For years, I tried to grow a decent vegetable garden. It was the high cost of fresh basil — $3.50 for a few measly, wilted fresh basil leaves, ditto for a pound of somewhat reddish tomatoes and mostly pink strawberries, that prompted me to try.
I started with tomatoes, basil and peppers — a salsa garden! In no time, I added zucchini and cucumbers to my repertoire, even corn one year.
But I have to be honest. My harvests have ranged from disappointing to mediocre. Only that one year did my garden produce enough to share with others. I'm still trying to remember how I did that. So far, I've been unable to duplicate the results.
One thing I do quite well is weeds. I try not to take too much credit here, but I have to tell you I've never seen anyone else grow weeds quite as successfully as I do. And I can take them right through the season until they actually re-seed themselves for the next!
Oh, the effort
While I love the concept of a garden that's not only nice to look at but also actually produces something we can eat, I'm not 100% in love with the anxiety, pressure, guilt, backaches, leg cramps and fear of needing hip replacements.
There has to be a better way
While in the past my efforts to grow a garden have been more of a hobby than a serious endeavor, I feel that changing. The high cost of food -- specifically, produce --tells me it's time to get serious. We need to become more self-sufficient but in a cost-effective way.
True cost? Yikes!
While I feel that I've mastered weeds, I've failed miserably in cost-effectiveness. I shudder to imagine the true cost of the pathetically tiny bounty I've garnered over the years. That doesn't mean I'm ready to give up on vegetable gardening, only that I'm ready for a new way to do it.
The better way
Mel Bartholomew is the genius behind the concept of "square-foot gardening" and author of the now-updated book "All New Square Foot Gardening II: The Revolutionary Way to Grow More in Less Space."
Bartholomew, a retired civil engineer by profession and a frustrated gardener on weekends, became convinced that gardening in single rows "because that's the way we've always done it" is a waste of time, energy and money.
He condensed his garden to 6-inch-deep above-ground plots measuring 4 feet by 4 feet, which yielded 100% of the harvest in 20% of the space -- without all the hard work and drudgery. Imagine gardening 1 square foot at a time!
Twice the harvest
This method is easy to understand even for beginners. A square-foot garden requires up to 80 percent less space and can be located anywhere -- even on a patio, balcony or driveway. But you can expect twice the harvest of a regular-size garden.
A square-foot garden, which can be as small as 2 square feet, is simple and protects from weather and pests.
A square-foot garden can be created and maintained by those with physical limitations, as the boxes can be raised to an appropriate height.
We can start a square-foot garden in any season. Planting requires no thinning, no tilling and very few seeds. And did I mention no weeds? None. Zip. Nada.
Here's Bartholomew's quick five-step plan:
1) Pick an area that gets six to eight hours of sunshine daily.
2) Stay clear of trees and shrubs where roots and shade may interfere.
3) Have it close to the house for convenience.
4) Existing soil isn't really important, as you won't be using it.
5) The area should not puddle after heavy rain.
If you have any interest in pursuing a square-foot garden, I highly recommend that you invest in Bartholomew's book. Presented simply and visually, this is a resource that will return its value hundreds of times over in home-grown bounty, so much you'll have plenty to share. Please ... send pictures!