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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

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