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Square Foot Gardening Answer Book

Mel Bartholomew came bursting on the garden scene over 30 years ago with his technique of Square Foot Gardening. I have visited many gardens that use his raised bed, grid organized system out here in the country, and I have seen it in front yards when we have visited our son in Cambridge. This year Bartholomew has come out with the Square Foot Gardening Answer Book (Cool Springs Press $16.99)  that he says was inspired by the questions that some dubious gardeners ask, and that others ask because they feel the need for more information.

Mel Bartholomew has an easy conversational style and he explains his technique with all the detail a gardener will need. His system is based on contained raised beds. The bed structure can be made of naturally rot resistant wood, cinder blocks or composite materials, but he does advise against using treated lumber. In fact he embraces all organic principles including avoiding pesticides and herbicides.

His technique does not require tilling. His boxes are laid on the ground, possibly the lawn, and after laying down high grade landscape cloth to kill grass and weeds, he fills the box with Mel’s Mix: 1 part blended compost, 1 part peat moss, and 1 part coarse vermiculite. Those who believe we should not be harvesting and using peat moss because of environmental concerns will not like this mix, but he is quite adamant about how well it  supports vegetable and flower growth.

Bartholomew advises using strips of wood or vinyl that will permanently divide the box into square foot sections that can each be planted efficiently with a single crop. Organic gardeners sing the praises of mixed plantings like this because an infestation of a harmful insect, or a disease is less like to take hold. Those squares also encourage replanting after a crop is harvested, thus increasing your annual harvest.

He doesn’t recommend watering with any kind of hose, preferring to water by hand with a bucket and cup. He acknowledges this might seem time consuming but feels it is part of keeping a close eye on your plantings.

Obviously, in any book that focuses on technique you may find elements that you question. In the Answer Book Bartholomew explains his rationales. His technique has been so successful that the state of Utah now has a square foot garden at most of its elementary schools, and square foot gardens are being planted around the world. Teaching about home gardening and producing more fresh food locally has got to be a good thing.

This is an a good book for the inexperienced gardener who will feel comfortable with firm rules, but there is plenty of food for thought for the experienced gardener as well.

Between the Rows  December 15, 2012

Garden Books for the Young

Planting the Wild Garden by Kathryn Galbraith

I’ve written  about a number of garden books for  the young over the past year. They are not how-to books although there are books that do lead a child  into  the garden with real instructions. My friend Kathryn Galbraith wrote Planting the Wild Garden and turned science into poetry. She reveals all the ways that Mother Nature spreads seeds over the landscape using the wind and rain, and hot sun that makes seed pods burst. The rivers and streams carry seeds long distances, and animals move sticky seeds from here to there and the birds drop seeds in their own inimitable way. Even we humans carry seeds when they stick to our sweaters and socks.  Wendy Anderson Halperin created the beautiful delicate and accurate illustrations.

Kathryn takes a different tack in Arbor Day Square, the story of a family that was part of the pioneer move westward, building towns where there had only been grass and woods before. The young girl in the story knows that trees have more value than utility, they are  for beauty too. As the story unfolds it is clear that trees are also about building community. A tender story that we can all identify with today. The illustrations by Cyd Moore are as bright and cheerful as a quilt.


Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert

For the very youngest potential gardeners Lois Ehlert has given us a board book that teaches colors and the rainbow sequence while showing bold stylized flowers.

When my five children were small the happiest part of my day was bedtime (so often the case for us busy mothers) when the children were bathed and in their jammies, and we could all sit down, and slow down, together to read. A whole wold of wonderful children’s books opened up for me and them at the same time.  Then we acquired 9 grandchildren and when they visit we have moved on from my reading to them, to evenings of Reading Aloud when we all read to each other, and sometimes we even invite other guests to join us. We even have two great-granddaughters now. I have not had many opportunities to read to them, but as a new kindergarten student Bella is already to read aloud to us!

While I cannot claim that my book, The Roses at the End of the Road is suitable for bedtime reading for the young, it does work very well for us older gardeners. Right now, for those who buy it directly from me, I am offering a sale price of $12 and free shipping until the Twelfth Day of Christmas, January 6. It is also on sale at the Kindle Store for $3.95.

The Roses at the End of the Road

With these suggestions come my wishes for a happy Christmas and a year filled with happy hours of reading, about plants, and gardens, and gardeners, and every fascinating thing out in our beautiful world.