Living in the city, I often ask myself how much more I can grow. I have a large garden by most city standards, at around 25’x80′. Huge, I know. You’d think I’d be growing enough to feed a small village. Sadly, though, that is not the case. Long rows of plants leave lots of extra space around them, and this extra space needs to be weeded. Add to that the fact that all the nutrition I mixed into the soil is equally blended across good growing space and pathways. Not very efficient.
The reason I like this All New Square Foot Gardening book so much is that it deals with the inefficiencies and presents a better way. Sure, if you live in the country and you’ve got space to spare and want to grow food for all your neighbors, this may not make a whole lot of sense for you. But city folk, who are increasingly becoming more and more interested in growing their own food, do not have the luxury (or burden?) of space.
Mel Bartholomew, who wrote this book, suggests that 80% of the space in a traditional garden is wasted. He popularized 4’x4′ garden boxes that are marked with a square foot grid. Some plants will take a whole square foot, such as tomato or pepper plants. These each get their own square. Smaller plants like radishes don’t need that much space, so they get planted 16 to a square foot. Lettuce will grow 4 to a square foot. Essentially, in the whole garden box you are not wasting any space. And because it’s 4’x4′, you can reach to the middle of the garden without stepping in it.
This is key – don’t compact the soil. Start with amazing soil – not soil dug out of the ground, but a nice potting soil plus composted manure and other blends of compost. If it stays nice and fluffy, the roots of the plants will have the three things they need – air, water, and nutrition – and will grow very well. If you are not gardening in raised boxes but do have a garden, try to designate areas that are ‘no-walk zones’ – never ever step in them. When you add nutrition, add it only there, and not in the pathways.
Other reasons for gardening in smaller and more intensive space include saving water and growing what you can eat. Large gardens with long rows of cabbage just might produce more cabbage than an average city family can eat. And who needs 10-20 zucchini plants? One is usually more than enough, as those with gardening friends can tell you.
I like this idea so much that I’m basing my product line on this reasoning. I will have 4’x4′ garden kits for sale, as well as smaller 4’x1′ planters with bottoms for those growing food on balconies.
If you’d like to read more about Square Foot Gardening, you can check out the official website. I will also be posting more about this in the future.