Square Foot Gardener Founder Passes Away


 “80 percent of a garden was wasted space — “space that doesn’t need to be fertilized, watered or improved, but does need to be weeded.”

Mel Bartholomew, one of the pioneers of urban agriculture, passed away this week.   Bartholomew encouraged gardeners to abandon the tradition of row gardening and grow vegetables in densely planted, gridded boxes.

Mel Bartholomew, an Engineer Who Popularized Square Foot Gardening, Dies at 84

No one ever developed a method to adapt commercial gardening technique to the backyard,” Mr. Bartholomew said.

He said of his philosophy, “I garden with a salad bowl in mind, not a wheelbarrow.”

A folksy suburban seedsman once described as a “Will Rogers of raised beds,” Mr. Bartholomew explained his matrix in a public television series, “Square Foot Gardening,” which began in 1982 and ran for six years, and in a book by the same title, originally published in 1981 by Rodale Press (and followed by others, including a “Square Metre Gardening” book for Britons).

He said a square foot garden, growing in a mix of compost, coarse vermiculite and peat moss, required no pesticides or tools, took 20 percent of the space of a row garden and needed 10 percent of the water. It could be placed on a porch, patio, deck or roof.

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No Rows to Hoe

Inspired by this approached, we took our growing methods even closer and utilized every square inch of planting space that we had available.

“Square inch gardening”  is a term we came up with to describe our method of growing plants so closely together which emulated how plants grow in nature.

This method, especially for city or apartment dwellers, is doing away with the spacing recommendations on the back of seed packets and allows for  growing plants more closely together to maximize”every square inch.”

What Is Square Inch Gardening?

  1. Sowing seeds close together.  In nature, seeds don’t measure distances in inches as is recommended on backs of seed packages.
  2.  Spacing plants closer together acts like a “living mulch” – preventing evaporation from the soil and saving watering costs.
  3.  Multiple-layers. For instance, bigger vegetables like broccoli or peppers are planted with a carpet of greens – lettuce, arugula, etc., underneath. With this type of technique, the green carpet acts like a living mulch, preventing weeds and keeping the soil moist

Small is Beautiful & Productive

By blending the principles of biointensive gardening and square-foot gardening,  you can devise a customized, highly productive intensive gardening system that maximizes an urban plot or patio.  

Check out our Garden at a Glance

Have you incorporated any intensive gardening “max-out”  methods?   Did Mel’s methods inspire you to ditch the row?


  1. The future’s bright, the future’s organic : permaculture and the good shape of things to come – UK Reloaded says:

    […] They make the most of their small space with a modified version of square foot gardening they call “square inch gardening.” […]

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