Cukes by the square foot -- a gardener tells how

When it comes to gardening, Mel Bartholomew talks both big and small -- big on results, small on space and effort. To hear this Long Island gardener speak, you might think he is chasing a dream. If soit's as close to a dream come true as anything is. I have seen the Bartholomew garden for myself, as mentioned in a previous column, and it is all he claims it is -- small but highly productive.

Mr. Bartholomew practices what he preaches and achieves the promised results as well.

Basically, he gardens one square foot at a time. Simply, not much space, not much effort. Now he has just released the details of his methods in a book entitled Square Foot Gardening, published by the Rodale Press of Emmaus, Pa. The paperback edition costs $9.95; the hard-cover, $13.95.

It is one of the few gardening books that offers something new to the reader. Don't expect any new soil-building secrets or any advanced cultivation techniques. What Mr. Bartholomew has brought to gardening is organization, stemming from his background as an engineer. In other words, efficient use of space and time.

the produce that comes from that space is the key to a successful garden in the Bartholomew style.

This is what the author says of the new approach: "Square-foot gardening will save you at least 80 percent of the space, time, and money normally needed to garden, and at the same time will produce a better and more continuous harvest with less work. You're going to eliminate all of your thinning, most of your weeding, and a lot of your watering. . . . It will cost less, because there are no elaborate structures, tools, or equipment to buy."

Now that's the inventor talking about his own invention. Can we believe it?

Well, most serious and accomplished gardeners who have been presented with the Bartholomew ideas say they have considerable merit. I have been shown them and I like them. My own garden produces abundantly year after year. But the result of that abundance is frequently a glut at harvesttime.

So what can square-foot gardening do for me? It can introduce a degree of organization that was previously lacking; it can help replace harvest gluts with more modest but consistent harvests all year long.

Not that I shall go whole hog for the new system: My potatoes will still be planted in a large bed, as will the spriing peas and winter squash. But a majority of crops will follow the square-foot route.

this, then, is how the system works: Each garden bed is 4 feet by 4 feet and each bed is divided into 16 planting blocks of 1 square foot. The idea is to concentrate on just 1 square foot of planting space at a time -- to prepare the soil and then sow the seeds or set out the seedlings in that one square foot before moving on to the next. On the very day that that square foot is harvested, the soil is prepared and the next planting goes in for a succession crop. It takes only a minute or so of your time.

If you think one square foot of garden bed is insignificant, consider what you can grow in it: 4 heads of salad-bowl lettuce, or 16 carrots, or 9 bunches of spinach, or 32 radishes, or 9 Japanese turnips, or 16 beets, or 1 cabbage, and so on. And that's just in the spring.A pepper, eggplant, or patio tomato can follow in the summer.

Multiply all this by 16 and you can see how productive one small 4-by-4 foot garden can be. Mr. Bartholomew suggests that beginners start with a single 4 -by-4 garden and extend it to several such plots as they gain experience.

He also recommends planting each square foot to a different crop. Who needs to harvest more than 16 carrots at one time? he asks.

According to Mr. Bartholomew's experience, one 4-by-4 garden block (enough to provide one person with all his salad needs) will take about one hour's maintenance a week; two blocks (enough to provide one person with all his salad needs and a good many vegetables as well) will take 1 1/2 hours.

Eight such blocks (large enough to provide a family of four with most of its vegetable needs) will require 4 hours o f garden work a week.

Perhaps you'd like to give it a try.

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