Square foot gardening provides an alternative to row planting for gardeners
By Kristen Miller
Growing up, Angela Klein dreaded working out in the family garden. Between the mosquito bites and weed plucking, gardening wasn’t something she was eager to do as an adult, either.
Then, she heard about the convenience of the square-foot gardening system. She and her husband, Jeremy, who live with their three daughters in rural Cokato, decided to take a class offered by Patrick and Connie Lahr of Maple Lake.
“It makes gardening fun, without the hassle,” Angela commented.
The Lahrs are founders of Gardening World Wide and teach others the square-foot gardening system, as well as offering the recommended soil mixture.
Square-foot gardening is a gardening system founded by Mel Bartholomew in the late 1970s, with the first top-selling book on the market in 1981. The idea is to build 4-foot-by-4-foot wooden boxes and plant different crop varieties within individual square foot areas throughout.
Among the advantages of square-foot gardens is that they are more economical (you plant only what you need), easy to care for (all in one area), more productive than a regular row garden, and take up less space.
Over the years, Bartholomew has refined the system, and in 2006, invited certified square-foot instructors to introduce the system to potential gardeners in a one-hour program, and then follow up with materials, including soil mix, to help get started.
The best square-foot garden soil mixture consists of one-third composted materials, one-third peat moss, and one-third vermiculite, blended together.
For the Kleins, not only have the square-foot gardens been easier than traditional row gardens, but it’s been a fun family activity.
The Kleins started their square-foot gardening system in 2011, after taking the class with the Lahrs.
They modified the plans a bit by elevating the gardens for ease of planting, weeding, and harvesting without bending over.
Having a raised box also deters rabbits, deer, and other critters from eating the garden.
With holes drilled on the bottom of the box, gardeners don’t have to worry about over-watering. The Lahrs recommend setting buckets out to catch rain water and using that to water the garden.
The Kleins squared off the box with twine and used Bartholomew’s guide on how many crops to plant per square foot. How big a plant is expected to grow will determine how many can be planted in a 1 square foot.
“Certain things need more room to grow,” Angela said.
Also, some plants grow better than others. “We’re still learning,” she commented.
For example, if a certain plant grows taller on a trellis, such as tomatoes or cucumbers, it shouldn’t overshadow other plants.
The Klein family knows the importance of healthy, wholesome foods, and square-foot gardening caters to that.
Their three daughters, Kali, 9; Kaidyn, 8; and Kassidy, 8; each have their own garden.
It teaches them responsibility and caring for plants, and they have ownership over their garden. “It also brings you together as a family,” Jeremy added.
What the girls particularly like about their garden is that they get to eat from it whenever they want.
Kali’s favorite vegetables are radishes, carrots, and scallions; Kaidyn’s favorite is kohlrabi, and Kassidy’s favorite is cucumbers.
The Lahrs are offering an open garden event Monday, April 15, at 4936 54th Street NW, 3/4 mile east of Maple Lake off Highway 55 North on Ferman.
The program will begin at 5:30 p.m., when people can view the box gardens with grids, trellis systems, and plant starting techniques. Soil mixing will then begin at 6 p.m. The program will repeat at 7 p.m. with discussion and refreshments to follow.
Attendees will get a free package of natural fertilizers and Queensland lettuce seeds.
For more information including the step-by-step instructions, visit www.gardeningww.org or call the Lahrs at (320) 963-3690.