The New Method
After a few years of experimentation, I came up with the square foot method, a system so simple a beginner can catch on in just a few hours. It takes only 20 percent of the growing space of a conventional garden. Drudgery is out, for by eliminating 80 percent of the space you automatically eliminate 80 percent of the watering, weeding, fertilizing, and all the other chores that get people very discouraged by mid-summer. Taking care of that remaining 20 percent becomes so easy that it's hard to convince old-timers that it works. In fact, I don't even try to convince them anymore.
It's the beginner, the person who has always wanted to garden, the person who tried but gave up because the work became drudgery—it's those approximately 45 million Americans I want to reach, to show them how easy and fun square foot gardening is. Through the weekly national PBS-TV show, this has happened. Oh, I still get an occasional letter from someone, one of those old-timers (I don't necessarily mean old in years, just by habit and attitude) saying it just won't work, it's too easy. So I say they're probably right (but don't tell the millions of Americans who are already enjoying their square foot gardens).
While I was experimenting and developing the square foot system, I ran into a lot of people who were having trouble making ends meet. This was in 1975, in the days of a national recession. We had high unemployment and extreme inflation, and the price of gas shot up from thirty cents to over $1.30 per gallon. I kept thinking that one answer would be for everyone across the country tostart a home food garden as they did during World War II. But many people came up to me and said, "You know, I was a kid in the forties. My parents made me work in our Victory Garden, and I've hated gardening ever since."
Even though our Victory Gardens may have helped us win the war, they also helped give gardening a bad name. Memories of hoeing long single rows of corn and beans, getting hot and dusty, lugging pails of water, picking and shelling peas until we could scream... it was just too much.
Why Grow So Much?
Which brought me to my next question: why did we grow so much and why was it all ready to harvest at the same time? There must be a better way to garden. We're still being taught by most experts to grow crops in long, single rows, and now the latest fad is double or triple rows or even wide rows, as if a single row fifteen feet long didn't produce enough lettuce all at once. What's a home gardener going to do with thirty heads of leaf lettuce in one week? Now we're supposed to grow triple rows and raise ninety heads. Come on, America, let's wake up and thfowall that lettuce back at the experts.
Single row gardening is merely a hand-me-down of commercial farming. All those single rows with a three-foot path between them, on both sides, no less, were planned so the tractor could get in.
But most Americans don't own tractors and don't even want to, so why waste so much space? If leaf lettuce can be planted six inches apart in a row, why does the next row have to be two or three feet away? It doesn't, of course.
How It Works
Square foot gardening offers you a controlled method of planting and wastes no space. Your garden has several four-foot squares of planting space, each with an aisle all the way around it. You reach into your planting area, you don't step on it. By walking only in the aisles, you keep your growing soil loose and friable, instead of being packed down.
Then you work your garden one square foot at a time. If one square foot of radishes (sixteen) isn't enough, you plant two square feet and get thirty-two radishes. It's that simple. If one square foot of ruby lettuce (four heads) isn't enough for one week, plant two square feet and get eight heads. Cabbage is larger than lettuce and each head requires a square foot, so plant the same number of square feet as you want cabbage.
If a cutworm gets one or two of those plants, have a few extra transplants standing by, or plant a few extras, just in case. But not a whole thirty-foot row of them. If you feel you can accept the loss of one or two plants, then immediately replant that square foot with another crop. Either way, your garden will remain full and continually productive with every square foot being planted, grown, harvested, and then replanted with a second and even a third crop. Depending on your choice of crops and your area of the country, you might get four or five crops per year from every square foot.
Controlled planting means a controlled harvest: four heads of lettuce a week, nine bunches of spinach, sixteen radishes, one head of cabbage.
This is more in keeping with today's way of shopping and eating. It just doesn't make sense to grow more than you need, then to hurriedly try to can, freeze, or worst of all, eat' all those extra vegetables.
That's the basic idea of thesystem. There are some adaptions we'll discuss later for growing a cash garden.
As I was developing, testing, and perfecting my square foot system, the economy kept going downhill, and folks were having it harder than ever. I began to wonder. Why not have a small, local home business selling vegetables? Why should farmers grow crops in one state and ship them in refrigerated cars clear across the country when the same produce could be grown locally and delivered fresh just a few miles to its destination? It seemed logical that combining square foot gardening with the concept of selling vegetables locally could provide a solution to the economic crunch we're all hearing about.
But how to sell, and to whom? That was the next question. As a businessman, I knew you had to have a good market or you didn't have a business. It doesn't matter whether you knit sweaters or grow spinach, if there isn't someone, or better yet a lot of people, who want what you're producing and are willing to pay for it, you have a hobby, not a business.
So I sat down and approached the problem from the purely business standpoint. Since the first step usually is to see what others have done, I checked all the books I could find on selling garden produce. What a collection. They all promised dramatic results, including cash, but I soon found out that they weren't very practical. One was a collection of a company's magazine articles over the past ten years, put together as the chapters of a book. Boy, was that outdated. Another went into great detail on how todesign and pave a parking lot for a roadside stand. Can you imagine how few people would find that information useful? The rest of the stories told how someone took a bushel basket of huge zucchinis into a restaurant and asked, " How much will you give me for this?" The answer was usually $2.50.
So again, I knew I had to find a better way, one that just about anyone could use. I first named it backyard farming, and I set out to prove it would work. After raising the vegetables in a square foot garden, I tested every market I could think of, with the sole exception of driving down the street in my vintage truck, ringing a bell. After making a few adjustments and a few more trials, I came up with the requirements for a foolproof system and named it Cash from Square Foot Gardening.
To make sure it wasn't just a fluke, or the results of my own ambition and drive, I rented a vacant lot and hired three people to grow and sell the vegetables. They were a newlywed young woman, a middle-aged housewife, and a retired gentleman who had been a concert pianist. They worked with great enthusiasm and quickly learned the system. None was an expert gardener. In fact, two were fairly new to gardening, but they all loved what they were doing, and it worked. The results: more than $1 per square foot profit. And remember, this was several years ago. It worked so well that I knew I would have to write a book about it, to share this experience with all who love gardening and want to earn some extra money from their backyards.
This book would have been written four years ago, except for one thing-television. No, not because I spent too much time watching football games or soap operas, but because I ended up on PBS television with my own weekly program. Some say that the book should have been called, "How to Get on TV When You're Just a Retired Gardener Puttering in Your Yard." It's been extremely exciting, but very time-consuming. When the TV show was on around the country year-round and everything was goingsmoothly, I knew the time had come to write this book.
But before I began writing I tested again to make sure the idea was still good. This time it was in another part of the country and with different people. It worked even better and with dramatically increased results. The profits were up to $4 and $5 per square foot.
I'm so convinced that this method works in any part of the country that I want you to try it. You don't have to make it a big deal or a large operation. Some people start with only one crop, such as radishes or lettuce, while others start small with a selected variety of salad crops. The main thing is if you wanted to do something like this, now is the time. If you list all of the conditions of your present situation, and then review what you consider is a perfect part-time business, I think you'll agree that this could be it, whether you're looking for extra money, companionship, involvement, success, or simply something to fill your leisure time.
This system will work for you while all others are impractical for most people. Why? This is the first system designed by a businessman rather than a farmer or gardener. All the others tell how to raise crops, then, almost as an afterthought, tell how tosell them, suggesting a roadside stand or a farmers' market, methods that just aren't practical for most gardeners.
This system is aimed at a common, readily available, yet virtually untapped market. That makes it a sound business. The second point is that by following the square foot system, you eliminate 80 percent of the drudgery, work, expense, and space of conventional gardening, yet reap the same amount. That makes it practical for just about anyone, young or old, busy or with time to spare.
To those of you who ask, "Why square foot gardening?" the answer is, "Because it is the most foolproof way of growing the largest and most uniform harvest in the least amount of space with the least amount of work." If you do not have a square foot garden, read the next chapter in detail as well as the original Square Foot Garden book. If you are already growing a square foot garden, the next chapter will bring you up to date with the innovations and improvements as well as the special adaptations for cash growing.
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