What is Square Foot Gardening? S2E13

June 8th, 2017 · 38 mins 5 secs

About this Episode

What is Square Foot Gardening? S2E13

Do you remember the days of old when your parents or grandparents had a garden in the backyard?  Do you remember how the weeds used to pop up and eventually overwhelm the garden?  Did you ever have to try to weed a garden like that (and how much you absolutely hated it)? What if you could create a garden that didn’t suffer from this weed problem?  What if you could create an organized garden that maximizes your yield? This is exactly what Square Foot Gardening does for you!

LIVE FROM KANSAS CITY!  This is Season 2, Episode 13, and in this episode I talk about our experience with Square Foot Gardening and discuss the advantages of this gardening system. You don’t want to miss this one!

This podcast is brought to you by Small Scale Life without any commercial interruptions!  Instead, I wanted to give you an update of our lives before I start talking about Square Foot Gardening!

May is Gone; Hello to June

Instagram Photo

Things are progressing at the house.  Julie and I are pushing forward to get us ready to move in mid-July.  That means we have been following the teachings of The Minimalists and getting rid of things using the following criteria:

  • Does it bring us joy?
  • Will we use it at the future condo or compound?
  • Can we replace it quickly and for less than $20?

We have been donating things at the Goodwill and selling items on consignment and on e-bay.  I can’t believe how much we have sold already!  It has been pretty amazing, really. That money is being used to pay off some credit card debt and replenish our emergency fund.

Strange Graduation

Why would we need to replenish that, you might ask?  Well, we recently had a number of activities and things going on that ended up being more expensive than we planned.  Our son Ryan recently graduated from high school (YAY!), and we had a graduation party for him on Memorial Day Weekend.  It went REALLY well!  I mean it went well at the party.  Graduation was a bit strange.  Between the 5 valedictorians that spoke, the near riot that broke out and an award-winning alumni talking about cervical cancer and pap smears, it was the STRANGEST graduation ceremony I have ever attended.  Yes, you did hear me correct: pap smears and riots at the graduation ceremony.  Good grief.  It makes a guy wonder what world we are living in these days?

We had a great party, and we were blessed to have friends and family in town for it.  We really enjoyed their company and all the fun we had with them!

Selling or Renting Houses

Life has gone back to normal, and we have settled into the new normal: work and get ready for the Management company to show the house.  It seems that we have had a steady stream of showings, and we are all praying that someone rents it soon.

Why, you ask?

The simple answer is that getting the house, and the rooms of the young men that live with us, cleaned up does take its toll.  The house needs to be ready for showings on a 24-hour notice.  The same is true if you are looking for new renters or folks to buy your home.  Once the home goes on the market for sale or for rent, it is no longer your home.  Yes, you are paying the fees and the mortgage or rent, but it has become a model on the market. It needs to look AND smell good.  No one wants to buy or rent a house that smells like:

  • A locker room
  • Pet smells
  • Cigarettes
  • Mildew/Molds or
  • Other nasty smells

Here is a pro-tip for you: make your house SMELL good.  You can do this by using a Scensy wickless candle or even boiling a mixture of vanilla and water on the stove before the showing.  Just make sure the smell from the Scensy wickless candle is pleasing and not overwhelming.

Probably the most powerful smell is chocolate chip cookies.  Ever notice how car dealers or home builders have chocolate chip cookies around?  That smell sells! I know because the architects I hired in Chicago used freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies to sell houses. Believe it or not: it worked!  Smell is a POWERFUL sense, so do not overlook this when trying to sell a product!


What is Square Foot Gardening?

The Good Old Days

Do you remember your grandparent’s, parent’s or even your gardens from years past?   Do you remember how they would devolve into chaos as weeds choked out your vegetables and herbs?  Can you remember how much you hated weeding those gardens?

I do.  I remember it like yesterday.  My parents would be gung ho to plant in the Spring, and over the next few weeks, the plot would look like it had been invaded by every type of weed on the earth.  My dad would use grass clippings to mulch the paths and around the plants, but it usually ended up looking like a chaotic jungle towards mid to late summer.  It probably didn’t help that they were busy during the week with jobs and us kids, and on the weekend we would be gone at the cabin in Northwestern Wisconsin.

There were times when my mom would assign us kids to go out into the garden and weed it.  It was the WORST job we could actually get.  We didn’t know what was a weed and what was something worth saving, and the cloud of mosquitoes coming out from the jungle would feast on us as we tried to work.  It was a horrendous experience, and frankly, that experience was a reason I never wanted to garden until I was much, much older.  Little did I know that I would return to gardening in my late 30’s.


Sqaure Foot Gardening; Garden; Minimalism; Moving; Podcast; Weeds

My first Square Foot Gardens in Illinois – 2010

Back in 2008, we were living in our beige prairie palace in a far west suburb of Chicago, Illinois.  It was a stressful time in our lives: the Crash of 2008 was in full swing, and one-by-one my clients were telling me that they were pulling projects and keeping their own people employed. I was stressed out to the max.

Meanwhile, Julie had gotten a set of the Little House on the Prairie books, and she was reading them to Ryan each night.  On more than one occasion, I had a chance to listen to the stories and marvel at how self-sufficient those people actually were.  They didn’t have material wealth, but they could survive in a number of horrendously harsh conditions.

Skills and Self-Reliance

Those stories made me think how soft and dependent modern people have really become.  I marveled and commented to Julie that we just don’t know how to do anything to sustain us if things REALLY got bad with the economy.  We couldn’t afford our house if I lost my job, and I wasn’t sure how we could even FEED ourselves if times got really bad.

Trust me, folks, I lumped myself in with modern men.  I really didn’t know much about anything beyond my work in the office.  I felt a sense of sadness that my grandparents, who could forage for food, fish, hunt, garden, preserve food and make wine and alcohol from berries, had passed away without passing those skills on to my brother or me.  The old ways of my family and ancestors had lost, and we had become drones in cubicles, doing busy-work to create wealth for others. I knew I had to do something to change that, but I really didn’t know what to do about it.

One day our neighbor was raving about the amount of veggies she was getting from her garden, and she was giving away extras to everyone on the block. Julie and I were stunned and asked her how she could grow that much produce in our terrible clay soils. Our neighbor replied that she was following Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening book, and it was really easy to follow. She lent us her copy, and we had to give it a try!

Square Foot Gardening

Square Foot Gardening; Garden; Minimalism; Moving; Podcast; Weeds

Revolutions start one garden at a time – Square Foot Gardening book from 1981

Square Foot Gardening is a garden system that maximizes yields by meeting three basic criteria:

  • Well-organized
  • Easy to maintain
  • Attractive all season long

This system was developed by the late Mel Bartholomew.  He published his first book in 1981 and subsequently had a show on PBS.  Mel was focused on small garden beds, measuring 4 feet by 4 feet (4’x4′).  He would divide these small 4’x4′ beds into 12 inch by 12 inch (12″x12″) squares.  These would be intensively planted.


The advantage of these smaller, organized beds was that the gardener could organize the garden to maximize growth.  Instead of planting a long, spindly row of seeds, the 12″x12″ square could be seeded with just a few seeds.  The strongest seedlings would be kept in the garden, and the smaller ones removed.  Instead of maintaining rows, the gardener could concentrate efforts on the plants in each 12″x12″ square.  By defining strict size limits for these beds, gardeners could maximize their efforts while limiting the time spent maintaining the beds.

Easy Maintenance

Speaking of maintenance, Square Foot Garden beds are easy to maintain.  This is a key advantage of the Square Foot Gardening method.  Mel knew from his experience at a community plot that people tend to get busy and have less time to maintain their larger plots.  By creating a new 4’x4′ raised bed with new, manufactured soil, there weren’t any weeds to worry about.  When you plant intensively in each 12″x12″ square, the flowers, vegetables and herbs will naturally crowd out any potential weeds.  Since we manufacture the soil using vermiculite, compost and peat moss, i is easy to pull any weeds that might grow.  In addition, watering plants with a hose is efficient since these gardens are very compact and intensively planted.  I will show you how I maintain these new Square Foot Garden beds in future posts.

Attractive All Year

Finally, Square Foot Gardens are really attractive all year long.  Since you have a smaller, organized space, you can really concentrate your efforts on that making that space shine. This is where you can dress up your planting area with a nice looking trellis, gravel in the walkways and fencing around the beds.  This is where I developed my ideas for going vertical with my plants.

In addition, you can create hoops or cold frames for your beds to extend the season.  Because these beds are 4″x4″ you really can get creative with your systems and accessories to make these raised beds produce!


If you want to know more about this method, you should read Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening Book. I have the 2005 edition, but he did publish the All New Square Foot Gardening book in 2013.  I do not own this version yet.

Looking at Amazon, they are offering the 1981 version of the book.  I had a chance to look at this version at my mom’s cabin in late May of this year, and it was very interesting (the earlier picture was my mom’s copy).  I say that because Mel experimented with a lot of techniques that I have thought about or tried.  The saying is true: there is nothing new under the sun!

What’s Next?

Instagram Photo

As I mentioned in Season 2, Episode 11, I have completely removed my garden.  I just planted two 4″x6″ Square Foot Garden beds on Sunday of this week, and those are going to be my gardens this year.  There will be regular garden updates for you all, and I will show you the power of the Square Foot Garden this year.  Of course, I will be modifying the trellis systems to handle my 10 tomato and 10 pepper plants!

Let me know how your gardening efforts are going.  Did you get everything planted in your garden?  Have you tried Square Foot Gardening?  How did they work out for you?  Feel free to ask questions, and we will get answers for you!

Thanks for tuning in, and we’ll be back soon with another episode.  This is Tom from Small Scale Life; remember to learn, do and grow!

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