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Square Foot Gardening – Benefits and How To

Mel Bartholomew 1931 – 2016

The founding father of Square Foot Gardening, also known as SFG, Mel Bartholomew died on 4/28/16 at the age of 85.

The passing of a legend, yet his legacy lives on… and keeps on growing.

We should all be so fortunate to leave such a legacy, positively impacting so many lives in perpetuity.

Thank you for your contribution to the world, Mel. You will be missed, but again, your legacy lives on and grows.

As in the garden, from the one seed comes the many.

4 Foot Beds – The Creation and Legacy of Mel Bartholomew

Mel, an engineer by training, focused his engineering mind on the problem of how to grow more vegetables in less space and time. The resulting evolution of his efforts, was Square Foot Gardening. SFG increases the productivity of the traditional garden while decreasing the effort to grow and harvest it.

After first publishing this article, we heard from Kim Roman, assistant to Mel Bartholomew with some clarifications and additional insights, so we’re posting that here before proceeding with the rest of the article and video:

Note from Square Foot Gardening Foundation:
The written article is great! Thanks for sharing about SFG during our 40th Anniversary year!

Just a couple corrections from the videos (on the next page). In later years, Mel did not advise using string and nails as he did in the original method. If you choose to use nylon rope, please use eye hooks – they’re safer. The raised beds only need to be 6″ deep – you can make individual 1′ x 1′ “top hats” for growing longer veggies.

square foot gardening
From the Square Foot Gardening Foundation’s Facebook Page


What Makes is a Square Foot Garden?

Two things distinguish a plain raised bed garden from a Square Foot Garden

1. The use of the grid
2. The use of Mel’s Mix growing medium

When adding Mel’s Mix to the box, add:
2″ Mel’s Mix Soil
Water well
2″ more Mel’s Mix
water well
2″ Mel’s Mix
water well

Why is Mel’s Mix so important?
It is lightweight, loose, friable and VERY fertile. Also, unlike bagged soils, it never needs to be replaced. After several years you may need to add a bit more, but every time we harvest a square we add a trowel of a great blended compost to refresh the nutrients – you don’t need any additional fertilizer.

square foot gardening, grid garden
Clip from video below of Mel Bartholomew discussion the Square Foot Gardening method.

Make Your Own Mel’s Mix:
1/3 coarse vermiculite
1/3 Peat moss
1/3 Blended Compost

(Kim says this is available at Home Depot, but if you have to have it shipped to you, likely cheaper to buy the ingredients and mix it yourself).

Again, thank you for featuring SFG.

Kim Roman, Assistant to Mel Bartholomew

Thanks to Kim Roman of Square Foot Gardening Foundation for taking the time to share and clarify!

Benefits of Square Foot Gardening

You can produce more with less.

Want to grow 100% of your veggies in 20% of space? try Square Foot Gardening as an easy and efficient way to grow your own produce.

In a nutshell, the square foot gardening method involves:

  • Dividing a 4-by-4-foot box into 16 squares; one type of crop in each square
  • Laying a permanent grid of 1-foot squares over the box to guide planting
  • Filling the box with a special, fresh soil mixture
  • Replanting each square after harvesting

You’ll see Mel describing the process in the video that follows, plus a look at how to set up your own square foot garden.


Look What Mel Started!

Invented in 1981 by Mel Bartholomew, a retired civil engineer and efficiency expert, Square Foot Gardening improved gardening for so many people over the past 40 years. What a fantastic legacy!1)

Below is Mel’s book, and following that is a video of Mel describing his method.

Square Foot Gardening (SFG), can be done practically anywhere. This method is great for the beginner starting their first organic garden, or anyone seeking to produce ore food in less space with less work!

Mel Bartholomew – Introducing Square Foot Gardening

Ready to Plan and Plant Your Square Foot Garden?

How to plant in the Square Foot Garden method

4 Spacing Guidelines:
Extra Large
– one per square for 12 inch spacing
Large – 4 per square for 6 inch spacing
Medium – 9 per square for 4 inch spacing
Small – 16 per square for 3 inch spacing.

Use the seed packet to find out what spacing your plant needs. A tomato or green pepper plant needs one per square. While radishes and carrots need 16 per square.

The grid is what makes your raised bed a Square Foot Garden. The grid is one of the most important things to include while following a Square Foot method.

However, this method works best if the grid is a complete divided section and not just a template laid over the top.

Visit Square Foot Gardening to learn more.2)

Here’s a related article you may enjoy.3)

Thank you, Mel.
May your gardens be forever green.

The founding father of Square Foot Gardening, also known as SFG, Mel Bartholomew died on 4/28/16 at the age of 85.

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