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.
The topic drew the biggest audience Plant Fair Nursery has had for one of its gardening seminars.
Plant Fair hosted Rod Ross, a certified Square Foot Gardening trainer, at a free seminar March 13 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, an engineer, retired and 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 or from Bartholomew’s Web site).
Ross said the best framing material he has found is redwood fencing. He just cuts them down to four-foot lengths and nails them together. However, he is exploring using other materials. Among his sample framing this season will be a non-leaching vinyl material and the boards from discarded pallets (such as those available at the Payson Roundup, Plant Fair Nursery and Ace Hardware), which will need to be dismantled and rebuilt into a Square Foot Gardening frame.
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. String can be used, but it will rot away from the sun exposure.
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. He said the number of plants that goes in a single square foot of the grid depends on what is being planted.
Here he recommended going to www.squarefootgardening.com 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.
“Another great thing about using just one seed — though I put in two instead of just one — is you don’t have to do any thinning.”
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. “He says just use a cup of naturally warmed water, but he is in Eden, Utah, which gets a lot more rain that we do. I just water with a spray attachment on the garden hose (targeting the root area),” Ross said. He waters once a day generally, but if it has been especially warm and dry, he might water twice.
Someone asked about using soaker hoses and Ross responded whatever a gardener wanted to use was fine, except using a drip system.
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 — such as javelina — Ross puts a chicken wire canopy over his plots. There is also a cloth-like mesh that can be used, he said.
The Payson Public Library has a copy of the Bartholomew book and it can also be purchased online.