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"Go deep/' they said. "Don't bother/' I said.

For years, experts said your garden soil had to be improved at least

12 inches deep; some even said 18 inches. But my experiments were \V7 t

We owe much proving otherwise, especially when 1 used good homemade compost as one-third of the mix. I asked myself, "If six inches of perfect soil is °T our tOVC OJ

good enough for windowboxes and commercial greenhouse benches, gardening to the why not in backyard gardens?" And why dilute it by adding the mix simplicity of SFG."

to poor existing soil? Why not use this perfect soil mix in your garden ,, . r ^

r ° - r . —Manja from Oregon and forget all about the soil underneath? Well, the experts still pooh-poohed the idea. But guess what? It works! Of course, everyone realizes that you couldn't do that in a huge, old-fashioned, single-row garden or even in raised bed gardening, but it can easily be done in a small-space Square Foot Garden!

("an you really grow vegetables and flowers in only 6 inches of soil regardless of how good it is? I've been doing it for the last ten years in my display and home garden, and it really works. Of course in my lectures when I mention the 6 inches, I can see the audience squirming in their seats, heads shaking and hands rising with the usual question, "How can you grow long carrots or potatoes in just 6 inches of soil?" It's a good question, so we developed a special feature of SFG where you build a 1-foot X 1 -foot box one foot tall for crops that grow in the ground.

Why only 6 inches deep? Why not be safer and go 12 inches deep? The main reason is there is no need to do so. In addition, it is much cheaper, easier, and less work. Just think—it is one-half of the cost and one-half of the work, so why double the depth? But if you're still skeptical go ahead and use your time and money to go 12 inches deep, but it's really not necessary.

The next question is, "How come all of the experts have been so wrong for so long?" It is not that they were wrong, it is just everyone in the garden industry had trouble thinking outside the box or even questioning all the traditional methods. Stuck in a rut they were and in a single-row rut at that!

Here's another startling revelation I am going to make. It is going to shock and dismay the gardening world, but you are going to love it.

5 No Fertilizer—You Don't Need It

Square Foot Gardening needs no fertilizer ever! How can that be? After all, the gardening industry is built on using fertilizer. The original SFG book explained all about fertilizer—organic and chemical types—how to measure and rate it; all about NPK and what that means; and the list goes on and on. That was necessary because at that time we were just improving our existing soils, and they still needed fertilizer. All the experts agreed. But my own experiments and thoughts about an all new out-of-the-box idea of not improving your existing soil but rather of starting with a perfect soil mix was working so well that I began to consider another new idea—that you don't need to add fertilizer. The compost was providing all of the nutrients and trace elements the plants needed. Besides, compost was all-natural and couldn't burn or harm the plants. The proof of the pudding was to just look at my garden. It was one of the best gardens I have ever had and has remained so ever since.

This was when I was able to simplify my original book's formula for the perfect soil mix to only three ingredients: V3 each of peat moss, vermiculite, and blended compost and completely eliminate the use and expense of fertilizer. So much simpler than the original one-page formula and what a savings!

Well, again, all the experts pooh-poohed the idea and still do, but guess what? It works! I haven't used any kind of fertilizer in my home, display, or demonstration gardens for more than ten years. If you go to our website at, you'll see how bountiful and beautiful the gardens look. And this is not just gardening the first year but year after year after year. Just think—no more tilling, no more digging, and no more fertilizer! The only thing we ever add to our soil is a little more compost. Is this great or what?

Now all we need is some way to hold or contain our aboveground

6 inches of perfect soil mix. So, how about a box?

6 New Boxes-Above the Ground

I think having your garden contained in a box adds uniformity and structure, not only to your garden but to your life. Once limits are placed on almost anything, you will find it much easier to take care of and therefore you will be more comfortable with it and enjoy it more.

The basic 4x4-foot bottomless boxes are easy to build out of common lumber, bricks, blocks, or even stone. These small boxes, filled with the perfect soil mix, will grow five times as much as the same space in a single-row garden. So, you don't need many of the boxes. There are no weeds to hoe. No existing soil to till. Why, once your boxes are built and your perfect soil is added, there is virtually no work at all.

If you place the box on top of the existing ground, you eliminate all of the usual gardening concerns and work of improving your existing soil. It also eliminates the great deal of gardening knowledge that you would need if you were going to be concerned with using your existing soil. You 11 see as we go along that there are so many advantages of not using your existing soil. You 11 wonder why no one ever thought of it before. The 4X4-foot boxes have been chosen because its a size you can walk around and easily reach Once you build the basic 4X4 SFG into to tend your plants; this eliminates the need for stepping on box and establish the grid, you re the growing soil and packing it down, which then eliminates the ready to plant.

Wooden Boxes Plant Starting Vegetable Box

mi need to dig or loosen it. See how everything in SFG is interrelated and works so well together?

For bigger gardens, you can always put some of the boxes end to end to create a 4X8-foot or a 4X 12-foot garden box that you will still be able to walk around, yet reach in. If your box is located next to a wall, fence, or building, keep the boxes only two feet wide so you can reach all the way to the back. They can be any length. Boxes can be made from any type of wood. The best is free wood that is found at a construction site. Just ask the foreman of the project if you can have the scrap 2 X 6-inch boards. If you are going to buy your lumber, boxes can be made from pine or fir for the least cost, or cedar or redwood for longer lasting use. If you decide to treat or paint the wood, be careful not to paint inside the boxes where the Mel's Mix comes into contact with the wood; you don't want anything harmful to leach into the soil. I do not recommend using pretreated wood for the same reason.

7 New Aisles-Comfortable Width

The width of your aisles is another improvement I have made for the All New Square Foot Gardening method. It's important more for comfort, safety, and looks only than for efficiency. If you notice the garden on the cover of the original Square Foot Gardening book, there were no boxes and the aisles were 1X12-inch boards separating the 4x4-foot areas. I designed it that way to be the most space-efficient but, as someone once said, "This is one time when Mel was too efficient!" But the wood was free, so hey, can you blame me?

Straight and Narrow

The 12-inch board was difficult to maneuver on, and you had to keep a pretty good balance to stay upright. I found that the average gardener needs to have more room to move about on than those 12 inches. In addition, you couldn't get close to each 4x4-foot planting area if you wanted to use a wheelbarrow, garden cart, or harvest basket. Can you just picture two people working in that garden with 12-inch wide paths, and one says to the other, "Excuse me, I need to get through." Can you imagine the answer to that?

The Ideal Width

So what is the ideal aisle width? Two feet is still a little tight, so I recommend a minimum of three feet between your boxes. It turned out that for accessibility, kneeling, working, and harvesting, the ideal distance was 3 or even 4 feet between boxes. In fact, if your garden has several boxes, you can vary the aisles. Play around with some ideas on paper—then, once your boxes are built (and before you fill them with soil, I should add), you can move them about until you get them just right. Think of it as arranging furniture in your yard.

Dress It Up

The aisle space between your boxes can be left in grass or covered with any type of ground cover. In our TV show, we tried all sorts of things to create some very interesting looking aisles. At other times, we just laid down weed cloth and covered it with materials that were comfortable for walking on such as crushed stone, compost, or ground bark.

Square Foot Garden Grids

Forget what the experts have been telling us for years, fill your boxes with just 6 inches of Mel's Mix, add a grid, and start planting! You won't be sorry; in fact, you'll be amazed at the results.

8 New Grids-Prominent and Permanent

When I wrote the first book on Square Foot Gardening more than twenty-five years ago, I advocated laying out a 12 X 12-inch grid for the garden. Then, in my travels around the country, I heard a lot of people say, "Oh, I do Square Foot Gardening," or "I have a Square Foot Garden." But when I went to see them, the size was right but they had no grid!

In our introductory film, we show the people in our class how a 4 X4-foot garden looks without a grid and ask them, "How many plants could you plant there? How many different crops?" They draw a blank because it looks like a small area that isn't going to contain very much. As soon as we lay down the grid, they suddenly light up and say, "Aha! I see! Sixteen spaces, so it'll take sixteen different crops! As soon as one square is finished, I can add a trowel full of compost and replant that square foot with a different crop without disturbing anything else around it."

See how the grid defines a Square hoot Garden? Without a g?'id, its hard to visualize the harvest.

Square Foot Gardening Grid

There are many, many interrelated reasons for the "different crop in every Square Foot" rule, and you will see and understand these as we go along. They deal with nutrients used, limiting over-ambitious planting, staggered harvests, weed and pest control, beauty of the garden, companion planting, simplification of crop rotation, cutting planting time in half, and many more factors that result in a very unusual and innovative gardening system. When you have no grid, your garden has no character. If you're having visitors over, they may not even notice your garden if its laid out in plain beds. But if its a Square Foot Garden with very prominent and visible grids, they will say, "Hey, whats that in your yard? It looks great!"

Grid Materials

In the past, whenever I used string or twine as a grid, it eventually got dirty, rotted, and finally broke. In addition, you had to drive in nails to tie the string to, and it just never looked good. I talked with many others who had the same bad experience so I experimented with all kinds of different materials for making grids. If I could condense thirty years of experience into my current advice, it would be—don t use string or any other floppy material. A firm, rigid, prominent, and visual grid permanently laid on every one of your boxes will make all the difference in the world as others see it but mostly in how you use and enjoy your garden.

With a very visible grid, your garden takes on a unique character. It will not only look spectacular, but you'll be able to immediately visualize your planting squares. Without a grid, your garden is not a Square Foot Garden.

9 New Idea—Don't Waste Seeds

New Seed Planting Idea

When I first started gardening, I found the traditional method of pouring out an entire packet of seeds along a single row was so wasteful that I couldn't believe that's the way we've always done it. Didn't the pioneers have to carry their own seeds all the way across the country? They couldn't order a new batch over the Internet from a seed company every year, could they? Didn't they teach everyone to be frugal and not wasteful? Why would anyone tell us waste a whole packet of seeds along a long, lonely, single row, especially knowing that we would have to go back and thin out 95 percent of the sprouted plants in order to leave only one plant every few inches. Did no one ever think, "Let's just plant a few seeds every 3, 4, or 6 inches?" I guess it took someone outside of the garden industry to think of it.

When your seeds sprout from the pinch of seeds you planted in your squares, snip all but one of them.

Sfg Trowel Compost

In the first SFG book, I advocated single seed planting at the proper spacing for that particular plant, but many people found it tedious and even difficult, especially with small, unusually shaped seeds. Besides, as someone was once teased me and said, "If a packet of leaf lettuce contains twelve thousand seeds and I only plant four in each square foot, how old will I be before it is time to buy another packet?" Shell have to leave her seeds in her will!

So back to the drawing board I went. How about just a few seeds in each hole—just a pinch of seeds? After testing this idea with many people and checking their dexterity and ability to pick up just a pinch (two or three seeds), this seemed to be the answer.

A Snip, Not a Tug

But 1 was against thinning—thats when you pull out all the seedlings except the one plant you want to grow to maturity. Thinning is a lot of work and also seems to disturb the roots of the remaining plant, and that's not good. But then I thought of an absolutely perfect solution. If you plant just a few seeds—a pinch—in each hole and two or three seedlings come up, you just take a pair of scissors and snip off all but the strongest one. That eliminates any disturbance of

The best feature of the All New Square Foot Gardening method is that it makes gardening accessible to everyone.

Square Foot Gardening Plants Square Foot Gardening Plants

the plant you want to keep, and you're not tempted to replant the others. The only thing you need to do is just muster the courage to make that initial snip and it's all over.

So now we've been able to improve the single-seed planting and, at the same time, end up with one strong plant in each location, which is just what we wanted. At the same time we're not wasting a lot of seeds. After planting that square foot, put the packet in safe storage, and if stored properly that packet will be good next year, and the year after, and the year after. Many seeds last up to five years if stored properly. (So, how come no one ever told us that before?)


WEATHER-To protect it from:

EVENTS-Move it to:

m Frost

■ Enhance or decorate for a poolside party or barbeque

■ Thundershowers

■ Behind the garage for a start-up nursery

0 Hurricanes

M Hail

SITUATIONS-Place the box:

■ Snow

■ On a tabletop for a sit-down gardener

m Wind

■ In the garage if you're expecting extreme weather

M Heavy rain

H On the deck to clear the yard for a football game

89 Intense sun

PERSONS-You can:

CLIMATE-Move your SFG box for:

■ Take it to Grandma's for a birthday gift

■ More shade for a spring crop as the weather gets hotter

■ Take it to school for show-and-tell

■ More sun in early spring

■ Take it to class for teaching SFG

■ More shade in summertime in desert areas

■ Take it to school for the science fair

to New Opportunities—Tabletop Gardens

Make Them Portable

Now that we no longer need to improve our existing soil—and SFG takes up only 20 percent of the space for 100 percent of the harvest—and we need only 6 inches of lightweight soil mix, we can build a 4 X 4-foot box, and add a plywood bottom drilled with drainage holes. This means you can carry it to any location you want, even moving it to suit weather, climate, an event, a situation, or even a person's needs, abilities, or disabilities. If the size or weight seems too much for you to handle think about using a 3X3-foot, a 2X2-foot, or even a 2 X 4-foot box for ease in moving.

lames, Bring Out the Good Boxes

Smaller sized SFG boxes can become wonderful patio boxes, and its even possible to plant several so there is always one or two with flowers in full bloom or salad crops ready for harvest. The rest can be kept somewhere less visible. With a system of rotation, there will always be a few garden boxes ready to bring out to show off. There's nothing like the visual impact of a beautifully planted box filled with vegetables, flowers, and/or herbs. If you're giving a talk or doing a presentation on gardening, the "seeing is believing" technique will cinch your talk. And just think, you won't have to answer the usual question about SFG, like "How on earth can you grow a garden in only 6 inches of soil?1 Or, "How can you grow without fertilizer?'' Now, you just point and smile!

Best of All

So there you have it—the ten new major improvements to the Square Foot Gardening method. Each one makes the entire system more productive, the work much easier, and the cost of gardening lower. At the same time, the beginner finds gardening much easier to understand.

I think Square Foot Gardenings best feature is that it now makes gardening available to just about anyone you can think of, regardless of their age, circumstance, location, ability, or disability—anyone, anywhere, can now garden using the Square Foot Gardening method.

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  • sofia
    How many square feet of bricks can be laid in a day?
    9 years ago
  • anna
    Are grids in square foot garden 12 inches?
    9 years ago
  • Cailin
    How deep should a square foot garden bench?
    8 years ago
  • daniel
    How to grow plants wooden boxes?
    8 years ago
  • Bernd
    How many squares are there image?
    8 years ago
  • bisrat
    How deep to make square foot garden?
    7 years ago

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