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Square Foot Gardening: An Easy Way to Grow Your Own Food

The square foot garden's signature grids make it easy to grow many different crops at once.

The square foot garden's signature grids make it easy to grow many different crops at once.

Super-Easy Techniques for Growing Vegetables and Fruits

"No green thumb required"; that should be the label put on square foot gardening. This simple, inexpensive organic gardening method eliminates weeds – and weeding – and uses only 20 percent of the space and 10 percent of the water of a normal, single-row garden, according to its creator, Mel Bartholomew. The method uses four-foot-square wooden boxes, divided into 16 squares with wooden lath and filled with a blend of compost, peat moss, and vermiculite. Each of the 16 squares can house a different plant, resulting in an amazingly varied and abundant harvest. Since 1975 this economical method has spread around the globe and is used in the most parched areas of the world; Bartholomew firmly believes square foot gardening is the answer to feeding the planet with its burgeoning population.

All New Square Foot Gardening, Second Edition: Book Review

Mel Bartholomew wrote his first book, Square Foot Gardening, in 1980, and followed it with a TV show that ran on PBS from 1982 to 1986. He revived the show for the Discovery network in 1989, and continued the show until 1991; he also began consulting in schools around the country. All the while he was constantly experimenting and improving his square foot gardening techniques, and in 2006 he published his All New Square Foot Gardening, which was packed with new techniques and a wealth of information. Not one to rest on his laurels, he continued to develop and expand the techniques and as of February 2013 has published All New Square Foot Gardening, Second Edition.

Mel Bartholomew explains his revolutionary gardening technique.

This newest edition expands on the 2006 version. Packed with info on how to build the method's signature four-foot boxes and protective covers (to protect from sun, pests and critters) and on growing plants from seeds, extending the seasons, both in spring and into the fall, it expands on vertical growing techniques and really gets into natural pest controls for the first time. The book includes info on planning your garden -- locating your garden based on your crops' sunlight requirements, building both the basic 4-by-4 boxes and several variations for special crops and individual needs, sprouting seeds indoors, estimating planting times based on harvesting times, mixing "Mel's Mix," Bartholomew's special soil mixture, estimating how much of the mix you're going to need, and deciding what to plant in the individual sections of each box. According to the author, depending on the size of the crop, you can plant one, four, nine or 12 plants in each section--for instance, you can plant 12 radish plants in a 1-foot-square section, 4 Swiss chard, or one broccoli plant (see page 109).

A Sample Grid for Planting a Square Foot Garden


Find the Spring and Fall Freeze Dates in Your Area

  • NCDC: U.S. Climate Normals -
    NOAA offers a list of spring and fall freeze dates by state for communities all over the United States; use these to decide when to plant.

Mixing Mel's Mix

Easy for Beginners, Adaptable for Everyone

Square foot gardening, with its "container gardening" approach, eliminates weeds, controls moisture variations, and makes it easy to consistently produce healthy vegetables and fruits, and it can be adapted for a wide variety of settings. The boxes don't have to be 4-by-4 feet; they can be built 1-by-4, 2-by-4, or any number of configurations, and work well on balconies, decks, and tiny plots of land, in rural, suburban and urban settings. The narrower sizes work especially well for small children with their shorter arms, and Bartholomew encourages getting kids involved in this gardening method; the second edition of the book gives lots of ideas for teaching children how to grow plants.

Bartholomew doesn't just reach down to kids' level with his method; he advocates getting elderly people, who may have less flexibility or limited mobility, involved with square foot gardening. It's easy enough to put the boxes on a table or build them with legs so that even people in wheelchairs can enjoy gardening.

The approach can be as simple or as complex as the gardener wants. All New Square Foot Gardening gives advice on staggering the harvest to control the amount of produce harvested at any one time and to produce a wide variety of plants over three seasons of the year.

Jam-Packed with Tips

Throughout the book, Bartholomew throws out useful tips to help the gardener: for instance, water your garden with sun-warmed water -- the warm water helps the plants absorb nutrients more readily; choose your plants based on what you eat the most (don't use a seed catalog!); place your garden(s) close to your house, so it's easily accessible.

It may take only a few minutes to learn the basic concepts of square foot gardening, but Bartholomew offers up so many creative ideas, he provides the amateur gardener with the possibility of a lifetime of learning and experimentation.

Are We Running Out of Peat Moss?

Mel Bartholomew answers concerns about peat moss being an unsustainable resource here:


Aldene Fredenburg (author) from Southwestern New Hampshire on August 28, 2015:

Thanks paolaenergya!

Paola Bassanese from Ireland on August 26, 2015:

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Wow, this is clever! Thank you for sharing your review of Square Foot Gardening, a practical gardening idea that really makes sense in urban environments.

Aldene Fredenburg (author) from Southwestern New Hampshire on May 10, 2013:

Thanks, Writer Fox. It's such an amazingly simple idea, yet it's got so many permutations I can see people learning for a lifetime with this method.

Writer Fox from the wadi near the little river on May 10, 2013:

Such a cool idea! After reading your article, people would be nuts not to give this a try. Well done!

Aldene Fredenburg (author) from Southwestern New Hampshire on March 30, 2013:

Hi, Kidscrafts,

I've talked to a few people who have tried this, and apparently they are amazed at how much of a harvest they get. I'm hoping to find the time to do this myself soon. Thanks for your comment!

kidscrafts from Ottawa, Canada on March 30, 2013:

I love this hub! Very interesting! I will send to one of my sons who has a tiny space (and who is an engineer like Mel Bartholomew) and he has a little garden. May be if he tries this he will harvest more from his little garden! I will see also what I can try myself with these ideas!

Thank you for sharing!

Aldene Fredenburg (author) from Southwestern New Hampshire on March 07, 2013:

Thanks, prasetio30. What a great idea to use this for orchids!

prasetio30 from malang-indonesia on March 07, 2013:

I love gardening and you have great information here. I'll show this hub to my father. He has beautiful orchid garden. Thanks for writing and share with us. Voted up!


Aldene Fredenburg (author) from Southwestern New Hampshire on March 07, 2013:

Don, I am a lifelong renter, and am now going back and forth between the idea of building a Tiny House (first-time tiny-homeownership) or finding a retirement community I can live with. I'm leaning toward the Tiny House at the moment -- maybe a Tiny House retirement community makes sense!

I suspect I'll be working til the day I die, so "retirement" might not be the right word.

Don Bobbitt from Ruskin Florida on March 07, 2013:

Actually, we spend months searching and visiting before we found one with the amenities that an active retireee would require.

Therea re so many 55+ communities out there that are just a little better than Trailer Parks, so you really do need to do your homework.


Aldene Fredenburg (author) from Southwestern New Hampshire on March 07, 2013:

Thanks, Barbara. That's great news about how much food you've gotten; I'm looking forward to a productive gardening season!

Barbara Badder from USA on March 07, 2013:

I've done this before and gotten so much food it was unreal. Great hub idea.

Aldene Fredenburg (author) from Southwestern New Hampshire on March 07, 2013:

Hi, Mary 615 and Don,

I'm glad you enjoyed this; I am hoping to really get going on this project soon myself.

Mary, I'll check out your composting Hub. I suspect I'll be going the commercial compost route this summer, but it looks like it's really doable in succeeding growing seasons.

Don, how do you enjoy your 55+ retirement community? We baby boomers must be in the process of redefining that particular residential setting. . . .

Don Bobbitt from Ruskin Florida on March 07, 2013:

Great way to grow someof your own food.

I am retired in a 55+ Community in Florida, and I think I will adapt this to my small back yard area.



Mary Hyatt from Florida on March 07, 2013:

Great Hub. I have done this type of gardening before and I like it very much. It saves space (and your back!)

I am anxious to start my veggies now. I have my compost all ready to go (I wrote a Hub about composting).

Voted UP and shared.

Aldene Fredenburg (author) from Southwestern New Hampshire on February 26, 2013:

Hi, Vicki,

It's an intriguing approach, that's for sure. I hope to use it myself this summer. I can see where it would be great for people with limited mobility.

Vickiw on February 26, 2013:

I used this a few years back, and it was really good, especially if you have limited space. But now I use more space. It is used in our community gardens here - in fact we have one on a table for people in wheelchairs. I'm sure this will be of interest to a lot of people.

Aldene Fredenburg (author) from Southwestern New Hampshire on February 25, 2013:

I know; he's still plugging and generating new ideas after over 35 years! I bet he didn't know when he retired from engineering that he had his *real* career ahead of him. Thanks for the comments, Jim.

Jim Miller from Wichita Falls, Texas on February 25, 2013:

Glad to see old Mel is alive and kicking. I remember his original TV series, then he fell off my radar.

Aldene Fredenburg (author) from Southwestern New Hampshire on February 13, 2013:

Thanks, Gail! I want to use the vertical gardening techniques to grow (baby) watermelons; that would be a hoot!

Gail Meyers from Johnson County, Kansas on February 12, 2013:

This is a great idea! It really does look easy and fun. Voted up, useful and shared.

Aldene Fredenburg (author) from Southwestern New Hampshire on February 10, 2013:

Thanks, Stephen; sounds like fun, doesn't it? Better than weeding rows and rows of veggies all summer.

Stephen Parker on February 10, 2013:

Kudos to the author! Extremely informative article offering unique, innovative and practical gardening techniques!

Aldene Fredenburg (author) from Southwestern New Hampshire on February 10, 2013:

Thanks, Jane and pdast7; it looks like an easy and fun technique; I'm gearing up to try it this summer.

Theresa Ast from Atlanta, Georgia on February 10, 2013:

Great Hub and an absolutely wonderful approach to gardening. Thank you for sharing Mel Bartholemew's approach with us.

Jane Holmes on February 10, 2013:

This is a great hub. I didn't see it because it went into my Spam file. I have reset that so it will come up now. You did a great job with this one.

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