What’s your biggest concern about surviving life after an EMP attack destroys our grid? Retired engineer-turned-gardener Mel Bartholomew’s “Square Foot Gardening” consistently tops the list of best-selling gardening books – and there’s a reason.
Square foot gardening differs from most other gardening systems in that you don’t use your native earth. The classic Square Foot bed is a 4’ x 4’ square constructed of anything from lumber to bricks to cinder blocks. Another place where square foot gardening shines is in its ability to produce high amounts of veggies in a small space.
Unlike some methods, square foot gardening as Bartholomew recommends it is a completely organic system. David Goodman is a naturalist, author and hard-core gardener who has grown his own food since 1984.
David is the author of four books, writes a regular column for The Ag Mag in North Central Florida, is a Mother Earth News blogger and has also written for outlets including Backwoods Home, Survival Blog and Self-Reliance Magazine. David is a Christian, an artist, a husband, a father of seven, a cigar-smoker and an unrepentant economics junkie who now lives somewhere near the equator on a productive cocoa farm.
And for lots more gardening info, click here and subscribe to his often hilarious YouTube channel.
I got rid of the boxes this season and using berms, because otherwise I’d be missing this entire season.
What we are calling full shade is shade under a dense canopy of evergreen trees, not under a deck or other solid structure. Wild Ginger is a really neat little perennial with heart-shaped leaves that likes full shade. California Pipevine (also called) Dutchman's pipe is a vigorous deciduous vine with heart-shaped leaves. Blackfruit Dogwood is a deciduous shrub to 15 feet from northern California, growing in part to full shade, with good soil moisture, and is a good background plant for a moist section of a woodland or forest garden.
Red Stem Dogwood is an elegant open deciduous shrub with creamy white flower clusters in spring and whose red stems shine so, in the winter.
Island Alum Root is a two foot perennial with 3' spikes of small pinkish flowers emerging from February to April.
Alumroot is a dainty little perennial with reddish green foliage and dainty cream-colored flower clusters that may reach 3 ft in height. Yawning Penstemon is a delicate little bush penstemon and has pale lavender flowers lined with dark purple stripes. Short video of Keckiella breviflora Yawning Penstemon, Stubflower Penstemon, Gaping Penstemon and Bush Beardtongue. California Honeysuckle is a showy little honeysuckle with large pink flower clusters and large clasping leaves. Shinyleaf Mahonia or California Barberry is erect and not as bushy, as other Oregon Grapes, though it has the same yellow flowers and blue berries. Fuzzy Coyote Mint grows in small openings in the remaining forests of southern Monterey and San Luis Obispo Counties. Mountain Mint, Pycnanthemum californicumis a fragrant perennial herb with dense clusters of small, white flowers (with lavender spots).

Sierra Gooseberry is a wonderful showy deciduous shrub with edible berries (great for gooseberry jam). Hollyleaf Redberry is an evergreen shrub to 3-9 ft., that is native to dry slopes in the coast ranges and Sierra Nevada foothills.
White Chaparral Currant makes showy sprays of white flowers under our oaks from November through February. Canyon Gooseberry has many forms that are native to the coast ranges of California and the Sierra Nevada mountains and ranges into southern Oregon. Pink Flowering Currantis a five foot deciduous shrub with long showy pink flower clusters that cover the plant in January to March.
A short video about Satureja chandleri Shrubby Yerba Buena, Mountain Balm and San Miguel savory. A beautiful 2-3' perennial with dark green glossy foliage and deep blue-purple 1" flowers that are scented like violets but better. Square foot gardening promises little or no weeding, consistent results, and lots of organic veggies from a tiny space.
Instead, you use a perfect mix (Mel’s Mix) of “soil” created from one part compost, one part vermiculite, and one part peat moss. Bartholomew also strongly recommends putting a permanent grid over the top dividing the bed into easily manageable 1’ squares.
It’s also weed-free, unless you start with homemade compost that wasn’t “cooked” enough in a hot compost pile.
If you want to grow beans, cabbages, salad greens, peppers, onions and other smaller plants, square foot beds are very convenient and supportive. As you pull out spent crops, put in a handful of compost in the holes left behind and then plant again. With a square foot garden, you can drop a garden right over grass or weeds without even pulling stuff up. If square foot gardening were the end-all system, it would be recommended across the gardening community, right? It may be perfect for a townhome’s backyard… and gardener that likes watering regularly… but it’s less attractive when you have a lot of land available.
I use a combination of methods ranging from row gardening to biointensive beds to water gardening to permaculture, etc. And if it takes a 4’ x 4’ box with good instructions and a smiling mentor; sure, you can start with square foot gardening.
The flowers are totally strange; shaped like a pipe, colored green with reddish brown stripes and reddish brown sepals.
Needs part shade to shade.Very drought tolerant near the coast and in areas of cool summers. It has arching branches, with soft light green foliage and large cream colored flower clusters. Bartholomew also has plans for melon and bean trellises so you can grow vertically and get more use from the space. This means you do not have to bring in anything new after the initial purchases of peat and vermiculite. Mel Bartholomew is really fun to read – the book is worth buying just to hear what a truly excited and enthusiastic gardener sounds like.

Yet writers like Steve Solomon, Ruth Stout, John Jeavons, Toby Hemenway, Carol Deppe, Edward Smith, Dick Raymond and others have different methods that work for them.
Though Bartholomew is using the system for international relief efforts by growing with compost alone, rather than his three-part mix, even compost takes work to make, or money, if you buy it. The standard square foot bed also doesn’t allow you to grow much in the way of large root crops or crawlers like melons.
You might not have weeds to pull – but you’ll be spending some time watering during the summer. Square foot gardening is in my arsenal – but it doesn’t play a major role in my garden plans.
But if you’re anything like me, you’ll eventually outgrow the box and concentrate on building your own soil rather than bringing it in from outside. Look on each individual plant's description (the links) to get more precise information about each plant's needs or to order it. The flower clusters turn a chocolate color after a while and hang around through the winter. We put it near the birdbath in the demonstration garden so it would get a little extra moisture. This grid can be made of stretched string, PVC, 1 x 2 lumber or whatever you have lying around. For a person just getting started, he takes the overwhelming world of food production and cuts it into nice, neat 12” x 12” pieces that are easy enough for even a complete novice to digest. He’s an organic gardener and a philanthropist, and just seems to be an all-around sharp guy with a good heart. In fact, I’m now digging beneath my old square foot beds and stacking in wood as water reservoirs in a hugelkultur-inspired fashion… but that’s another story altogether. Giant wild rye is happy in the shade but loses that little bit of legginess when allowed some morning sun. They like a little extra water, as they are native in coastal areas where they receive extra rainfall from fog drip and in several of the California mountains where they receive extra rainfall. Having a visual delineation of your plants is definitely helpful, but this part of the Square Foot Garden design is where gardeners often diverge from the plans in Bartholomew’s book. If you’ve got a limited amount of space, like well-planned systems, and you’ve got some resources, square foot gardening is a great method.
My food forests, seed saving and seed slinging, green manuring, and intercropping were beyond her, but a 4’ x 4’ box of veggies was a good gateway to introduce her to home food production. Double-digging could create the same space for $0.00, provided you had a little compost or manure lying around. If you wanted to feed your entire family with square foot beds, you’d be out some serious cash. Granted, you’d earn it back in home-grown organic produce over time – which is why I bit the bullet and built beds for my wife – but it’s still a big outlay.

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