Monday, March 31, 2008

It's Hip To Be Square

Huey Lewis hit it on the nose, as did Mel Bartholomew, author and inventor of Square Foot Gardening. Mr. Bartholomew was formerly a civil engineer, specializing in efficiency. After he retired, he decided to do some volunteering in the community by starting up a community garden. After the abysmal disaster that turned out to be, he decided to rethink how we traditionally have gardened and see if he could do it better. His first book was published in 1981, followed by a weekly PBS show, teaching the method in schools, and then he formed a non-profit organization. He did another brief stint on t.v., then looked at the twenty years of square foot gardening and re-wrote his book and changed some of his methods to make it even better. His book that was put out in 2006, "All New Square Foot Gardening" is even better than the early 80s version. I read them both. And I watched a video he put out after he published his book in 2006. I'm a nerd.

In my defense, it is a really cool way to garden. His revolutionary ideas use 80% less space than a typical row garden, hardly have any weeds and don't require you to till your ground. You can make portable gardens and have them close to your house, if you have the sun for it. You make a 4'x4' box out of untreated wood that you can either put on the ground, or drill holes in a sheet of plywood and put on the bottom to make it portable. You fill the box with 8 square feet of "Mel's Mix" which equal thirds of compost, peat moss and vermiculite. He also says that if you have a hard time finding peat moss or vermiculite you can garden in just compost. You don't use any fertilizers, so this is completely organic way to garden. There's much more to this, but you'll have to read the book. You grow large, climbing or spreading plants vertically. You can grow crops year-round. You can feed the world with this method!

Okay, so probably not feed the whole world, but not for Mel's lack of trying. His newer book comes across a bit self-congratulatory, as he writes about how incredibly awesome his method is. It's littered with people's testimonials, but the book is nothing compared to his website. When I read some reviews on Amazon about his book, that was the chief complaint. Well, shoot, if that's the only bad part of it, it's still worth reading. People also complained about the difficulty of finding vermiculite, but I found two garden centers where I live that carry it, so I don't know what the big deal is. Plus, he says it's ideal, not necessary, so quit your whining, reviewers. Sheesh.

I didn't think I would end up writing about any of the gardening books I read because most of them were completely intimidating. I felt like I needed a degree in horticulture in order to successfully garden. Most of my gardens start out as elaborate drawings on graph paper and end up as overgrown frustrating weed patches. This book gave me hope that it's possible to have an easy, beautiful, bountiful garden. I'll let you know how that works out for me.

Now if it could just quit snowing.


  1. Yes and thanks to you, I have read his website and learned a lot!
    Thanks for the tip and the review

  2. Sounds interesting - I might give that a try in our new place.

    I'm not a fan of publications that self-aggrandizing and full of testimonials. However, my chief complaint with his site is that the color choices are burned holes in my retinas. Can you get more garish?

    I'll check it out regardless!

  3. Yes, I found his website to be painful and largely unhelpful. But the information in the book is awesome.

  4. That sounds interesting. I like the idea of using compost though. I want that to be a future project of mine...making my own compost. Especially since we are eating so many more fruits and vegetables.

  5. He also has a chapter on how to make your own compost that seems pretty simple. That's on my to-do list.