Last time we talked about how Mel Bartholomew took a traditional row garden and little by little changed things until he created the Square Foot Gardening method.
He settled on a raised bed that was 4’ x 4’. Of course you can make your beds any width and length you want to suit your particular situation, but he suggests it be no wider than 4’ and that it be no longer than 16’ in length as you will tend to try to hop over to the other side instead of walking around it if it’s TOO long. The photos show one of the reasons Mel wants the beds kept 4’ wide or less—it’s easy for almost anyone to comfortably reach in and work regardless of their stature.
Another benefit of the 4’ measurement is that lumber is commonly sold in 8’ lengths so it’s easier to build the boxes with fewer cuts if they are 4’ wide. Remember, if it’s up against a building or fence, it should be no more than 2’ wide. Again, 2’ divides evenly into that 8’ lumber. Those of you familiar with lumber will realize that the finished interior of the raised bed will be a little less than 4’, but trust me, the plants won’t mind.
After thinking about the raised beds, the next consideration was the soil. The soil in my yard is full of hard clay, and I grew up in Nevada where the soil was very sandy. The solution for BOTH problems is to add organic material (manure, compost, etc.) to the existing soil. NOTE: Most soils only contain about 3 or 4% organic material. This means the first step in a traditional garden is soil improvement—tilling, adding organic matter (a.k.a. amending your soil) and fertilizer to the entire garden plot. The average home garden in America is 20 x 35 or 750 square feet so that’s quite a lot of work and expense just to make the soil “good enough."
Mel wondered why you couldn’t have great soil from day one no matter where you live. We will get into Mel’s perfect soil mix at a later date.
Getting back to the size of the average home garden (750 square feet), you can get the same harvest from 140 squares using the Square Foot Gardening method. That is fewer than nine 4’ x 4’ raised beds. To get an idea of how many squares you need. One 4’ x 4’ bed gives an adult salad vegetables. And additional 4’ x 4’ would be for supper vegetables. If you want, a third 4’ x 4’ box would give you extras for sharing, freezing, canning or other form of preserving. A child needs 3’ x 3’ boxes. But remember, children grow up, so you may want to consider still giving them a 4’ x 4’ box and growing flowers in the extra squares.
Last week we talked about the location of most home gardens. Since it takes up so much room, it’s usually relegated to the very back of your property—along the fence line with your neighbor. Why? Because gardens can be unsightly, especially in mid-summer when the weeds start taking over.
Because a Square Foot Garden is so compact, and is easy to maintain, you’ll want to put it close to your house. It’s also easy to split your garden—a couple boxes near the back door, a long narrow bed along the side of your house, maybe a couple up on legs on the deck. The possibilities are endless.