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Modified Square Foot Gardens

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Modified Square Foot Gardens

Post  erbarnett on 9/4/2010, 10:06 pm

In looking at some of the photos of the Square Foot Gardens (SFG) and in reading the forum, it would appear that many of the gardeners are not fully following the recommendations of Mel Bartholomew in his new book of SFG. For instance, I have noticed that:

Some gardens do not use the grid.

Some gardeners are planting in rows, not in squares, and not in multiples of 1, 4, 9, and 16, using the thin to specifications on the back of the seed packet.

Some people have drastically changed the Mel's Mix formula to include additives not really recommended by Mel (such as using perlite or potting soil).

The basic 4 feet by 4 feet grid is not used and has been modified to something very different.

Some are not using completely organic methods.

I would think that the above five are the essence of a SFG. It would seem that some gardeners have simple raised beds with special soil, and not a true SFG. Raised beds always do better than non-raised beds for several reasons: the drainage is good and the soil heats up much faster in the spring and fall. Raised beds have been around for many years. The SFG is relatively recent (early eighties, I think).

Any comments?




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Re: Modified Square Foot Gardens

Post  boffer on 9/4/2010, 10:34 pm

I agree with your observations. Thank goodness we're not a herd of sheeple on the forum!
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Re: Modified Square Foot Gardens

Post  middlemamma on 9/4/2010, 11:43 pm

IMO, I think what Mel gave us was the POSSIBILITY, the thought process, a beginning that allowed people like me...who would have NEVER attempted a row garden EVER the option of something step by step, promising and simpler.

Of course we don't all do it like Mel....because what worked for Mel, and what Mel would reccommend sometimes isn't available to a person, or they don't have the funds to do it just so, or maybe the space, or any number of reasons. And for some people they just need to expand and build on the foundational blocks Mel gave us in the book. Those creative folks have my applause...cause I can copy real well but not think it up so much.

While raised beds have been around many many years, the idea that ANYONE can grow a garden, and it can be EASY has not been. Mel gave growing things a sense of simplicity for me. Some matter of fact talking in a book that made me think...well JEEZE LOUISE...I CAN DO THIS!

Mel's book and his garden in a box saved my life quite possibly. There were many a day prior to my husband grabbing my hand and pulling me, feet slowly and begrudgingly shuffling behind him to home depot, then out to the garage to build, and then out to the yard to mix soil (soil that felt so good in my hands I never imagined my little OCD self really enjoying the feel of soil in my fingers) that I sat on the edge of my bed holding the case to my sig sauer in my hands and really contemplating that maybe my kids and family would just be better off with the life insurance money than with me here.

I don't think HOW we garden really matters to Mel..I think he knew the joy and wonderful things that come from it and was trying to bring it to more people. He is my hero...even though I don't do EVERYTHING he says. Wink

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Re: Modified Square Foot Gardens

Post  quiltbea on 9/5/2010, 12:09 am

I answered this once but took too long evidently and lost it.
Re. Grid....
I use venetian blinds for my grid in the early part of the season, but once all my squares are planted in the bed, I remove them. I find them in the way when weeding and watering so dispense with them. Works better for me.

Re. Mel's Mix...
Some of us are on a small fixed income and can't afford to buy the ingredients for Mel's Mix so we have to do something different. We can only hope we can continue to improve our soil each year.

Re. Numbers in the Squares....
Only the gardener can determine what works best for their bed. I use Mel's numbers for most things, but I can't grow a tomato in a foot square and get the air circulation it needs so I use a larger space. I like to plant my radishes in short rows among other crops so they can get the shade they need to grow fast and tasty.

In essence, even with changes, we are using Mel's instructions. We just have to make changes to suit our beds, purses, space, and part of the country.

Thank you Mel for your books, all the hard work it took to learn this method and I hope you continue to gain new followers. Even with my changes, I consider myself a Mel Bartholemew SF Gardener. I just learned to make changes as necessary to get a good crop for me in my area and on my budget.

Here's my newly-planted broccoli seedlings early this spring with the grid which was later removed.
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Re: Modified Square Foot Gardens

Post  Chopper on 9/5/2010, 1:27 am

People are funny. I read recipes on epicurious.com and one of my favorite things are the comments. For example, let's says it is a recipe for beef stew. The comments are something like this: "Love it. I used chicken instead of beef and since I am allergic to onions I substituted celery and added 3T of hot pepper to replace the thyme and so it would have some kick..." LOL. We are all rebels at heart.

I love the main tenets of the plan. I used twine to mark my squares but they broke partway through the season, which was fine b/c I no longer needed them once things got going. I will be replacing them with something more durable next planting. I love using squares. I did my best with the soil but have been very strapped this year so have not been able to get the highest quality that I would have liked. So I have added some kickers myself - replacing thyme with hot pepper as it were.

As I have experienced this I understand the 4X4 concept and like it and would not want any longer than 4 ft - even a 4X8. But I could see for some parts of my yard and some crops where a 2X8 or 2X? would be a more practical setup. Also people have to conform to the space they have. The trick is to get the essence of what Mel was trying to accomplish.

One of the things I most like about this forum is that there is a little elbow room to play with things and make them work within the limits of your own situation. I LOVE straight MM. Wish I could afford it every single time. Hope to continue to improve my soil each year.

Not sure if that clarifies why we are such a motley crew, but hope to see you continue to jump into the fray.

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Re: Modified Square Foot Gardens

Post  LaFee on 9/5/2010, 7:30 am

As far as "ingredients" -- this is heavily dictated by location...some people couldn't find vermiculite this year, so they used perlite as a substitute (Mel says in his book that he's allergic to perlite dust, so that's why he uses vermiculite). I used three kinds of compost because that's what I could find, then supplemented with a potting soil mix that said on the bag that it contains compost and vermiculite and peat...since that's what was around, and I have issues with paying international freight and duties on *dirt*, I had to use what is available to me in my area at a price I'm willing to pay.

Grids? it's pretty clear in the book that Mel prefers slats, but he gives readers permission to use other materials as they see fit. Blinds are blindingly expensive here (pun intended)...and coated clothesline is dirt cheap (and doesn't scrape my knuckles) -- so that's what I used.

I erred on the side of caution and underplanted my squares with some types of vegetables...next year I'll plant more of them per square...

4 x 4 isn't a rule anywhere...the 4' deep is heartily recommended because the average adult can comfortably reach 2' from an edge. 4x4 is a smaller, manageable size that can be fit into more of the tucked away spaces that people sometimes have in their yards. But if I have a space 8' long, it's more expensive (in time, labor, and money) to build 2 4x4 boxes and butt them up next to each other than it is to build 1 box at 4x8. (and I'm going to build a second one that size this year, too).

So am I lockstep with the rules? No. I can't be, as above -- so I'd rather have some minor deviations from the rules and have a healthy, lovely, productive garden...than have an ailing row garden that saps my time and energy...or nothing at all.

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Re: Modified Square Foot Gardens

Post  Icemaiden on 9/5/2010, 8:32 am

I love this forum, so educational. I had to google "sig sauer " Laughing

I confess to deviating a bit from the rules and at first I felt a bit of a fraud. Then I realised that most people work with a variation on a theme, and now I feel right at home here.

I don't think vermiculite exists here so I used something else. I couldn't get the cheap battens that Mel recommends (no-one has battened walls here) so I used plastic-coated clothes line and love it. I didn't find peat moss until after I had planted and as far as I know there is only one type of compost on the market. So I used Kate's mix which is 1/3 pumice + 1/3 mushroom compost +1/3 potting compost which is enriched peatmoss Laughing

I'm very happy with my first year of two 4 x 4 boxes and plan two more next year. I might use peat moss now that I have found it - if my compost bin has produced compost by then which I doubt!

Obviously if you don't follow any of the guidelines then it isn't SFG but I think there is room to fudge it a little.

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Re: Modified Square Foot Gardens

Post  Garden Angel on 9/5/2010, 9:58 am

Cheeze it , it's the SFG police again ! ha. Smile

Middelmama, You have a good man there! thank God for him dragging you!
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Re: Modified Square Foot Gardens

Post  sceleste54 on 9/5/2010, 11:44 am

You all said it so well, I can't add a thing !! Very Happy

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Re: Modified Square Foot Gardens

Post  erbarnett on 9/5/2010, 7:34 pm

My problem is that I am way too compulsive about everything. So I feel obligated to follow the rules to the absolute letter; otherwise, I worry that that the garden will be a disaster and then I will not be able to sleep soundly at night.

I guess the main thing Mel has done is to motivate people to grow their own food, to go easy with our natural resources, to eat healthy food and a variety of vegetables, and to be frugal.

Please excuse me, but my compulsive nature requires that I keep the grid on the garden all during the growing season. Why? because the book says so!

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Re: Modified Square Foot Gardens

Post  Megan on 9/5/2010, 7:49 pm

Rules are good, and I like to follow them. But the thing is, gardening is far from an exact science... or, if it is, it is the sort of thing where I'd have to spend a lifetime to learn just a tiny portion of it. I just do the best I can, and thank goodness there are many wise people here on the forum!

I feel very strongly as you do, growing own food, back to basics. I do think, though, that it's important not to beat yourself over the head if something doesn't work out right. Thankfully we live in an era and a location where a failed crop does not mean starvation. Makes me think a lot about my ancestors, though, and even my own family back in the 70's when we relied heavily on what we could produce for ourselves.

As for the grid, I like it. My head is still halfway in row-gardening zone, so the grid is a good reminder of allocated space and the planting potential for a small area.


Last edited by Megan on 9/5/2010, 7:58 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Re: Modified Square Foot Gardens

Post  boffer on 9/5/2010, 7:53 pm

@erbarnett wrote:I guess the main thing Mel has done is to motivate people to grow their own food, to go easy with our natural resources, to eat healthy food and a variety of vegetables, and to be frugal.
:nail:

That's the most important thing in the book! As for the rest, we adapt and adjust as necessary to serve our individual situations.
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Re: Modified Square Foot Gardens

Post  camprn on 9/5/2010, 9:11 pm

For me gardening is an art as well as a science. I use what I have learned and what is available to create my masterpiece, which sometimes is simply a study. In any case, I function at the whim of the earth and with the weather from the heavens. Life is good at mealtime, with or without a grid. sunny
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Re: Modified Square Foot Gardens

Post  martha on 9/5/2010, 10:56 pm

there are worse things than being OCD about the SFG rules, for sure!

Middlemama, I am so impressed that you are willing and able to share the dark place you were in prior to SFG. I have been in some pretty dark places myself, although thank God not recently.

But I think it is important to share the bad moments in life, so that others around us know that this too shall pass.

And I am so glad you are here!
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Re: Modified Square Foot Gardens

Post  Icemaiden on 9/6/2010, 4:58 am

@erbarnett wrote:My problem is that I am way too compulsive about everything. So I feel obligated to follow the rules to the absolute letter; otherwise, I worry that that the garden will be a disaster and then I will not be able to sleep soundly at night.

Then I think you are lucky to have found SFG which has clear and simple rules to follow if you choose. Everyone is different. My daughter insists on measuring cake ingredients using a set of different sized spoons - I usually guestimate a teaspoonful based on how it looks in the palm of my hand and she looks on horrified! We both bake tasty cakes though.
Looking forward to seeing how you get on once you have all the bits and pieces organised. Smile

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Re: Modified Square Foot Gardens

Post  camprn on 9/6/2010, 6:50 am

@martha wrote:there are worse things than being OCD about the SFG rules, for sure!

Middlemama, I am so impressed that you are willing and able to share the dark place you were in prior to SFG. I have been in some pretty dark places myself, although thank God not recently.

But I think it is important to share the bad moments in life, so that others around us know that this too shall pass.

And I am so glad you are here!
+1
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Re: Modified Square Foot Gardens

Post  Wyldflower on 9/6/2010, 1:07 pm

One thing to remember, though, is that even if you are following all the rules precisely, there are factors that can strongly affect your garden. Individual plants, weather, bugs and other pests have a way of not following the rules. I think it's important to be flexible with gardening. Start with the basics, but adjust as conditions change.

Here's to a happy, healthy SFG!
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Re: Modified Square Foot Gardens

Post  Retired Member 1 on 9/6/2010, 1:37 pm

@erbarnett wrote:In looking at some of the photos of the Square Foot Gardens (SFG) and in reading the forum, it would appear that many of the gardeners are not fully following the recommendations of Mel Bartholomew in his new book of SFG. For instance, I have noticed that:

>snipped>
I would think that the above five are the essence of a SFG. It would seem that some gardeners have simple raised beds with special soil, and not a true SFG. Raised beds always do better than non-raised beds for several reasons: the drainage is good and the soil heats up much faster in the spring and fall. Raised beds have been around for many years. The SFG is relatively recent (early eighties, I think).

Any comments?


I have so many comments to make about this legalistic post, but I'll be nice and make just one:
The ONLY definition of a SFG is the grid. Period. Full stop.
And this is Mel's definition, not mine.

I have Mel's original book (1981) and have been a SFGer since the early 80's. I prefer the first book in many ways, especially the fact he usually used a 2x2 block for planting (that is actually the garden pictured on the front). It just makes more sense to me. I did make up Mel's mix for this past season for several of the raised beds, but in this hot Texas drought, I just couldn't keep MM moist in spite of watering twice a day. The SFG lasagna beds, however, stayed good and moist and the the plants produced twice what the ones in MM did. I am in the process of amending the MM with extra compost and sandy loam soil. And they will still be SFG because I use the grid.

Well, that was more than one comment, wasn't it?

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Re: Modified Square Foot Gardens

Post  Megan on 9/6/2010, 1:48 pm

+10
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Grids

Post  ander217 on 9/6/2010, 6:58 pm

I seem to agree with everyone's posts here.

Erbarnett, my garden would probably have driven you out of your mind. We had a large row garden which we had been planting for years. We first read Mel's original book and decided to try it for some plantings. Then we discovered this site, and we followed his new book for other plantings, and we sort of combined the two for still others. In my own garden this year I had SFG boxes with grids, I had SFG boxes without grids but which had grids marked in the dirt when I planted, and I had some raised beds with SF marks on the ground, and two raised beds without marks except on one edge. Why?

My 4' x 4' x 12" box was planted strictly by SFG method (except we were unable to find as many different varieties of compost as Mel suggested) and it had several different kinds of plants grown in it.

Four 1' x 8' x 8" boxes against a fence/trellis were marked off into 12" squares when planting but I didn't add grids to the top of the boxes because they were only one foot wide and it didn't seem necessary to add grids between tomato and pepper plants since only one plant was planted per foot.

One of my boxes was 1' x 8' x 8" and was planted completely to English peas. I saw no reason to add grids every 12" when the entire box was planted to one crop. I sowed two long rows of pea seeds one seed at a time, per Mel's way, across the entire box. It was sort of modifying a row garden into a SFG box, yet I still reaped the benefits of no weeds and no tillage.

We planted corn in a 4' x 10' raised bed and marked it off into square foot divisions before planting, but saw no reason to add physical grids when again, the entire bed was planted to one crop.

We planted watermelons in a 4' x 10' raised bed, and planted one plant in the middle, and one near each end. There was no need to mark that bed off into grids when only three melon plants were going into it. So, I guess we didn't actually grow our melons by SFG method, but we had prepared the bed much as Mel did in his original book, and we marked off one row of square foot grids along one side of that bed and planted one okra seed in each square plus a square of zinnias on one corner. We had another similar raised bed with 3/4 of it planted to one row of sweet potatoes every square foot in the middle, plus one row of squares of beans and zinnias on the side.

Others may disagree but I consider us to be Square-Foot gardeners. We're also Mel's old-style bed gardeners, and sometimes we combine the two methods. But one thing we are no longer, is row gardeners using a tiller and a hoe. Thank you, Mel.
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Re: Modified Square Foot Gardens

Post  camprn on 9/6/2010, 7:08 pm

belfrybat wrote:Well, that was more than one comment, wasn't it?
funny post

@ander217 wrote:
Others may disagree but I consider us to be Square-Foot gardeners. We're also Mel's old-style bed gardeners, and sometimes we combine the two methods. But one thing we are no longer, is row gardeners using a tiller and a hoe. Thank you, Mel.
+1
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Re: Modified Square Foot Gardens

Post  erbarnett on 10/1/2010, 12:47 pm

I know a man who bought the most expensive Cadillac he could locate, knowing full well he could not possibly afford it. When the paint became old, he painted it himself. When the motor finally conked out, he replaced it with a cheap Chevrolet motor. When he had a fender bender, he replaced the fender with a used fender from a junk yard. This kind of thing went on for ten years. Did he have a Cadillac at the end of that time? The answer of course is no. He had a junk car.

If a person decides to initiate a SFG, he needs to follow the rules of the game and not make any detours along the way. If too many modifications are made (for financial reasons, for sake of convenience, and so on), one does not have a SFG. One has an ordinary garden or maybe even a junk garden.

If a person cannot afford a Cadillac, he should not buy a Cadillac.

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Re: Modified Square Foot Gardens

Post  quiltbea on 10/1/2010, 1:00 pm

Erbarnett.
I beg to differ with you.

A Square Foot Garden by definition is one that is spaced in square feet. It has nothing to do with what one feeds it or how one amends it.

Some of us may not have a Mel's method garden (complete with Mel's Mix), but we certainly still have a square foot garden.

If Mel changes his formula to another type of soil amendment, will you then no longer have a SFG? I think not.

I'll incorporate Mel's Mix as I can afford it and try other things as well. As long as it works and I grow healthy, organic veggies, I'm happy.
Happy Gardening!


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I don't think so!

Post  Wyldflower on 10/1/2010, 1:08 pm

So if you can't afford to buy vermiculite (or it isn't available) you should just toss out all the other good ideas that are part of SFG? Or if you can only find three kinds of compost? Or if we use coir instead of peat moss? Maybe we can only afford a beat up chevy - does that mean we should just forget about driving?

I don't think so.

I think that most of us endeavor to adhere to the principles as closely as we can. I don't think that any of us should be told "that's not a SFG" because we bent the "rules"...

Perhaps you are a bit of a purist, erbarnett, and I can respect your efforts to do things the "right way" - but please don't disparage those of us who are making do with what we can. At least we are trying!

The bottom line is that if we try our best to use the system as outlined, and adjust where we NEED to, I think that most of us will do well - and isn't the idea to get people out there in their gardens!?!
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Re: Modified Square Foot Gardens

Post  boffer on 10/1/2010, 1:29 pm

Hi erbarnett,

You are certainly entitled to garden according to your rigid logic; that's your business. But when your logic begins to disparage the members of the forum and their gardening practices, it becomes my business. Play nice or go home.

As this thread is headed in the wrong direction, it's time to move on.

Locked.
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Re: Modified Square Foot Gardens

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