Tuesday, September 16, 2008


If you are planning a vegetable garden this fall you might want to investigate the idea of Square Foot Gardening. I am planning to try out the method myself. This summer while strolling around the gardens of Temple Square in Salt Lake City I chatted with someone who was also admiring the plantings. 
The conversation turned to native plants and I told him about the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin and how my hobby was gardening. He told me he taught gardening and had just come from the radio station where he hosts a Saturday morning call in gardening show. He introduced himself as Mel Bartholomew, the author of the book by the same name, who came up with this system of gardening. By amazing coincidence I saw his book in a second hand book store just a few days later. 
Mel's idea for this method of gardening came about as a result of watching the frustrations of gardeners at the community garden, who started the gardening year in the spring with great enthusiasm only to become overwhelmed and demoralized by mid summer. Too much weeding watering and thinning to be done. Long rows of lettuce and spinach needed thinning but there was a reluctance to kill young seedlings. Within a few weeks thin spindly plants were growing too close together. They had planted half a packet of seeds, about 100, in a 10 foot row. This scenario was repeated throughout the garden and by September the gardens were overgrown with weeds and only the dedicated gardeners returned. Most had lost interest.
Square foot gardens are based on squares rather than rows. The ideal size for each garden is 4' square, divided into 16 squares. In these squares are planted just enough seeds to provide the necessary plants for a harvest.
Now, if you are like me you plant more seeds than you can possibly deal with. Even 30 lettuce seeds mean 30 plants and that takes up a lot of room in the garden. How much better to sow 4 seeds in one of the squares followed a few weeks later by another planting. The other squares might hold 4 swiss chard plants, 4 parsley, 9 beets, 9 spinach etc. Imagine the crop in a 4x4 square. The best thing is that this method is adaptable to the small garden, balcony and can be raised to make gardening accessible to the handicapped. You can have just one square or many.
By chance we already have the 4x4' squares so all I have to do is to find something to divide them into 1' squares.

The book has information on the kinds of soil to use in the beds and how many plants to put in each square. Companion flowers can be mixed along with vegetables. Mel gives ideas for growing tomatoes, cucumbers and cantaloupes on a trellis, thereby taking up less room.

It's time for fall vegetables in Texas and I started with a new method of germinating this week.

 Actually it isn't new. Remember when you were a child how you grew beans in a jar with wet blotting paper? I sowed my chard seeds on wet kitchen roll and placed in a plastic bag on the counter. ( This method can also be used to check viability of seeds). They germinated within 2 days and are now planted in the garden.

Two days later they are up through the ground.

You may notice I didn't follow the advice on the number of seeds to sow but the packet was 2 years old so I wasn't sure how many were viable. All apparently! I'll just have to thin!


  1. Chard looks a good crop to grow!

  2. I figured with your beautiful raised bed vegetable garden, you had already read "square foot gardening". I read it years ago, and it made a lot of sense to me. I loosely follow it in my own garden where I have beds of various sizes, mostly 4' x 8', but some 4' x 4', some 2' x 8'... whatever I could fit in and still leave nice paths.

    Carol, May Dreams Gardens

  3. I've heard of square foot gardening, and just yesterday noticed the segmented boxes out on a neighbor's front lawn. It might be a little tough to guerrilla garden, though - it's heavy on the infrastructure.

    We'd love it if we could be the beneficiaries of any extra veggies. And it would be amazing if we could someday take a tour of your garden. It looks amazing in your pictures. Many thanks!

    -lindsay, of the garden posse