Kathy Petersen’s Blog

Square-Foot Gardening

Posted in Uncategorized by Kathy on April 25, 2008

My brother got Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening book, and decided to do that this year (my mom has a big garden spot, and he has a small yard, so he’s gardening on her property). When he explained it to me, it intrigued me, so I borrowed my library’s copy. He actually got the old book, while I got the All-New Square Foot Gardening book. Since neither of us read the other’s copy, I can’t say what all is different; although I do remember one thing the author said — in the old edition, he advocated digging out the dirt in your garden and replacing it with “Mel’s Mix” (compost, peat moss, and vermiculite); and in the new book he said “Why dig down? Why not just build up?” — so he now suggests building boxes on top of the ground and filling them with Mel’s Mix to plant your garden. It sounds like a lot less work!

Well, I got the book too late to do it this year, but I did implement what I could. It’s not a “Square Foot Garden” — not only is it not nice and neat like Mel’s, but there isn’t a square-foot grid in sight. [We’re considering moving in the next few months, so we didn’t want to put in a lot of work, time, and expense cultivating ground we’re leaving, if you know what I mean. Nor did I want to build boxes and fill them with Mel’s Mix, and have to leave them behind nor try to transport them.] We didn’t have the materials on-hand to do it, and my husband balked about building the boxes, and I didn’t want to try to tackle the project myself with two helpers less than 3′ tall (including driving at least half an hour one way to get everything).

So, enough of what we didn’t do, now on to what we did. Because of what we bought or grew from seed, and when, our garden is kind of mottled — a section of peas here, broccoli there, tomatoes over here, etc. I dug out the garden soil and filled in the areas (trenches/rectangles for the peas and broccoli, big squares for all the jalapeños, and holes for the tomatoes, bell peppers, and herbs) with a mixture of compost, peat moss, garden soil, sand, and partially composted leaves. I couldn’t find the vermiculite when I looked for it, and didn’t want to drive all over town with two little kids. So far, so good. Nothing has died yet, anyway. 🙂

My mom and my brother both transplanted broccoli at the same time — they were grown at a local nursery and were from the same batch, so were virtually identical. My mom used traditional gardening, while my brother followed Mel’s advice from Square Foot Gardening. My brother’s broccoli looks better and healthier, and is bigger than my moms, although they’re only planted a few yards apart. But my brother’s is planted in Mel’s Mix, while my mom’s is planted in her regular garden soil. She’s already a convert, and we’re only about a month into the growing season!

The biggest “light bulb” that went off in my head while reading the book is what Mel said about trampling down soil you’ve just tilled up. That’s one of the things I remember from childhood is my feet squishing down into the freshly-tilled soil while helping to plant beans, corn, etc.

Put one way, Why walk on soil you’ve just cultivated? Put another way, Why cultivate ground you’re just going to trample down?

It was interesting to notice that when I dug out my garden and replaced it with good, fertile soil, the ground I was standing on was hard; but if I strayed off of the beaten path (literally!), I could immediately tell it because my toes or heels sank down. As a child, I kind of relished walking in the soft soil; but after all the work I did to the garden areas, trampling down the soft soil was quite the opposite! It was a warning to me that I had strayed too far.

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2 Responses

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  1. Robin M said, on April 25, 2008 at 11:03 pm

    We’re doing square foot gardening for the second year, and I love it. My three-year-old even has his own 2×2 box. 😀

  2. […] Gardening woes Posted by Kathy under Uncategorized | Tags: gardening, plants |   In a previous post I talked about planting my garden. I guess I should have mentioned that I have a black thumb? […]


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