For years, I tried to grow a decent vegetable garden. It was the high cost of fresh produce — $3.50 for a few measly, wilted basil leaves; ditto for a pound of somewhat reddish tomatoes or mostly pink strawberries — that prompted me to try.
I started with tomatoes, basil and peppers (a salsa garden!). In no time, I added zucchini and cucumbers to my repertoire — even corn and strawberries one year.
But I have to be honest. My harvests ranged from disappointing to mediocre. There was only one year that my garden produced enough to share with others. I’m still trying to remember how I did that.
THERE HAS TO BE A BETTER WAY
While I love the concept of a garden that’s not only nice to look at but also produces the food we enjoy eating, I’m not 100% in love with the anxiety, pressure, guilt, backaches, leg cramps and fear of needing hip replacements.
And, while I feel that I’ve mastered weeds, I’ve failed miserably in cost-effectiveness. I shudder to imagine the true cost of the pathetically tiny bounty I’ve garnered over the years. That doesn’t mean I’m ready to give up on vegetable gardening, only that I’m ready for a new way to do it.
THE BETTER WAY
Mel Bartholomew is the genius behind the concept of “square foot gardening” and author of “All-New Square Foot Gardening.”
Square foot gardening is a practical, foolproof way to grow a home garden, whether you’re growing an urban garden or have an entire backyard. Adopting this method, you can grow vegetables anywhere.
Bartholomew, a civil engineer by profession and a frustrated gardener on weekends, became convinced that gardening in single rows because “that’s the way we’ve always done it” is a waste of time, energy and money.
He condensed his garden to above-the-ground, 6-inch-deep plots measuring 4 feet by 4 feet, which yielded 100% of the harvest in 20% of the space — without all the hard work and drudgery of single-row gardening.
100% OF THE HARVEST
This method is easy to understand even for beginners. A square foot garden requires 80% less space and can be located anywhere — even on a patio, balcony or driveway. But you can expect 100% of the harvest of a regular-sized garden.
A square foot garden, which can be as small as 2 square feet, is simple to protect from weather and pests. And, best of all, this kind of garden is very productive.
It can be created and maintained by those with physical limitations, as the boxes can be raised to an appropriate height.
We can start a square foot garden in any season. Planting requires no thinning, no tilling and very few seeds. And did I mention no weeds? None. Zip. Nada.
QUICK FIVE-STEP PLAN
No. 1: Pick an area that gets six to eight hours of sunshine daily.
No. 2: Stay clear of trees and shrubs where roots and shade may interfere.
No. 3: Have it close to the house for convenience.
No. 4: Existing soil is not really important, as you won’t be using it.
No. 5: The area should not puddle after heavy rain.
If you have any interest at all in pursuing a square foot garden, I highly recommend that you get a copy of Bartholomew’s book. Presented simply and visually, this is a resource that will return its value many times over in home-grown bounty — so much that you’ll have plenty to share. And please ... send pictures!
Would you like more information? Go to EverydayCheapskate.com for links and resources for recommended products and services in this column. Mary invites questions, comments and tips at EverydayCheapskate.com, “Ask Mary.” This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a lifestyle blog, and the author of the book “Debt-Proof Living.”