Book Review – Square Foot Garden Answer Book

When I was a kid, I had a terrific book called The Make-It Book, which detailed a bunch of creative projects, both rainy day and non-, for kids of all ages that kept me and my brother happily engaged for years. The Square Foot Gardening Answer Book reminded me a bit of that book. Simply (but not simplistically) written, encouraging, with clear drawings and straightforward instructions, it is a soup-to-nuts guide for anyone interested in creating a small, productive and easy-to-maintain garden in a host of spaces. Square foot gardening (SFG) is great for the new gardener who wants to start smart and keep going happily, but is also good for the time and space-crunched, who want to savor the pleasures and satisfactions of gardening without making the kind of commitment row upon row of veggies can require.
A square foot garden as the name suggests, is constructed in a grid, so it’s a space-miser. The planting takes a page out of Nature by mixing plants – for example, cabbage with nasturtiums (which help deter cabbage moths and add peppery spice and color to salads), lettuce with root crops like beets, carrots and turnips, tomatoes and peppers with basil, cilantro and parsley – an approach that is not only beautiful to look at and productive, but helps to cut down on problems with pests and disease.

Square foot gardening first came to prominence in the ‘70’s when many back-to-the-landers, most of whom grew up in the burbs and knew nothing about growing something to eat, decided to become self-sustaining. Tilling, planting and cultivating rows of vegetables turned out to require more space and labor than these new mini-farmers had anticipated, which is one thing that made square foot gardening so appealing. It shares the interplanting principle with the French intensive method, which at the time was also gaining adherents for its big production in a relatively small space. But SFG was simpler and far less backbreaking than the double-digging usually suggested in French intensive gardening.

The SFG Answer Book is straightforwardly laid out and combines answers to the questions author Mel Bartholomew has been fielding since publishing his first book on SFG in 1981. It offers practical advice for planning, constructing and maintaining your own square foot garden, regardless of where you live. Chapters include Planning and Locating Your Square Foot Garden, Building Your SFG Boxes, Planting and Harvesting, Working with Mel’s Mix (the growing medium aka soil), Dealing with Pests and Problems, and Making a Difference with SFG.  (Bartholomew created the Square Foot Gardening Foundation, a nonprofit that spreads the message of SFG through humanitarian projects throughout the world in an effort to end world hunger.).

This book is for anyone who wants to start gardening, whether it’s food, annuals, perennials or a combination or all of the above. It’s also a perfect way to start gardening with kids, or to start kids gardening on their own if they prefer to do it completely themselves since the project is manageable in small bites, but is completely scalable if they want to ramp up, or maybe have their own square foot space beside that of a parent, friend or gardening mentor.  SFG Answer Book addresses the problems of limited space, offers potential solutions for less than optimal sun exposure and is very much focused on health for both plants and people.
Square Foot Gardening Answer Book by Mel Bartholomew (Cool Springs Press, $16.99).

9 Comments on “Book Review – Square Foot Garden Answer Book

  1. Which is better for someone new to square foot gardening: the Answer Book (reviewed here) or the All New Square Foot Gardening, Second Edition: The Revolutionary Way to Grow More In Less Space? They are both by the same author.


  2. I don't really know, David, since I haven't read the All New Square Foot
    Gardening. I suspect that the All New walks you through the
    start-to-finish process of building a square foot garden more thoroughly
    than the Answer Book does, since the Answer Book is comprised of answers
    to the questions that people asked Mel over the years while working with
    the original Square Foot Gardening book. If you feel as though you can get
    what you need in terms of basics from the web and from Mel's website maybe
    the Answer Book is for you. His website looks as though it's virtually all
    sales, but have a look at this link to get started:!__get-started/vstc61=page-1
    and then decide. Also, have a rummage online to see something of the interior or each book. Good luck. Nancy


  3. If you're completely new to gardening, I'd consider getting the original square foot gardening method. It had more specific information than the “All-new” version, like how far apart to put seeds, and when to put them in the ground. I haven't read this newest book yet.


  4. Your description of “the double-digging usually suggested in French intensive gardening” as “backbreaking” is inaccurate. When done properly, double-digging is good exercise, but certainly not “backbreaking.”


  5. Nancy, I have to “sort of” disagree with you. While there is more “info” in the original book, the methods are TOTALLY different and the All New book's method is MUCH simpler.

    There is no digging at all.

    There is information in the back of the book regarding how many to plant per square foot. There is also a great explanation of how many per square based on the “thin to” directions on a seed packet.


  6. In the Appendices of the All New SFG Book there are:

    “At a Glance” with spacing for veggies, herbs & flowers followed by more in-depth information on the most common.

    Beginning on p. 252 there are wonderful planting charts – germination, when to start seeds indoors, when to plant/transplant outdoors, continual harvest (spring through fall), succession planting, etc.


  7. I have both the original SFG book, as well as the All New SFG book. (I'll have to check out the Questions book.)
    I prefer the original SFG book. I have a plot of land we use, so the raised beds were not as important to me. And I liked the more detailed information in the Original SFG book.
    I do love this technique.


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