


For example, Mel plants one square foot of lettuce, containing exactly four plants, and every following week, he plants another. It gives him all the lettuce he needs for eating. (That formula, of course, can be adapted to suit each person’s needs. We need much more than that.) In another square, he plants a single, staked tomato plant. Even he admits that some plants, like zucchini, have to be grown in a three-by-three square, due to their size.


The payoff comes when time and labor is saved by using only hand tools like a trowel and claw.



Remember, though: using such small spaces to grow food is a severe drain on the soil, and it must be replenished seasonally, especially if you extend into winter. Mel keeps adding compost, especially when the plants are separated from the natural soil.


If your squares are built directly on the soil, it isn't a bad idea to use double-digging, with lots of compost and manure, especially when the garden is new. Later you might decide to double-dig every other year or three years (and eventually not at all, once you reach soil Nirvana).


One thing about square-foot gardening: it does give you fresh vegetables. But if you want to preserve any for winter, you could end up processing tiny batches repeatedly, driving yourself crazy. Keep it in mind, when choosing a method.


In all gardening, you will find that there are many different ways to approach things. For instance, Mel uses cardboard underneath the bed as a weed barrier, then builds a frame over it, filling it with equal parts of peat, vermiculite, and compost. This is a good solution for a city apartment patio, but I think it leaves something to be desired otherwise. The plants would only have six inches of soil to grow in.


And there is another issue when using bagged materials. Does this qualify as locally grown food? I don't think so. See our organic food page for a discussion of this. We are not convinced that a combination of compost and ingredients out of a bag is sufficient feeding for plants, unless this is your only option, or your ground is polluted.


If you're not an apartment-dweller, but want to use this plan, you wouldn't have to put a barrier down, but let the plants have access to the natural soil. (That's way Mel used to do it, without any boxes.)


As I mentioned earlier, I really like Mel's way, but it doesn’t suit my personality. Then, too, I seem to need huge amounts of greens and other vegetables, and it would keep me busier than I already am, trying to get them from square-foot gardening blocks. I sort-of use square-YARD patches!


But what if you're an apartment-dweller?

You can still have a mini-garden,
to build your natural health!



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Dr. Sheila Miles is a Naturopathic Physician whom we know in Kentucky. She is Board Certified by the National Board of Examiners in Integrated/ Alternative Medicine and Natural Health Science, with a Doctorate in Natural Health Science. She is also certified in Nutrition, Homeopathy, and Herbal Preparations.

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