Give us a square foot and we'll give you a year's worth of produce

Give us a square foot and we'll give you a year's worth of produce Come grow with The Bee Garden By Pat Rubin - prubin at sacbee.com Published 12:00 am PDT Saturday, April 19, 2008
http://www.sacbee.com/165/v-print/story/871558.html
Simple ideas are often the best.
And Mel Bartholomew stumbled upon a simple, even slightly revolutionary, idea a little more than 25 years ago when he coined the term "square foot gardening."
The retired engineer and dedicated gardener from Utah urged home gardeners to convert their traditional row gardens into raised beds filled with rich, friable soil; to divide each bed into 1-square-foot grids; and then to plant something in every square foot. When you take one crop out, add a handful of compost and plant something else.
There's no need to let the ground lay fallow if you follow this method, he says. And in our mild Northern California climate you can glean produce from a small vegetable garden all year.
While Bartholomew's method was aimed at people with little space, I thought his principles were sound even for folks with large gardens. After all, why waste space, energy and resources unnecessarily?
Well, I'd previously converted the vegetable garden to raised beds because they organize the garden so beautifully. Instead of facing a 40-by-20-foot expanse overrun with weeds and volunteer seedlings from the previous year's garden, I had a dozen beds with permanent paths between them. The raised beds make the garden seem manageable
and less daunting. And while I consider myself a fan of Bartholomew's square foot gardening method, I had never followed his suggestions to the letter.
That's what's different about this year's Bee Garden. I purchased the square foot gardening grid for the garden as well as the tomato/pole bean/cucumber support Bartholomew developed. I consulted his book to determine exactly how many carrots, radishes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, lettuce and basil to plant in each square-foot space. I devised a plan for the garden and in early April planted all 32 square feet of the 4-by-8-foot bed. I started radishes, carrots, basil, lettuce and cucumbers from seed, some sown indoors, others directly in the garden. I bought starter plants of eggplant, tomato, arugula and peppers. The tomatoes went in along the north edge so they wouldn't cast too much shade on the rest of the garden. The four varieties of eggplant are in a 4-square-foot block, and I put small support cages around the basil and arugula so they'd stand up straight instead of flopping over their neighbors.
Then I stepped back and tried to imagine how the plants would grow and change over the coming months, and saw a beautiful garden full of promise.
And I'm more impressed with Bartholomew's technique today than when I first read his book in 1981.
That's because his method makes you think. It makes you carefully scrutinize every square foot of the growing area and force it to be productive. It makes you a tidy gardener ? a goal most of us yearn to attain but fail at some point as the weather heats up or insects destroy a crop. To be successful with Bartholomew's method, you can't allow the arugula to lay its lax stems across the eggplant. You can't let the basil flop over the lettuce. The cucumbers and pole beans need to go up, and not over the peppers and carrots.
So as I look at 32 neatly planted squares, each one framed by a white plastic grid, I have high hopes for the 2008 Bee Garden. I'll share my successes ? and failures ? along the way. I'll check Bartholomew's book to learn just how to train a tomato vine to a single stem so it stays in its allotted square foot. Once I harvest the last of the radishes, I'll add a trowel of compost and plant something else. Ditto the carrots. I'll harvest basil regularly ? we'll have lots of pesto ? so it doesn't encroach upon its neighbors.
And as beautiful as vegetables are in the garden, I'll take Bartholomew's advice and grow a square or two of flowers, just because I can.
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John Jeavons' "How to Grow More Vegetables" uses the same strategy of inter-planting (companion planting) to conserve space and block out weeds. (Amazon.com product link shortened) d_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid08675755&sr=1-1
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