>Square Foot Gardening: The Good, the Bad, and the Dirty

>My gardening goal this season is simple: use the existing space more efficiently for a better yield. No expansion of the space, no new additions, just do more with my current patch of dirt. The timing was right: I ordered the new and updated Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. The subtitle is Growing more in Less Space! It sounds like a perfect fit for my goal.

Well, yes, no, and maybe.

The good: Mel’s philosophies are sound.

The introduction should be required reading. In it, Mel explains how he came to develop this small-space, low maintenance method for backyard gardening. Much of the how-to advice that follows is based on this introduction.

His compost advice is great. He makes composting sound simple, which it is, and offers suggestions to improve the quality and the balance in very easy ways.

If you’re looking for low-maintenance, reasonably small time investment, and limited frustration factor, read this book. He’s very realistic about gardeners who have very little time for daily garden maintenance (i.e. weeding).

His methods have been demonstrated successfully over many years and in many different settings. The Square Foot Gardening (SFG) method is applicable in many planting zones and yard sizes: even apartment decks.

The bad: The book reads like an infomercial, and an old-fashioned sexist one, too.
“Without a grid, your garden is not a Square Foot Garden.” Okay, Mr. Bartholomew, what is it? Do you mean that unless I plan to construct the full box/grid plan, I shouldn’t bother? I hope that’s not the case. There are many good ideas in SFG that I can apply without doing the whole enchilada.

On building a compost bin from pallets: “Women tell me they love this because it involves no tools, wire cutting, equipment, or familiarity with construction.” Mel, Mel, Mel. It’s the 21st Century! Would it surprise you to hear that I, Daisy, wife & mother & groundskeeper of Compost Happens, teach science? That I handle wire cutters when I prepare lesson plans in electricity? The All New Edition of SFG really ought to be bias-free.

The dirty (dirt is good, remember): I can integrate many of his concepts into my existing garden.

However, I refuse to feel pressured by the multitude of exclamation points! I will not be intimidated by statements like, “You’re not using authentic SFG if you don’t!” Mel knows gardening, and Mel knows people. If I can ignore his patronizing tone and his high pressure sales writing style, there are good concepts in this book.

Overall opinion? Buy it on sale, buy a used copy, or get one on Paperbackswap.com. I bought it new, and I’ll probably pass it on to a friend or through PBS. It’s worth the read; just don’t let yourself get sucked into the pseudo-hypnotic “You must! You must!” Trust your experience and knowledge, and adopt the SFG ideas that work for your own garden.

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5 thoughts on “>Square Foot Gardening: The Good, the Bad, and the Dirty

  1. >This is a great post – I love your humor when you address the sexism, head on! I taught high school science too – and hated being told what to do (by the administration, parents, students etc). I haven’t read this book, but bet that the “you must” part would drive me nuts. Can’t I estimate what a square foot is in my garden bed and then follow the principles from there? Great post!

  2. >hahahaha… great post! I love Mel because of how my dad pseudo worshiped him for a summer. We didn’t have the money for boards, but he made raised beds anyway. Well, that was the summer of ’93… our garden was the only one that stayed above water! I bought his book a couple of years ago and am finally building a not-really-square-foot-garden-because-it-probably-won’t-have-a-grid this summer. I probably will only use it for the Mel’s Mix recipe and his suggestions for how close to plant things.

  3. >I probably should get this. Thanks for the recommendation.

    It would be good to see what he says about how close to plant things. I always cheat and put stuff closer together than what it says. This year I’m trying interspacing smaller stuff between bigger stuff (except for the corn we planted, which I’m not putting anything in between).

    Joe

  4. >I felt this way about the book “Gardening West Of The Cascades” by what’s-‘is-bucket Solomon. It is supposedly THE book to reference if you’re gardening in the PNW but his tone was very patronizing and I finally couldn’t take it. Don’t care if he’s an expert or not.

    Oh man- most women I know kick ass with tools! He’s been living under a rock I think.

  5. >I can't stand patronizing tones in books. As a freelance editor, I can't help but think they should hire someone better to look at their work.

    Also, I'm reminded by these comments of a time in grad school when I caught my landlord as he was leaving the neighboring property and asked him to come check out the stove's weird sounds. He told me he didn't have his tools with him. I told him he could use mine and he scoffed–so I told him if I didn't have the tools he needed, he could come back the following day. The first thing he said when he saw my tools and toolbox? "They're not pink!" (And yes, he was able to fix the stove right then & there with my tools.)

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