Square meter gardening

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FBeyer
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Square meter gardening

Post by FBeyer » Sat Feb 18, 2017 10:36 am

I borrowed Square Metre Gardening: The Radical Approach to Gardening That Really Works by Mel Bartholomew and noticed today that it's actually on the ERE reading list.

As someone who is at the dumb-as-bricks level with regards to gardening, I'd like to get some feedback from the ERE community about the pros and cons of this particular method.

A first blush it seems cheap on materials, maintenance and tools but I can't tell what the drawbacks are. Have any of you tried it, know someone who does, or know why it might only be useful as a primer to gardening and not an actual ERE-like way of growing some of your own food?

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vexed87
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Re: Square meter gardening

Post by vexed87 » Sat Feb 18, 2017 11:04 am

It's a great book for beginners.

IIRC Mel is an advocate of raised beds, meaning you have to build those, buy wood, construct and maintain them etc, also, if you follow mel's guidance to the letter, you need to bring in a lot of top soil, compost and vermiculite to fill your beds, this all costs money and time. The most cost effective way of doing this is to buy cheapest compost possible, which is often environmentally destructive, i.e. peat moss, or simply poor quality stuff. Unless you have a way of getting it for free, if you buy retail, you'll pay more for more sustainably sourced high quality compost, this adds up quick and not very ERE, the methods works ok if you only have a few beds, but it costs more as you scale up. If you want more than a few beds, I would consider other strategies.

Other strategies might have you start with the soil you already have, i.e. plant right into the turf and build up your soil over time. That said, depending on your soil quality, it may be easier to build raised beds, but if you have good soil, I'd skip the raised beds entirely, and and follow the rest of his advice. Vermiculite is added to Mel's mix to help retain moisture, so, thinking logically, you could achieve the same thing using cheap alternatives, such as hugelkultur methods, mulching, etc promoted in permaculture texts.

Raised beds can be very attractive. When they are populated with dense polycultures, they are very resilient to pests, disease and weeding can be kept to a minimum, especially if you mulch pathways with wood chip etc.

George the original one
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Re: Square meter gardening

Post by George the original one » Sat Feb 18, 2017 2:14 pm

I grew up with large scale gardening, so never got interested in the smaller varieties that have <ahem> cropped up in the last 20 years. If you need an introduction to the gardening experience, then square meter (or square foot) gardening is good.

As vexed says, the primary problem is the cost of initial materials rather than using what is on hand. There's no real reason for all those extra gardening supplies... you can make a raised bed by mounding dirt 6"-12" higher than the surrounding landscape. Do add compost to give the soil better structure and increase fertility; your choice of whether to add additional fertilizer. Maybe a mulch, maybe not; depends on climate & goals.

Things that will do well for a first-time gardener: runner beans, radishes, leaf lettuce, potatoes, strawberries, & peas. Ask at your local garden center for variety suggestions suited to your microclimate.

I will note that until your garden gets into the 40 sq meter range, it is just a hobby and you're not even close to self-sustaining.

JasonR
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Re: Square meter gardening

Post by JasonR » Sat Feb 18, 2017 3:11 pm

We did it this past summer. Started in May and were eating salads until December 14th. Outside Philly.

We spent $70 on the basic setup. I spent $70 more building a 4x4x4 1/2" chicken wire cube to keep out the legions of squirrels/birds/rodentia/pests that wreck everyone else's garden around here. Looks terrible but it worked. Covered the bottom too. The opposite of permaculture, but I wanted to test it out.

We have no sun (2 hours direct, the rest *heavily* shaded by our neighbor's 200 year old white oak) so we can only grow salad greens. But we did, in abundance, with watering a few times over six months being our only maintenance. With more sun (when the emerald ash borers kill the other neighbor's trees) I will add a few more beds. Very simple, very easy, very low effort.

I don't know the *true cost* of my bags of peat moss and vermiculite, but they will each last two more seasons with only one 4x4 bed. The compost is easy enough to make. Wood can be scavenged. Half inch chicken wire was an issue, but hopefully you won't need it.

7Wannabe5
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Re: Square meter gardening

Post by 7Wannabe5 » Tue Feb 21, 2017 11:27 am

I agree with most of what vexed87 said. Mel Bartholomew was my guru when I first started gardening seriously a little over 20 years ago. His method is very much at the "optimization" Wheaton level with acreage devoted to garden beds the clear limiting factor. I used to have a lovely garden that started as a square of 9 4'X4' beds divided by paths composed of round concrete pavers and mulch. The squares were surrounded by a half-circular drive-way, so I eventually added semi-circular beds of flowering perennials around the squares devoted mostly to annual vegetables. Eventually the strawberries spread out of the central square, and the dill continuously reseeded in another square, and the johnny-jump-ups, as their name so aptly indicates, tended towards popping up all over, etc. etc. etc. And, I came to realize that the Bartholomew method was a bit too rigid for my druthers, and not so necessary once I was confident that I could identify many seedlings and plants, and realized that seed was cheap, land was semi-cheap, but my labor was expensive.

ThisDinosaur
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Re: Square meter gardening

Post by ThisDinosaur » Tue Feb 21, 2017 1:19 pm

When I started container gardening I learned the following:

Plant stuff that is known to grow locally.
You can still get weeds in a raised bed or container.
Rocks + organic debris to loosen soil and earthworms were correlated with crops actually growing.

All obvious to those with experience, but I'm a noob and had to learn the hard way. vexed87 mentioned hugelculture, and that's what I'm leaning toward doing in the future. Essentially, burry a log or some branches and plant over that. The elevated mound works as a raised bed and reduces the need for irrigation, mulching, and weeding. The nutrients and stored water in the wood will supply the crops and soil organism with nutrients for years/decades.

Also, closely planted polyculuture>>>> square meter monoculture. In other words, start your seeds indoors and then plant different species of compatible seedlings *very* close together. This crowds out undesirable weeds and pest plants.

George the original one
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Re: Square meter gardening

Post by George the original one » Tue Feb 21, 2017 2:01 pm

ThisDinosaur wrote:Also, closely planted polyculuture>>>> square meter monoculture. In other words, start your seeds indoors and then plant different species of compatible seedlings *very* close together. This crowds out undesirable weeds and pest plants.
Close plant spacing is highly productive in terms of plants per area, but it is also water intensive. Spreading the plants out requires less water resources.

Campitor
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Re: Square meter gardening

Post by Campitor » Tue Feb 21, 2017 8:12 pm

I recommend this book by Eliot Coleman: https://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN ... asonfar-20. He has a lot of great ideas on improving yield via organic gardening and discusses how winter harvesting is possible even in very northern latitudes.

ThisDinosaur
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Re: Square meter gardening

Post by ThisDinosaur » Wed Feb 22, 2017 9:52 am

@George I
But does intensive planting use more total water per plant? Like, say you've got four pea plants and you either spread them over your yard or squeeze them all into one corner. Will you use more total water? I would suggest not, but correct me if you know otherwise. If that's the case, it just depends on what is the limiting factor; land area or water.

Also, I've read that fruit trees crowded close together limits their maximum height. This makes it easier to harvest them and doesn't reduce the total fruit yield per area, since fewer resources go into inedible parts of the plant.

George the original one
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Re: Square meter gardening

Post by George the original one » Wed Feb 22, 2017 12:11 pm

@ThisDinosaur
See http://soilandhealth.org/wp-content/upl ... frame.html for a better overview than I can provide. All I can vouch for is that in the Pacific Northwest, spacing can be the difference between irrigating and not irrigating during our dry summer months for many crops.

George the original one
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Re: Square meter gardening

Post by George the original one » Wed Feb 22, 2017 12:24 pm

@ThisDinosaur
Specifically wrt peas, here in the Pacific Northwest, there's no need to irrigate peas because when the dry heat comes, then enation strikes and your pea season is over. You can pretty much crowd them to your heart's content. With the exception being here on the coast, where there is so little heat that enation rarely strikes and thus you end up irrigating them from mid-June onwards to Sept (I highly recommend Oregon Giant as a good variety for the coast because it can be eaten as pea pods and shelled peas).

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