Gardening On The Square: More For Less



Rod Ross shows one way to do Square Foot Gardening at Plant Fair Nursery — a method that gives more yield in less space, with less watering and little weeding.

Gardening in less space with less water, less work, less digging — sounds almost as easy as going to the grocery store. That is what the Square Foot Gardening method promises. It also promises more yield and easier access.

It also produced the biggest audience Plant Fair Nursery has had for one of its gardening seminars.

Plant Fair recently hosted Rod Ross, a certified Square Foot Gardening trainer, at a free seminar, and its little, outdoor amphitheater was standing room only.

Ross and his wife Brenda tried the Square Foot Gardening method developed by Mel Bartholomew last summer. They were so impressed with it, they took a three-day seminar to earn their certification as trainers last fall.

Ross told the audience Square Foot Gardening has been around since the 1970s. Bartholomew, a retired engineer, decided to try gardening. He used the traditional row method at first and came to the conclusion it was too much work. Being an engineer, he studied the matter and developed Square Foot Gardening.

“It has no digging, no weeding, no tilling, no worries. The work is simple and easy,” Ross said.

The method is also organic, efficient and more fun, he said.

“You get a greater yield in a smaller space. In two 4-by-4-foot plots you can grow enough in a season for a couple,” he said.

The garden plot

The plot size of 4-by-4 is recommended because a gardener can usually reach a distance of two feet easily. Ross said the spot for the plot should be sunny with good drainage and the more level the better. Once the spot is selected, build a 4-foot-by-4-foot frame, six inches deep (or purchase a kit from Plant Fair Nursery; Bartholomew’s Web site also has kits).

Ross said the best framing material he has found is redwood fencing.

When the frame is in place, Ross suggests putting down a weed cloth and then filling the frame with six inches of a special gardening “soil” called Mel’s Mix, which is one-third coarse or medium vermiculite, one-third peat moss and one-third blended compost that uses five different materials. Mel’s Mix can also be purchased already combined — Plant Fair carries it (a bag of 2 cubic feet of the mix is $12.99).

With the frame in place with the weed barrier and soil, the next step is to create a grid.

“The grid makes it a Square Foot Garden,” Ross said. In the 4x4-foot plot, mark out foot squares, creating a total of 16 squares. He uses thin strips of finishing wood.

When the grid is marked, you start planting with the “zip, zap, bing, bing, bing” method.

“Just eyeball it,” Ross said. He then demonstrated with making a slight indentation in the center of one square — if only one plant is going in the square — marking off the square in quadrants if four seeds are going in it, and so on.

Here, he recommended going to to see what Bartholomew recommends in regard to plant density. He said just about everything one would need to know about the method can be found on the Web site.

Ross said he prefers to use bedding plants instead of seeds, “Because I’m lazy.”

Ross said it is suggested that a slight saucer indentation be made around each seed/bedding plant where the water can collect.

He said Bartholomew’s recommendation for watering is to fill a five-gallon bucket with water and let it warm in the sunlight before it is put on the plants. Ross waters once a day generally, but if it has been especially warm and dry, he might water twice.


There are only two tools needed to harvest with the Square Foot Gardening method, Ross said.

“You just need scissors and a garden trowel,” he said. Use the scissors to snip off the produce that is ready to use. When the plant is spent, pull it up, loosen the soil where it was growing (not the entire area) and add a trowel of compost and plant something different.

To protect from visiting pests Ross puts a chicken wire canopy over his plots.


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