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The benefits of square-foot gardening

Last summer and this winter, we have noticed an increase in the number of people wishing to grow their own food. But, I know growing fruits and vegetables can be a daunting task to a gardener. One gardening method many novice gardeners have success with is square foot gardening. The name sounds odd, but it is a tried and true method that can simplify the gardening process.

This gardening method uses 4'x4' raised beds. The size of the bed is based on accessibility. Most individuals should have no difficulties reaching into the middle of a 4'x4' bed to plant, weed, or harvest. The beds are filled with a mixture of compost, vermiculite, and peat moss. This mixture is chosen to provide the proper ratio of water holding capacity and air while also providing nutrients. The garden is then divided, by use of twine, sticks, or slats, into 16 one square foot areas. The plants are planted close together. The number of plants in each square depends on the mature size of the crop.

While there is the initial cost of the raised beds and soil, benefits of square foot gardening include:

Much less work. Conventional gardening requires heavy tools to loosen the soil, whereas in this method, the soil is never compacted and it remains loose and loamy.

Water savings. The soil mixture that is advised has water-holding capacities, so the garden needs water less frequently, and in much smaller quantities than when using other gardening methods.

Very little weeding. One benefit of this close planting is the vegetables form a living mulch, and shade out many weed seeds before they have a chance to germinate.

Accessibility. A plywood bottom can be attached to the bottom of a box, which can then be placed on a tabletop or raised platform for those who wish to garden without bending or squatting, or to make gardening easy for wheelchair, cane or walker users.

There are many resources available on this topic if you are interested in learning more. In addition, one of my Master Gardener Volunteers will be teaching a workshop on square foot gardening on the evening of March 26 through Saranac continuing education. More information can be acquired about this class by calling the Cornell Cooperative Extension Office at 561-7450.

Anne Lenox Barlow is the horticulture educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. CCE offices may be reached in Clinton County at 561-7450; Essex County, 962-4810; and Franklin County, 483-7403. E-mail your questions to askMG@cornell.edu.

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