The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Square foot gardening rebuttal

Square foot gardening bedI was thrilled when Ron wrote me an email to tell me the other side of the story on square foot gardening.  All of the images here are of Ron's garden, which he describes as follows:

I feel you’re a little harsh on square foot garden method.

Maybe in your permaculture centered / deep woods homesteading environment, it’s not very effective. But I live in “yuppieville” and we can’t use what “don’t fit in.”

I hear constantly about property values. My neighbors pray to the ChemLawn Gods. “Why grow your own when a grocery store is a half mile away.” So sayeth the neighbors.
Square foot gardening with row covers
This started four years ago and I reside in Upstate NY.
While I live in suburbia, I have “pest” problems. Cats, dogs, grackles, squirrels, possum, raccoons, even deer. Thus the covers made with PVC and Insect screening.  Keeps out most problems. Even torrential hail!!!!!!
Snow-covered gardenOur heavy clay soil that turns into muck in the rains. Full of rocks and gravel. Bad bugs aplenty and I don’t use pesticides. PLUS feet and feet of snow!
Having absolutely NO garden knowledge, I recalled PBS show, Square Foot Gardening. Started with first 2 – 4’x4’ beds. Amazing success. Second year, added 4 more, 4’x4’s and a pea bed 2’x8’.
Such a success, 3rd year, I added, 6 – 3’x8’ beds (not in photo). I also use containers. This year, I added 2 - 28”x5’ tabletop garden beds on sawhorses (used for specialty greens and mesclun). Many additional trellises as I try to “grow up.”
Layout of a square foot gardenEach year I add more compost. Also add other supplements such as Alpaca manure, greensand, kelp, and biochar. Studying remineralization. I keep detailed notes each year. I rotate crops / beds.
Pro vs. Con – every method has some of both. Great for beginners!!!! Cons – getting materials, costs, and very addicting!!!!
My goal is to try replicating the “Urban Homestead” as outline by the Dervaes Family in thePath to Freedom." Like them, will take years. Are you familiar?
Trellis in a square foot garden 
Also a strong follower of Mother Earth News. Have been since a teenager.
I love growing a wide variety of specialty items I can’t afford to buy / refuse to pay the price for. Asparagus was great last night!
I’ve attached latest layout in .pdf format [one page of which is reproduced above].
Hope this changes some of your thoughts.
Take care

I'd love to hear from other readers who have tried square foot gardening.  What did you think about the technique's pros and cons?

Hot weather is on its way.  Install an automatic chicken waterer now and beat the heat.

This post is part of our Square Foot Gardening lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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When we lived in the city, I built an 8 foot by eight foot garden in a sometimes flooding back yard. Although I had no idea of square foot, I'm sure the principles I used were similar. Plants were close and fed intensively. I split the middle with a trellis on which I grew pole beans, which produce for a long time. My most important crop, tomatoes, grew along the outside. Little patches of everything else filled in the rest.

My doubts about growing such a garden in this drought area where I live focus mainly on water loss. Here, to succeed, I plant leggy tomato plants deep, using a post hole digger, so their roots make it to water, and I use newspaper mulch to make sure surface water loss is minimal. A finely pulverized top layer of soil also acts as a mulch, preventing water loss. This works while crops such as corn are getting started. A raised bed here moves plants away from soil water levels.

Comment by Errol Sat Apr 24 09:59:19 2010
I love that trellis design in the last picture....very elegant and having a bulge in the middle may prove more efficient than my primitive single stretch.
Comment by mark Sat Apr 24 10:33:17 2010

Daddy --- Plus your sandy soil makes raised beds unnecessary for drainage. I think that you have a good point that local conditions really dictate the best techniques to use in the garden. A one size fits all gardening technique is bound to work like a the exact conditions the author invented it for only.

Mark --- that is an elegant trellis!

Comment by anna Sat Apr 24 11:01:55 2010

Could you please add Ron's PDF so those of us who follow your site for the future but live in his world for the present can benefit from his experience? Thank you for your experiences as well!

Comment by Robert Sat Apr 24 22:09:37 2010
I use a modified version of this primarily for weed control and do own the book but find the method a little too exact for me. To really maximize the square foot method you have to be more meticulous in replanting the next crop than I have time to be. I compost, amend and mulch with grass clippings etc, I am probably more of a Ruth Stout - lol, as I work a rotating schedule outside of the house. I also purchased your ebook but have not found my niche yet. You guys are great by the way, interesting, down to earth and inventive. I enjoy all of your posts.
Comment by Alison Sun Apr 25 12:56:05 2010
We are now on our 4th year of square foot gardening. I love it. Weeding is a breeze, we have higher than "normal" raised beds so the work is easier on old knees. I get way more from these garden than any of my other gardens at this location. We have torrential rains that white water through our yard and several springs, but during all this I can still plant in the raised beds. They are the best gardens we've ever had.
Comment by Gayle Sun Apr 25 20:17:43 2010

Robert --- good point! You can download Ron's pdf at I hope it helps!

Alison --- I think that the best way to take any type of gardening system is to use the parts that fit your situation and ignore the rest. Thanks for your kind words about our ebook and website. I hope you find your niche soon!

Comment by anna Sun Apr 25 21:31:10 2010
Gayle --- it sounds like square foot gardening is definitely worth its salt in your garden! We have some really sodden areas in our yard due to high groundwater combined with dense clay, and you're right that we simply couldn't grow anything in many of these areas without raised beds. Trying to grow directly in the ground there fails every time!
Comment by anna Sun Apr 25 21:36:49 2010
Wanted to add...I'm enjoying reading your blog! I would love to lasagna garden again ala Ruth Stout but it's just not possible here. As soon as we broke ground and got started with the layering process the first year here, a spring promptly showed up right in the middle! LOL At our old house in the 70s and 80s I did garden like that and got good yields. We have about 500 "squares" of gardening in several raised beds and I am amazed at the amount of produce I am able to get.
Comment by Gayle Mon Apr 26 12:44:15 2010
I've always been intrigued by lasagna gardening --- it makes a lot of sense to me (although Steve Solomon, author of the book I'm reviewing this week, concludes that it's only good for the old and infirm. And here I thought I was harsh about Square Foot Gardening! :-) )
Comment by anna Mon Apr 26 16:33:59 2010

I know I'm late in seeing this post, but I'm hoping someone is still monitoring this page. Can you tell me what the empty boxes are for in the photo at the top of this page? I'm really curious.

Thanks, LInda

Comment by Linda Sun May 13 10:54:37 2012
Linda --- Good question! I must have edited that part out of Ron's email (although I can't think why....) I'm pretty sure he used those boxes to store potatoes over the winter, as a sort of small, in-ground root cellar.
Comment by anna Sun May 13 11:14:05 2012

Square Foot Gardening beds adapted as sub-irrigated planters (SIPs) IMHO is an improvement - no water evaporation, no over watering & no weeds. Run irrigation lines from a rain barrel or the water hose into the SIPs' watering pipes for a deluxe setup. There's information and links at - scroll down the left side menu to find several "SIPs" categories. There are commercial products, but DIY is easy. Here is a slide set showing various examples of DIY SIPs:

Comment by cmw Thu May 17 16:02:26 2012
cmw --- Thanks for sharing! A lot of folks do seem to be into SIPs, especially when gardening very intensively in a small space.
Comment by anna Thu May 17 16:51:23 2012

It is not just for small gardens. To address water conservation, transportation costs & soil toxicity worldwide, non-profits such as schools, food banks and community gardens rely on SIPs for large amounts of food production. To assist rising food needs due to the continued rapid increase in urban populations, sub-irrigation is noted in the United Nations Mission 2014: Feed the Hungry.

There are commercial applications (hydronics or SIPs) at corporate headquarters (Google, PepsiCo, Kraft, Yahoo, Sunset Magazine) & restaurants. I've also seen reports on SIPs for commercial farms, Whisenant Farms is one.

Comment by Anonymous Fri May 18 12:47:37 2012
Using your idea for mg beans and peas so excited gave just the spot for them! Thank you for sharing!
Comment by Pattie Beach Sat May 11 15:26:40 2013
I love your trellis. Is that made with Bamboo? If not, what is it made with? Thanks! PS I'm a new garderner, so in the very early learning stages.
Comment by DawnLowderPugh Fri May 24 15:52:50 2013
DawnLowderPug --- I'm not sure that Ron is checking back to answer comments, but it does look like his trellises are mostly made of bamboo. In my own garden, I use U-posts and plastic trellis material, which is ultra-easy to put up and take down every year. The same materials have been in service for about five years now, and should last another decade or two.
Comment by anna Fri May 24 16:34:00 2013
Anna, thank you so much for the information on the trellises. Very helpful! Dawn Pugh
Comment by Dawn Pugh Sat May 25 15:57:34 2013
I live in Alabama so I have a long growing season and a fair sized backyard garden. I am so in love with these raised beds! This will allow me to more than double what I could grow in my original garden space. I will be building several beds this year and adding more things to my garden! Thanks so much for the wonderful ideas!
Comment by Tbritton Tue Dec 31 22:38:30 2013
SFG was successful for me - until the Bermuda grass grew up through a full foot of soil and totally took over. I can't eradicate it, and now am having to abandon the SF beds in favor of other options. I really liked it, though, although in Tennessee (and much of the South) you have to watch what's UNDER the garden.
Comment by Bubs Mon May 5 15:37:39 2014

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