All New Square Foot Gardening

Squarefoot Gardening.jpeg I decided to try my hand at gardening again after last having a vegetable garden in college 35 years ago (which I remembered involving a lot of work). After doing some research online I found Mel Bartholomew's squarefoot garden method appealed to my inner geekdom. Bartholomew's method relies on building and gardening in four-foot by four-foot plots/boxes. He then provides details on how to plan the optimal mixture of soil, fertilizer, and supplements to match whatever you want to grow in them. After using the method for three years I am a sold. The method assumes you know nothing, does not require you to be very handy, is inexpensive, takes up a minimal amount of space and water, is very practical and detailed, can easily be entirely organic, requires minimal weeding, and, best of all, yields lots of fresh veggies. What more could you ask for? The other books I looked at required tilling, fertilizing and weeding rows or did not focus on the basics. --John Cowling All New Squarefoot Gardening Mel Bartholomew 2006, 271 pages $12 Don't forget to comment over at Cool Tools and/or submit a tool!


  1. I just bought the book last week, spent the weekend making a pair of 4×4 wood boxes. Very easy to read, absolutely love his approach, It makes a ridiculous amount of sense. Highly recommended. Of course, I haven’t actually grown anything yet…

  2. Haven’t read this new version, but the old version is a very valuable aid to small scale food production. I also recommend “Let it Rot” by Campbell.

    It’s easy to spend so much on soil amendments, water, framing, bed covers, seeds, etc. that you’d be economically better off supporting your local CSA or buying organic at the supermarket. But if you use compost and can figure a way to use freecycled materials, you can knock the price down to seeds, water and your time.

  3. The first year I tried this I went with 2/3rds live plants and a 1/3rd seeds. WOW, did I over buy. Every thing grew; everything produced.

    This year its almost all seeds except for a few tomatoes and almost everything is popping up already.

    Easy to water, very little weeding.

  4. We are square foot gardeners and used this book to start our boxes three years ago. For five months of the year, we get about 90% of our produce from our own boxes.

    We are 100% organic and very happy with the yields and crops we get. Some things have flopped (strawberries!) but some things grow very easily like tomatoes, squash, spinach, lettuce, broccoli, and other greens. We used to do herbs in containers successfully but we’re building a 4×2 this year for the herbs.

    I love SFG. You use minimal water, minimal space, and you get maximum results. Limiting your plot to one or two plants of each variety means you get a lot of variety in a small space and you don’t end up with bushel upon bushel of zucchini your family can’t possibly eat.

  5. I tried this a couple years ago and it was a miserable failure. I found the plants didn’t thrive in such close quarters, and the size of the plants were quite stunted.

    Last year I did a ‘lasagna garden’ – essentially a raised bed made by laying down heavy layers of mulch and compost. The plants I put in those beds were a bumper crop! I’ve never had tomato plants grow taller than me, and more lettuce, spinach, chard and onions than I knew what to do with. Because the beds were mulched and the plants had lots of room to spread out, I actually watered less than the sq ft garden – in fact I only watered a couple times during the driest part of the summer.

    I’m sure the sq ft thing works for some people, but in my experience you’re better off giving the plants a bit more elbow room.

  6. I have this book. It is worth skimming next time you are at the bookstore, but IMO, don’t waste your money on buying a copy.

    Everything in the book is either obvious, or trivially discoverable.

  7. I have been doing this for three years now and have had nothing but success here in South Texas. I love this method and recommend it to everyone I can.

  8. I tried this with a 3’3′ box and got lots of Broccoli, Green Peppers, Brussels Sprouts, Carrots, Beets, Strawberries, Peppermint, Lavender, and even some nice flowers for the table while we ate our fresh produce.

    I know nothing about how to grow things, but this worked great. The Strawberries were very aggressive – they kept sending secret agents into the other boxes and starting new Strawberry plants there so I took them out and gave them their own piece of dirt out of the box.

  9. Oh – semipro tip: Don’t put too many seeds in each box. After the shoots start coming up leave the three or four strongest ones and pinch out the rest. Everything grows better with some elbow room.

  10. I’ve been using this for over ten years now and am almost evangelical about it. The success rate I’ve enjoyed has been magnificent. I’ve been working on blending Mel’s methods with those in Gaia’s Garden and the permaculture works of Bill Mollison, planting not just by the square foot but in guilds, using companion plantings, and microrotation. I really can’t say enough about Mel Bartholemew and his book – they changed the way I garden. I do agree that you have to try it out for yourself, and see what results you get, and that your results will of course vary depending on location, soil, climate, and the other usual variables. Adjust spacing and such as necessary according to each year’s results for the next year’s planting, as you would with any gardening method.

  11. also look into wicking beds, really easy for watering, and they can be combined with square foot gardening.

  12. A few videos teaching how to do Key Hole Gardening are interesting in YouTube.
    I always had good vegetable gardens, last summer the plants were covered with flowers but no bees and nothing to harvest …… It was a very strange feeling.
    I am doubtful if I should waste my work again this Summer.

  13. I love Square foot gardening, but most of what Mel talks about is just obvious. I love raised beds.

  14. Will there be a metric conversion for us EU folks? Because I’m pretty sure that gardening in feet, square or otherwise, is illegal here.

  15. I had a lot of fun building my little “kitchen garden” last year, using the square-foot gardening methods as a guide. Like most people, I was overly-ambitious, over-planted, then neglected my crops once the “hard work” was finished- but I still managed a decent harvest of some of the easier-growing (cold-loving) crops. This year, with the construction project behind me, I’m looking forward to a second go-round, using more of my space for those hardier/cold-tolerant vegetables (and supplementing them with the occassional store-bought pepper or tomato)… and perhaps experimenting with edible landscaping (starting some berry bushes and grapes in the neglected flower bed that we “inherited” from a former owner of the house).

  16. Mel’s insitence on interplanting different vegetables is not always good advice. Peppers get out-competed by almost everything since they need heat to get big. Last year I boldly ignored his advice and planted 16 peppers in a box (one square foot per plant) with amazing results. The pepper leaves shaded the dirt keeping the soil cool and the plants produced for months.

    Like any gardening technique it is incumbant upon the gardener to take liberties.

  17. I have an older edition, and while I think it will give some new gardeners some ideas to try, it has a lot of obvious stuff and some advice that will be abandoned after a season or two of trying it that way.
    I have converted my tilled up garden to a series of paved walkways about 2 feet apart. Never
    step on the soil now to compact it and I turn the rest with a shovel in less time than it takes to get the finicky rototiller running.
    The other half of my veg gardens are raised beds. I have tried 4×4′ but I’ve found that 4×8′ is superior. One for peppers, one for carrots, one for cabbages, one for lettuce, one for sugar snap peas. A few of them are mixed but if your goal is to provide enough food to avoid the grocery store and have some to freeze, then the one foot squares are just a dumb inconvenience. Also, I make them a lot higher than the author suggests, and when I add a few new ones each spring, the contents of the compost bins get mixed with the black dirt I fill them with.
    I’d recommend his techniques as a way to introduce small children to raised beds, but practicality will show that a bigger raised beds and a bit less diversity in each bed will be much more efficient and productive.

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