Beds and aisles in square foot gardening
meat of square foot
permanent beds, but Mel Bartholomew
didn't invent the concept. Alternative gardeners have been using
permanent beds for a long time --- for example, camellones
have been used in Central America for centuries. My
own garden is completely made up of permanent raised beds, both because our soil tends
to get waterlogged and because I want to concentrate the topsoil and
prevent soil compaction.
with a lot of permanent bed sizes
and shapes over the past few years, and the four by four square
advocated by square foot gardening is one of
my least favorite formats. I like to be able to weed and plant
sitting down, but I can't reach the center of a four foot bed without
either leaning on the bed or standing up and bending over --- hard on
back. My favorite beds are three feet wide but quite long.
the best bed shape for me seems to be a long row that I can work my way
down it, never turning a corner, pushing the wheelbarrow ahead of me as
brings me to the next flaw in Mel Bartholomew's garden design ---
the aisles. In order to fit his
garden into 20% of the space used by a traditional garden, Bartholomew
lays down 12
inch lumber and walks on this one foot wide path. I started out
aisles that are two feet wide, and I can barely fit my wheelbarrow down
them, often harm plants on
the ends of beds when turning corners, and can't get the lawnmower
some of the aisles at all. As with permanent bed widths, three
feet seems to be the magic number that keeps me from feeling cramped,
with four or five foot aisles along
main thoroughfares allowing for easier hauling.
Granted, my method uses more space than Bartholomew's, but I suspect it
saves time since I don't have to prop back up the plants I break when I
lose my balance and fall into the bed.
being very critical of square foot gardening, I do think it has a
place. If you live in a city and have only
a tiny bit of space out front but the neighbors would yell
if you put in a traditional vegetable garden, the formal lines of
square foot gardening might fit the bill. If you work forty hours
a week and always plant a huge rambling garden, only to see it
disappear into weeds in July when you run out of time, it might be best
to scale back to a smaller garden like Bartholomew's (but, perhaps,
laid out in a more ergonomic fashion.) On the other hand, if
homesteader with lots of land and a wish to grow most of your own food,
square foot gardening probably doesn't have much for you.
(All of the images on
this page are official square foot gardens from the Square Foot
Gardening Foundation. I'm actually a bit shocked that these
the best images they have to offer.)
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