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Mar 23, 2011 10:20 AM

Square Foot Gardening

Hello, this is my first post on the Gardening forum here as I just secured a community garden plot for this year! I live in Boston and will have a space about 8'x8'. I obviously can't build or alter the existing garden too much as I don't want to disturb my neighboring gardens. Is this book still helpful? I was planning on using mostly transplants for my first year but have no idea how to go about the positioning of the plants within the garden, maintaining the soil, etc.

Basically, I need gardening for dummies.

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    This book is a great resource for growing plants in a small space. The concept has been around for years and is really easy to accomplish. But... if you don't know how to garden, you do need to know a few basics. Here's a site that will introduce you to crop rotation... plant families:

    1. Mel Bartholomew has also worked with the people at Lady Bug to develop a soil specially formulated for square foot gardening - all in one bag!

      4 Replies
      1. re: CocoaNut

        Honestly, Mel's a good guy & all (my brother worked for his son's garden/landscaping business for awhile), but really, you do NOT need "special soil" for square foot gardening. Honest. Square foot gardening is based on the "French Intensive" gardening system that's been around long before Mel hit the scene. If the soil is basically friable (loose, crumbly) & has a decent amount of organic matter (which you can augment with inexpensive compost), there's absolutely zero need to shell out big bucks for name-brand "celebrity" soil.

        8 x 8 is a nice size to start gardening with. Big enough to grow a wide range of veggies, herbs, & flowers; but not so big that it will be overwhelming. Start by figuring out what you like to eat. You wouldn't believe how many people grow things they think they "should" be growing, even if no one in the house likes it. Then try to plant according to mature height so you don't end up with one crop shading out another - like tomatoes blocking out the sun from bush beans, etc., etc. Herbs & annual flowers can be tucked into pockets here & there.

        1. re: Breezychow

          Whatever. Oftentimes by the time you buy the compost, manure, bone/blood meal, etc, etc, it can become very expensive with a lot left over and nowhere to store it But each to their own for what works best for them.

          1. re: Breezychow

            Mel's Mix is 1/3 compost (preferably 5 different kinds, but that's a tall order most places), 1/3 peat, and 1/3 vermiculite. Last year I would have liked to have bought a bag or two to put in pots and things because I didn't have any left when I mixed the stuff for my beds...but it's not available here, so I just fudged for containers.

            You'll like yourself better if you don't make your beds more than 4 feet across -- any wider and it's hard to reach the stuff in the middle without stepping on all your light, fluffy mix.

            1. re: sunshine842

              I agree with the 4x4' max per bed. If you allow 2 ft between beds, four 4x4 beds give you the same area as an 8x8' bed in 10x10' of space. I like to used raised beds made out of 2x8's. I agree that you can make your own Mel's mix, but note that he recommends coarse vermiculite instead of the fine stuff used for seed starting. After a long search I finally found the coarse variety at a farm supply store. Also if you are growing tomatoes and cucumbers in these beds, on vertical growing saves a lot of room ( but my tomatoes seem have higher yields when grown separately and not pruned to a single stem). I don't recommend growing squash or melons this way, though Mel says you can. I think they take up too much room in 4x4 beds.

        2. Thanks. I am buying the book and will be checking the site Gio recommended. I checked for the Lady Bug soil in my area, but there are no vendors. I am hoping I am able to find the various components Mel recommends separately.

          5 Replies
          1. re: jules127

            Very interesting..... I just entered my zip code and the gardening center that I just bought from (they carry 7 or 8 different LB products) did not show up.

            So, you may want to call a few in your area, ie, don't trust the LB web-site!! ha!

            1. re: jules127

              If you can find an original edition of Square Foot Gardening buy that. The updated edition is, well, more of a commercial for Mel and his spin-offs.

              If your community gardeners meet regularly or if you're friendly with a few, suggest going in together for any amendments you want to buy. The community garden here has the extension service do a soil analysis regularly so the gardeners have an idea of what they need to buy.

              1. re: morwen

                I have that original book and see if in used book stores. The original soil formula was a great help when we started a garden on depleted soil. I still use his recommendations for planting distances (less thinning). Don't think you have to plant a whole pkg of seed. I think there is also some advice for trellis and covered boxes (to keep bugs out).
                Check the internet for seed planting dates. Sure, use purchased plants for things like tomatoes and spring broccoli but my DIL even bought peas and corn plants. That is silly. You can easily plant the seed. Later after you've harvested something, you can plant that area to something else. In our area there are so many people who don't plant until Memorial Day (NH) and figure the garden is finished in September. For me, to get good spinach, I plant in mid-April. Then it is harvested and that area planted to something else. Get to know which things can go in early and which should wait until after your last frost date.

                1. re: morwen

                  I found the original edition at the library. Decided I didn't need to add more $$$ to my gardening budget!

                  1. re: morwen

                    Exactly!!! Mel has become extremely "commercial" these days. Gone are the days of gardening with what one has on hand or easily obtainable ingredients. Sorry Mel - but you won't be making your big bucks off of me - lol!!!

                2. Hello! Just wanted to let you know that the theory of square foot gardening (cordoning off small spaces and planting diff crops in each) worked well for me when I had space in a community garden. I wasn't able to do the 4x4 boxes, but I just made two large 'rows' on each side, with a 1-foot path down the middle that I lined with straw to keep the weeks out, and straw around the outside of my planting space. Then I used twine to mark off my squares, and tied it to scrap wood pegs that I drove into the ground like a tent peg. Viola- a square foot garden that could be taken down with no trace, which was a requirement in my community garden.

                  And I should say- I had great luck with that garden. Though I do recommend taking a look at some companion planting literature. When your plants are in such tight spaces, it really does seem to make a difference when you plant beets next to pole beans (bad!). At least that's been my experience.