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Gardening by the square foot.


Mel Bartholomew of OldField, New York, gardened all his adult life. But not until he retired from engineering and ran a community garden did he ask himself: Why do gardeners use antiquated farming methods that often lead to unwelcome results? He set out to devise a no-work, foolproof, small-space, continuous-harvest garden method that would work for beginners and experts alike.

Euclid would have lovedMel's solution--the Square Foot Garden, so-called because the garden is built in a series of squares. Each 12" X 12" square holds a single species of vegetable, herb, or flower. The number of plants in each square depends on the particular variety, the size of the plants at maturity, and the distance they should be planted to develope properly. Follow the rules on the seed packets as though you were planting in rows. Peppers, for example, require 12 inches between plants; therefore, a pepper plant is placed in the center of a squre.

The one-foot squares are groupedin four blocks. Each block, planted with a different crop, contains 16 squares. The number of blocks planted depends on how many people you want to feed. Thus you control the number of blocks, what is planted in them, and when. You have a continuous harvest because you plant only what you can take care of and eat. Bartholomew calls this "controlled planting."

This continuous replanting procedurealso makes it simple to plan what you will plant next. As you harvest a square, add humus and fertilizer and turn over the soil. Take a look around the garden to see which blocks will be ready for harvesting within a few weeks, then make a decision about the next crop to plant.

The Square Foot Garden yields thesame harvest as a comparable single-row conventional garden--but in only 20 percent of the space. One block will produce enough salad vegetables for one person all season. To avoid overplanting in each block, Bartholomew suggests single-seek sowing rather than the old practice of sowing the entire seed packet. "The single-seed method produces a stronger crop that matures earlier," he says.

In his book Square FootGardening Bartholomew gives exact instructions for establishing the Square Foot Garden, including the special techniques of companion planting, crop rotation, succession planting, and interplanting. He recommends building firm walkways between the blocks and never walking on the soil.

Maintenance time is minimalwith a Square Foot Garden. Bartholomew suggests spending an hour per week on each block. This includes weeding, watering, cultivating, and pest-control chores as well as time to plant new squares.

A Square Foot Garden canbe beautiful. Bartholomew likes to mix flowers and herbs with the vegetables. "I do this for two reasons," he says. "One, they are pretty. Two, you will enjoy your garden more if you take a bouquet of flowers into the house, go to it more often, and take better care of it."

Perennials, bulbs, and annuals inthe Square Foot Garden are planted in what he calls "double-deck and triple-deck gardening" methods. Begin with bulbs planted deep to come up in the spring, or with herbs, and follow these with a spring crop of vegetables. As they die out, plant a summer crop of flowers--they you'll have a continuous harvest of vegetables, herbs, and flowers.

Bartholomew's idea has workedwell: Thousands of Americans have converted their conventional gardens to his system. "And most of the public gardens in the country have now converted part or all of their gardens to Square Foot Gardening," he says.
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Author:Faris, Charlene
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Apr 1, 1986
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