Tuesday, April 26, 2011

All New Square Foot Gardening


Apparently this is a sequel!? For those of you that didn't know, there was not only a previous book, but a PBS series as well! How did I miss all that?

This book was a birthday present I received a couple of years ago and I'm finally getting around to reading the entire thing. It's one of those books I've look over a few times. Took a peek at the pictures and read a few of the 'tips'. Now, I've taken the leap and I'm in. I'm learning all about how to 'square foot garden'. What is the difference between square foot gardening and 'regular' gardening, you ask? Mostly the layout of a garden. Instead of 'wasteful' long lines of vegetables you squish them all into a grid type system that is a foot square!

From what I've read, I am essentially doing that already. My current garden out back is about four feet long by one foot wide. I have managed to fit in a good variety of different plants and managed to grow lots of vegetables over the years. The closest thing I have to a garden philosophy is what I call 'shove and cram'. Not a strict theory, but, what I have done is to never followed the recommended spacing of plants found on the back of seed packages. Out of necessity, I have to organize my garden in the most 'efficient' way...and ignore the 'rules'.

Mel's square foot theory sounds a lot like mine, only more technical and 'proven'. He has experimented and found that you can throw out the old way of gardening, in long lines, by condensing your garden into little square plots. The traditional long, spaced out lines of plants use lots of space and fertilizer and end up causing a lot of waste, weeds, and work (hard, laborious, time consuming...he went on and on in the book). While, the little squares use soil better, are easy to keep tidy, and grow just as much stuff...using 80% less space! What a wonderful new idea.

And, Mel is not shy about reinforcing that this is a wonderful idea. He makes good use of his proof points and any stats he has come up with, using them every chance he gets. I'm guessing on average 1.25 times per page. He also makes good use of little boxes in the margins to further highlight his idea. By the end of the book I'm guessing you have been exposed to that '80% less space' stat 232 times. You may think I'm stretching the truth...and I guess I am a little, but, you get my point right?

Mel also has tips that he shares, typically in a little box with his picture in the corner and labelled "MEL SAYS". They are usually a little story or tip about something relevant to the topic on the page. There are also 'penny pincher' boxes, that share tips on saving money. Most of them say the same thing along the lines of, go to a construction site and ask for free wood. This is repeated half a dozen times in the book. The best one: (paraphrasing here) Go to a construction site and ask for the foreman. Tell him (yes, a him) that you are building a square foot garden and need some two by fours. Ask them nicely if they can cut the boards to four foot long. They probably will. Are you serious Mel?

Not to sound too obnoxious but '80% less space' could have been used to explain the entire concept. Following the environmental theme that is mentioned in the book Mel should have condensed the book into the size of a magazine...I'm sure that would have provide more than enough room and save many many trees.

I do think the idea behind this book is great and I know it works. It even makes you think outside the box, which is a bit tough in the gardening world which is apparently steeped in tradition. Being critical of proven farming methods that people have been using for centuries is a bit tough. But, Mel has convinced me.

Furthermore, the writing is upbeat and even...fun. It's a good read, especially considering it is a gardening book. Even though there is a lot of repetition, there is a lot of good information. Even if you don't end up following his method down to every last detail (as prescribed) there are many small things you can and use in your own garden. Or, at the least Mel plants the idea that gardening can be done in a different way...you let it grow from there.


*It would be wonderful to read outside on a lovely day with inspiring things around such as a composter and some free two by fours.

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