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NOTE: The birds & squirrel pictured at the top of this page and in the slideshow below are just a few that I have helped rehabilitate.
WARNING: Please do not touch a wild animal, especially the young ones. If you remove a baby from it's home, sometimes the mother is just off getting it's baby food and will be back.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Square Foot Gardening: the good, the bad, and the dirty

My gardening goal this season is simple: use the existing space more efficiently for a better yield. No expansion of the space, no new additions, just do more with my current patch of dirt. The timing was right: I ordered the new and updated Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. The subtitle is Growing more in Less Space! It sounds like a perfect fit for my goal.

Well, yes, no, and maybe.

The good: Bartholomew's philosophies are sound.
The introduction should be required reading. In it, Mel explains how he came to develop this small-space, low maintenance method for backyard gardening. Much of the how-to advice that follows is based on this introduction.
His compost advice is great. He makes composting sound simple, which it is, and offers suggestions to improve the quality and the balance in very easy ways.
If you're looking for low-maintenance, reasonably small time investment, and limited frustration factor, read this book. He's very realistic about gardeners who have very little time for daily garden maintenance (i.e. weeding).
His methods have been demonstrated successfully over many years and in many different settings. The Square Foot Gardening (SFG) method is applicable in many planting zones and yard sizes: even apartment decks.

The bad: The book reads like an infomercial, and an old-fashioned sexist one, too.
"Without a grid, your garden is not a Square Foot Garden." Okay, Mr. Bartholomew, what is it? Do you mean that unless I plan to construct the full box/grid plan, I shouldn't bother? I hope that's not the case. There are many good ideas in SFG that I can apply without doing the whole enchilada.
On building a compost bin from pallets: "Women tell me they love this because it involves no tools, wire cutting, equipment, or familiarity with construction." Mel, Mel, Mel. It's the 21st Century! Would it surprise you to hear that I, Daisy, chief groundskeeper of Compost Happens, teach science? That I handle wire cutters when I prepare lesson plans in electricity? The All New Edition of SFG really ought to be bias-free.

The dirty (dirt is good, remember): I can integrate many of his concepts into my existing garden.
However, I refuse to feel pressured by the multitude of exclamation points! I will not be intimidated by statements like, "You're not using authentic SFG if you don't!" Mel knows gardening, and Mel knows people. If I can ignore his Ward Cleaver tone and his high pressure salesman-like writing style, there are good concepts in this book.

Overall opinion? Buy it on sale, buy a used copy, or get one on I bought it new, and I'll probably pass it on to a friend or through PBS. It's worth the read; just don't let yourself get sucked into the pseudo-hypnotic "You must! You must!" Trust your experience and knowledge, and adopt the SFG ideas that work for your own garden.