There’s a spark in the eyes of square-foot gardeners when they explain how much food they
harvest, how easy it is to start, and what they plan to grow next year. The chief zealot is Mel
Bartholomew, whose passion for the idea he developed 30 years ago is inspiring a new generation of backyard gardeners.
“With my engineer and efficiency training, I started making a list,” he recalls. “Why do we plant in single rows? Why is the next row 3 feet away? Why do we plant a whole pack of seeds? We will never eat that much. And if you plant everything at once, it comes to harvest all at once.”
A failed community garden experiment inspired Bartholomew to solve the tilling, spacing, harvest and weeding issues in traditional gardening. He built his first square-foot garden (still intact) on his Long Island property with squares instead of rows to minimize weed-prone areas; 48-inch square plots so anyone can reach across to work the interior squares; and a different plant in each 1-foot square for beauty and diversity.
That was 1981. Two books and a PBS television series later, square-foot gardening is being taken up by a new type of gardener, one concerned with food miles, carbon footprint, sustainability and food safety.
“What’s the best thing you can do for the environment?” Bartholomew asks. “Eat fresh or raw. If you could eat all fresh, raw food, think of all the things you wouldn’t need.”
Bartholomew counts them off: fertilizer, cross-country hauling, trips to the store, fuel for cooking and heating wash water, worries about food safety.
With the success of the republished All New Square Foot Gardening book in 2005, a cookbook was a natural next step, and the All New Square Foot Gardening Cookbook:
Bringing the Harvest to the Table (Cool Springs Press) was released in 2009. For the recipe collection bearing his name, Bartholomew wanted abundant recipes for fresh, minimally cooked foods, and the book delivers with a feast of freshness in salads, blender drinks, pestos, appetizers and salsas. When you grow it yourself and eat it just-harvested, fresh foods—like great ideas—need very little elaboration.
By Nicki Pendleton Wood, a food writer in Nashville, Tenn. Recipes adapted, with permission, from All New Square Foot Gardening Cookbook, by Mel Bartholomew (Cool Springs Press, 2009).
“At the center is the goal of efficiency, growing the most food of the best quality in the smallest space with no superfluous effort.”
Here’s how to get started:
• Pick a location that gets 6 to 8 hours of sunshine daily.• Build 4-foot-square boxes to hold the garden. Place them 3 feet apart to provide aisles. Fill the boxes with a mixture of peat moss, compost and vermiculite. Install a grid (made from wooden slats or string, for example) on the top of each box to create 1-foot-square sections.
• Plant each section with one variety of plant. Bartholomew’s book contains specific guidelines for the number of plants per square foot—for example, 1 tomato plant, 4 lettuces,
9 spinach plants or 16 onions or radishes.
• After harvesting each section, add compost and plant another variety.
• See All New Square Foot Gardening (Cool Springs Press, 2005) for more advice and details.
Cucumber Ginger Limeade
It’s easy to double and triple the recipe for this refreshing and surprising drink. It makes a wonderful ice pop, too, if you increase the sweetener a little.
3 cups chopped, seeded, peeled cucumbers
1 (6-ounce) can frozen limeade concentrate, thawed
2 teaspoons peeled and grated fresh ginger
2 1/2 cups cold club soda
Lime wedges and cucumber slices
1. Combine cucumber, limeade and ginger in a blender or food processor. Cover and process until cucumber is pureed. Taste for sweetening. Combine cucumber mixture and club soda in a small pitcher. Serve garnished with lime wedges and cucumber slices. Makes about 5 1/2 cups; serves 6.
Per serving: 80 calories, 0g fat, 0mg chol., 0g prot., 19g carbs., 0g fiber, 20mg sodium.
Squash and Crab Soup
This rich, creamy South Carolina-inspired soup is perfect when the squash harvest is in full swing.
1 carrot, grated
1 large onion, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
6 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
4 medium yellow or pattypan squash, grated (about 7 cups)
4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 pound crabmeat, shell pieces removed
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons snipped chives, optional
1. Melt butter in a Dutch oven or large saucepan over medium heat. Add carrot, onion and garlic and cook until tender, about 8 minutes. Add pepper flakes and squash and cook until tender, about 10 minutes.
2. Add chicken broth and mix well. Bring to a simmer. Add crabmeat, and cook over low heat until thoroughly heated.
3. Whisk together flour and a little of the milk to make a paste. Add remaining milk and mix well. Add to soup.
4. Cook, stirring, until soup thickens, about 10 minutes. Do not boil. Garnish with chives to serve. Makes 10 cups.
Per serving: 230 calories, 11g fat, 70mg chol., 17g prot., 14g carbs., 1g fiber, 350mg sodium.