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MASTER GARDENER: Making the most of the space in your garden

Square foot gardening was developed for the raised bed gardener and most gardeners have kept it there but I have incorporated it into the traditional garden of rows in natural mineral soils.

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Square foot gardening has a lot of appeal to me and so I bought Mel Bartholomew’s book "All New Square Foot Gardening."

I have to say that the book was a failure for bedtime reading because it got me so excited to garden that I couldn’t get to sleep. There were just too many things that I wanted to try and some things that I knew I could do better.

Square foot gardening was developed for the raised bed gardener and most gardeners have kept it there but I have incorporated it into the traditional garden of rows in natural mineral soils.

A single, foot-wide row of garden with enough space for the rotor tiller before planting the next foot-wide row reduces the amount of wasted row space. Planting lettuce in one-foot intervals will solve the problem of what to do when 15 feet of lettuce all ripens at once.

If you plant a triple row of beets 3 inches apart in your traditional garden, you are essentially growing a square foot planting. I have settled on planting a triple row of carrots with seeds one inch apart which gives me 36 carrots per square foot which is twice what Mel Bartholomew recommends.


It works for me. My 3-by-3-foot raised bed with three levels of planting has been working well for me. I have successfully grown carrots and spring onions at 49 plants per square foot (seven plants by seven plants) which will give about 40 harvestable plants. Radishes did better at 16 plants.

Asian turnips did okay at 25 per square foot when edible thinnings were harvested early. The multiple layers seemed to keep the plants from competing against each other. My 3-by-3-foot beds started out okay but as the season progressed they became a jumbled mess of plants competing for space. Plant tops do not grow straight up.

Dan Sherman's Asian turnips did well when planted at 25 plants per square foot when edible thinnings were harvested early.

The pictures in the second edition of the book I purchased are staged and I don’t believe they represent real garden experiences. Most of the plants were grown elsewhere and none of them were seeded in place. The third edition has been improved. The book shows pretty white beds but I painted my rough-cut lumber brown to absorb heat better and blend in with the soil.

One-foot square planting grids are declared essential in square foot gardening. I spent a couple of days making one out of used CPVC pipe but found that it got in the way. I am sure that Mel’s Mix is good rooting medium but vermiculite is hard to get now and there are many very good RBG mixes on the market.

Some garden crops just do not fit in a square foot. Only the smallest tomato plants like Tumbling Toms can grow in a square foot. Peppers may do okay. Cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli need much bigger spaces as will squash, corn and potatoes. Beans, peas and cucumbers can be accommodated with a trellis on the north side of the bed.

If you are following Mel’s book and his gardening ideas and are having fun and success with it by all means keep doing it. This article was for those who tried and found different results from square foot gardening.

Square foot gardening beds.

These local garden articles will reach you each week throughout the gardening season, but gardening information can be found year-round by clicking on "Yard and Garden” at the University of Minnesota Extension website, www.extension.umn.edu, or by visiting our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Beltramicountymastergardeners.

Local Master Gardeners will respond to questions via voicemail. Call (218) 444-7916 and leave your name, number and question.

Related Topics: GARDENING
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