17 June 2011

Book Review: All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew

Quick review

Rating:  (Green thumbs up!)

Summary: A well-organized, easy-to-read book that's great for beginners, but should provide helpful advice for experienced gardeners too.

Full review

I was raised with "traditional" gardening, where we had a big plot of land, tilled it, made rows, and weeded forever until we finally harvested. So, I was a bit skeptical about container gardening and the whole Square Foot Gardening (SFG) concept. However,  when I came across a used copy of All New Square Foot Gardening, I couldn't resist picking up a copy.

The author, Mel Bartholomew, claims on the back of the book that you can grow more in less space. Plus, he claims no worrying about weeding or fertilizing. Bold claims, to be sure, but tantalizing especially for a busy gardener.

Despite the smallish text size, the book was a fairly quick read, at 175 pages. The chapters are well organized, and presented in a logical procession of topics. Bartholomew starts with an introduction and explanation of how he's revamped the SFG system over the years since he first created it. He proceeds with advice on how to size, build, and locate your containers, then provides a thorough description and discussion of how to make the soil for the containers.

This Mel's Mix, as he calls it, is the source of Bartholomew's claims for no weeding or fertilizing. In fact, his soil mixture recipe is close to the heart of the whole SFG concept, especially when combined with his planting methods, which are described next in the book.

In short, the SFG idea is to plant each square foot of your garden with the densest amount of vegetables (and/or flowers) that the plants will tolerate and still be healthy. The Mel's Mix soil is described as a loose, friable, and nutrient-filled soil that can readily support a denser style of planting.

The last third of the book follows with growing and harvesting advice, tips on expanding your container gardens vertically, and extending the growing season. A summary review of SFG, along with a basic, but clear and informative, set of planting charts rounds out the book.

I found Bartholomew's style to be casual, fun, and engaging, making for a pleasant read. The book is well illustrated, using a combination of line drawings and black and white photos to support and clarify the text. There are also tip boxes sprinkled throughout the book, along with tables to summarize lists, etc.

Beginning gardeners will find a lot to like here, especially if they're in urban or suburban settings and garden space is restricted. Experienced gardeners may also find the book of use too, since the author makes a number of valid observations about how traditional "row" gardens can often be less efficient than a smaller "square-foot" garden.

So, did All New Square Foot Gardening live up to its claims? I think so. I've actually used the SFG approach in a variety of containers. So far, I'm impressed. My plants have done well, and clearly love the soil. My weeding is also easy, since I can easily pull out the few interlopers when they are just tiny.

In the end, I enjoyed this book and find its advice very useful. I highly recommend it.


  1. I have been gardening since I was just a little girl, and if I only knew then what I know now. This book is the perfect example of how gardening should be. In a nutshell, if you read this book and apply it. You will save more money than you could ever imagine, less time will be spent in the garden, less water, no weeding, more yield, and no back breaking work, and it is a beautiful site to look at.

    1. Wow, one of my earliest posts on this blog, and it gets a comment! Thanks very much for stopping by to do so. :)

      I agree... the end result is far less labor and space than traditional gardening, and more organized!