The Square Foot Gardening Story

  • ou have forever changed garden ing for me."
  • Kanas from California

Community Garden

Well, we tried all these new ideas in the community garden the next year, and, guess what? They worked! Everyone understood and grasped the Square oot Gardening concepts quickly and easily, and since most of the participants were beginning gardeners who were well acquainted with the disastrous experience from the previous year—including the overgrown weeds and mounds of zucchini and rows of cabbage that ripened all at once—they were very willing to try another option. That next year, 1976, we were able to enjoy a very attractive and well-run community garden using the newly developed Square Foot method. The Bicentennial year of 1976 was a huge celebration across the country and we also celebrated my youngest sons July Fourth birthday. I decided to do three things: one for my country, one for my family, and one for myself. The official presentation of Square Foot Gardening was made at a hometown event that included a school project that I had organized. All the schools grew sunflowers, which were planted along Main Street as a beautification project. We had an all-day celebration of displays, talks, booths, and demonstrations on the new Square Foot Gardening method I had developed. I announced this was my gift to the country—a better way to garden.

Sharing Ideas, 1978 to 1980

Because of the overwhelming success of the project and the unique SFG method, many people encouraged me to write a book sharing my ideas. First, the local newspaper asked me to write a garden column. Then I began writing and producing pamphlets. Soon, magazine representatives started coming out to photograph my home garden and to write stories about my new ideas and the SFG method. The media attention grew and grew, so I thought, "Wliy not write a book?" I drafted an outline and sent it to two publishers, which both accepted the "how to" book on successful gardening using the new

SFG method.

Garden Consulting, 1981 to 1984

At the same time, I also began doing gardening consulting work for several companies. You can imagine how "retired" I was now. One was a fence company, and, using their products, I began to develop vertical gardening methods, originally for tomatoes but later for all vine crops. Another company wanted to start a gardening tool catalog. So my job was to search the world for unique and unusual tools, test and evaluate them, make recommendations, and then arrange the writing for sample descriptions for the catalog. During this time, I wondered why we needed so much stuff just to garden. And, as you'll learn, I discovered that you don't.

PBS One Minute, 1981 to 1986

My publisher's predictions for my book were very modest, so they didn't promote my book the way I had hoped or even send me out for talks and appearances. Fortunately, some of the companies I was consulting for did send me on tours and allowed me to show the book and talk about Square Foot Gardening if I also explained and demonstrated their products. This proved to be a very valuable and rewarding period, and it wasn't long before a local PBS television station asked if they could send their camera crew out to my garden to shoot "A Minute in Mel's Garden" segment for the evening news. I was delighted to have the opportunity to share the SFG method. The response to that short segment was explosive. The television station received so much mail and so many telephone calls that they wanted to tape a show for broadcast every week night. So, once a week they came to my garden and taped five different segments. That again proved so popular that later they asked if I would be interested in a thirty-minute national show. You bet I was!

Thirty-Minute PBS TV Series, 1982 to 1986

To make a long story short, my show aired the following year on PBS and was picked up by enough stations along the East Coast to pay for itself. The following year I started my own production company and distributed the thirty-minute Square Foot Gardening show throughout the entire PBS system. Within three years it was picked up by every PBS station in the country and received the highest rating of any garden show. This involved a lot of travel, but it was all very exciting. My oldest son, Steve, became the show director, and we traveled around the country to different viewers' gardens that were particularly worthy of sharing with our audience. We were also invited to Disney World to shoot during the winter, an opportunity we couldn't pass up. All of this excitement and activity made it a very rewarding and exciting period of my life.

More Television Opportunities

In addition to all the above activity and travel, many other opportunities occurred with TV networks like CNN out of Atlanta, Georgia, CBN in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and several appearances on ABC, Good Morning Boston, Good Morning Philly, and many other TV spots all around the country. All of that brought in a ton of mail (whoever had heard of e-mail back then?) and activities with companies interested in developing SFG products including some big companies such as Rubbermaid. This was exciting and eventful, yet at times stressful and exhausting. Through all of it, my wife courageously took care of everything at home and even put up with—yet never quite got used to—the film crews coming once a week to film the PBS TV show. It was bad enough to have the constant activity outside in the garden, but they even invaded her kitchen to do the cooking segment. Since such a big part of gardening is in the harvest and food preparation, I convinced PBS to let us have the first cooking segment on a garden show. Now, of course, they all do that.

TV Book Tag

I originally offered the program to PBS free of charge if they would give me a one-minute book tag at the end of each show. At that time, PBS was commercial-free and had no corporate sponsors. But they were finally convinced that it would be worthwhile, allowing me to be the first person to have a book tag on a PBS show. As a result, a tremendous number of orders for the SFG book were received. We had to set up a toll-free number and a fulfillment company to process these orders. After six years, the operation became fairly routine and the challenge of creating something new was over. At the same time, some PBS stations started talking like they should share in the profits of the book sales, yet they still wanted the show free. Rather than compromise the initial agreement, I decided to take the show off the air and retire for the second time. This time, my retirement was "for sure."

Discovery Network 1989 to 1991

A few years later, an agent came to me and said that he could get the TV show back on the air. I responded that I didn't want anything to do with it; I was happily retired. But when he offered to do all the work and take care of all the details, I thought, "Well, what harm could there be?" (We never learn, do we?) I finally agreed, and he sold the show to the Discovery Channel. It ran on that network for two years and then on the Learning Channel for another year. After a time, I again took the show off the air. I decided that that was it— I really was retiring for good!

California Schools, 1996

Five years later, when I was traveling in northern California, someone invited me to come see a school garden. "It's a Square Foot Garden," they explained. I went and thought it was so impressive. The children were really enjoying the gardening experience, and the teachers loved it so much that I began to think that perhaps I really shouldn't be retired—I should be out teaching SFG to school children. So, again,

One of the truly great features of SFG is bow easy it is for children (of all ages!) to participate.

Teacher Foot Story

I came out of retirement (you know the saying "fools rush in") and established a nonprofit foundation to design a program for teachers explaining how to teach Square Foot Gardening to students. The foundation also built and distributed numerous gardens throughout the country. We called the program "A Square Yard in the School Yard" since the children's gardens are sized at 3X3 feet.

Utah Schools, 1998

I his phase of my life also involved a lot of travel. As I developed new staff members, we went from school to school donating gardens all the way from Maine to Florida and on to the California coast. When offering Square Foot Gardening to schools in Utah, we tried something new. Rather than going from teacher to teacher and school to school, we went straight to the state board of education. They liked our idea so much that they said, "We'll take a garden for ever)' single grammar school in the state of Utah." We gulped and said, "Well, let's see what we can do."

Thanksgiving Point, 1999 to 2001

Over the next two years, we were able to do just that. Next, the school board asked if I would write a lesson plan for Utah teachers and students. I did, and it has now been modified for home schooling as well. We were then invited to put up a public display Square Foot Garden at Thanksgiving Point near Salt Lake City. Thousands visited the garden and, since Salt Like City is home to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the LDS church or Mormons), SFG gained the attention of many LDS church leaders. They invited the foundation to teach SFG at the LDS Missionary

Training Center in Provo, Utah. We showed missionaries how to instruct people living in Third World countries to become more self-sufficient by growing their own food using the Square Meter Gardening method, which we had converted from the Square Foot Gardening method.

Square Meter Gardening: SFG Humanitarian Efforts Go Global, 2001 to 2002

Opportunities for the SFG foundation just kept on growing as we became involved with additional humanitarian organizations that sent aid overseas, many of which began including the Square Meter Gardening system in their programs. SMG was designed to appeal to families in Third World countries and improve nutrition by adding fresh vegetables to their diets. It is something that can be readily done, as the soil that is used in this program is pure compost since peat moss and vermiculite is either unavailable or too expensive to obtain overseas. An added advantage is that making compost cleans up the environment and gets all the family members involved.

SFG International Training Center in Homestead, Florida

Since gardening in Utah is at a standstill all winter, the logical direction to go that time of year is south. Through our work with several international organizations headquartered in Washington, D.C., the opportunity came to spend the winter in southern Florida where we set up an SFG International Training Center in Homestead. This proved very educational for us because the weather, plants, and techniques were much more like Central and South America. We provided a three-day training seminar for the people heading to those countries as representatives of various humanitarian organizations. This enabled Square Meter Gardening to be taken to quite a variety of people and places.


When working with people overseas, the first step is to teach them composting. Since most Third-World countries are located in tropical regions of the world, it's very easy to find materials that can be used to generate compost. One of the biggest successes in Square Meter Gardening is a project developed in India. It illustrates how easy it is to offer meaningful foreign aid to countries without spending millions of dollars. It is also a successful way of encouraging independence rather than dependence on governmental bureaucracies. This success story began after a priest named Father Abraham received the Square Foot Gardening book. He read it and said, "We can do this!" As a result, he now operates a sizeable, well-organized 6-acre training center where hundreds—perhaps thousands— of people have come to learn the Square Meter Gardening method. The people are learning to successfully grow crops they can not only use at home but can take to market where they earn twenty times more than they did previously growing crops the traditional single-row way.

Single Rows Throughout the World

Believe it or not, many people around the world still garden and grow crops in single rows. When I was in the mountains of Nepal, I observed the farmers growing corn one spindly stalk spaced 1 meter (approximately 3 feet) apart from the next spindly stalk, with the next row 1 meter away. Through the interpreter I asked why they space and plant their crops this way. The answer, as you can probably guess, was "That's the way we've always done it. My father taught me, and that's the way his father taught him."

Just think of all the good that will be accomplished when Square Foot/Meter Gardening is adopted all over the world. It will allow families to grow five times as much for their own use, thereby improving their health through better nutrition; family life will improve with the new abundance. It will draw families closer together as they become involved in a viable and productive project, and they can sell the excess at market. The woman of the family is our primary target for this project, as she is most concerned with the children's nutrition.

Certified SFG Teachers

We hold workshops to train teachers and people who want to help others learn this simple, easy, inexpensive method that anyone, anywhere in the world can do. Just think—what if every woman in the world started just one Square Foot/Meter Garden? Those nine crops could improve the nutrition of her children; many could even expand by planting more gardens for larger harvests and even to grow cash crops. One o our trainees who took our course for certification then went on a mission to teach schoolchildren music at orphanages in an African country. At the same time, she started many SFG projects; her stories of success were heartwarming and inspiring.

Garden of Eden

After enjoying three very productive years with our SFG Display Gardens at hanksgiving Point, Utah, we had to make a decision because developers were going to build a new building where our gardens were located. Rather than move the gardens to another location, I decided it was time to get away for a sabbatical to do some planning and writing and discovered the beautiful, small mountain community of Eden, Utah. I intended to only stay and write for a

Yc our method has gi iven me the confidence to try veggies again after a few feeble attempts."

—Anne from Florida few months. Knowing I would need some clerical help, I placed an ad in the local newspaper and received an overwhelming response from people wanting to help with SFG. Those initial few months stretched into years, and Eden became an appropriately named home base for spreading SFG throughout the world. Through the development of the Square Foot Gardening website and e-mail contacts, the world has literally become my next-door neighbor.

The Story Goes On And On

Recently, a representative from Guadalajara, Mexico, e-mailed asking for one of our representatives to visit and advise him in the development of a large urban SFG project that would teach and enable women to help their families. A really big and impressive project has been started in Sri Lanka. Others have recently written from Ukraine, Mongolia, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, and Africa requesting training in the SFG method because they see and know what a great difference it can make in their respective countries.

I receive reports from successful SFG projects throughout the world. Such a report came from one of our certified teachers, a professor from Tennessee, along with photos of her international project in Ecuador. Letters come from people in Switzerland, France, Germany, Spain, Argentina, and China volunteering to help translate our website and book into different languages.

The viewer comments sent to our website at www.squarefoot are phenomenal and the stories are not only heartwarming, but some are very funny. One lady said the only good thing she got in her divorce was my SFG book! Another told of the family bond that was forged as he sat with his father (now deceased) watching my PBS TV show in the early c80s. He still has his fathers original book. An entire SFG generation has passed by since I started. Boy, am I getting that old? And now in the electronic age, we have the website and e-mail to replace the TV show and snail mail. Back then, we offered a free garden tips flyer and a packet of seeds (my favorite, marigolds) if viewers sent in a SASE. Do you younger gardeners know what that stands for? Ask your parents. We received ten thousand letters and sold one thousand books every week. What a hectic, exciting experience! But now that's all history, and its time for an all new SFG book for a new generation of gardeners.

Why an All New Square Foot Gardening Book Now?

The answer is simple—I have made so many new improvements to the original basic SFG method. Most of these improvements are so major they make the first SFG book obsolete. Just turn the page and see why All New Square Foot Gardening can help you with your garden!

How Many Pennies Square Foot
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  • Janice
    How many square metre were planted in 2011?
    6 years ago

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