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“All New SQUARE FOOT GARDENING” by Mel Bartholomew
As a loyal reader of Organic Gardening Magazine for many years, I acquired my copy of Mel Bartholomew’s original “Square Foot Gardening” shortly after its publication in 1981. To say that it opened my eyes is an understatement; it opened an entire new world for me, despite having gardened all my life. No more double digging and back breaking labor required in order to have the organic garden of my dreams.
When I learned that Bartholomew had revised and republished his best-selling classic, to be honest, I was a bit skeptical and therefore hesitated. After all, how new could “All New” really be? I needn’t have worried, and, having read and read-read the first volume numerous times, one could make the argument that I should have known better.
Happily, I picked up a copy recently and had my eyes re-opened once more. For those wanting to start with the original volume, in order to save a few bucks, I can only say that you will be wasting precious time that you could use to better effort in starting your now much easier all-new square foot garden. The new system is so much easier than the original that there is no point in using the original system – really. The improvement is that much of a difference.
In the new volume, Bartholomew has simplified his already-simplified method of gardening even further, to the point of being incredibly easy and inexpensive for nearly anyone to accomplish and master. And, having had some experience with this, I can attest to his admonition to start small – most beginning gardeners start out growing far too much to reasonably use or care for properly, and wind up overwhelmed as a result. Better to start small while learning, expand as desired and needed, and take the time to really enjoy how easy your gardening chores have become.
I found that I had only one major disagreement with Bartholomew’s new book, and that is his insistence on using peat moss as a primary ingredient in “Mel’s Mix,” despite acknowledging that it is a non-renewable resource. Although it is true that you would only have to buy it once, when setting up your initial garden squares, it is still non-renewable, and harvesting sphagnum peat destroys fragile wetlands, making it therefore environmentally harmful as well as unsustainable.
For my own gardening exploits, I will be substituting coconut coir, a natural byproduct of the coconut industry consisting of the fibrous outer husk of the coconuts, which I have been using successfully for over ten years. Coir has the added benefit of containing naturally occurring rooting hormones, further benefiting any plants, and gives some additional protection against harmful fungi and plant root diseases.
Coconuts are typically resistant to pests, and so are grown organically more often than not, but as they often come from sandy beaches, leaching the salts from the resulting coir is a concern. The brand I have come to prefer is Botanicare, as they not only leach their coir thoroughly, but allow it to age 18 to 24 months prior to packaging it for sale. I have sourced my coconut coir from Simply Hydroponics and Organics, in Largo Florida, from whom I have been buying since 1992, when they opened their first store a couple of miles from my home. They are wonderful and very knowledgeable people, and are every bit as willing to answer questions from their online customers, so you may feel confident in buying from them, as well as asking any other gardening questions you may have.
They carry coir in smaller bricks and pellets, sized for standard pots, as well as the larger bale. They also have an excellent selection of organic plant foods, mediums and other supplies, and are an excellent source for the coarse grade agricultural vermiculite Bartholomew specifies as another primary ingredient in Mel's Mix.
Here in Tennessee, although I have yet to deal with them, All Seasons Nashville carries most of the same planting mediums and brands of organic fertilizers I am used to using, and as a bonus they also carry supplies for making home brewed beer and wines, which has to add to the fun.
The Square Foot Gardening website also now sells coconut coir, and states that it may be substituted for half of the peat in Mel's Mix. They also sell pre-mixed bags of Mel's Mix, which are now available at many Lowes and Home Depots, for those who are having trouble sourcing the ingredients, or simply prefer not to have to mix the ingredients themselves.