When it comes to gardening, one size DOES NOT fit all! When choosing a gardening method, it’s all about LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION.
First, consider how much space you have to dedicate to your garden. Some of you live in an apartment, and can only do indoor gardening, or window gardening. Perhaps you have a balcony, deck, or porch that allows you a little more space and sunshine for container gardening. You might have a small backyard, which is well suited to square foot gardening. Or if you’re really lucky, you have land, and lots of it, so space is not an issue.
The other aspect of location is where in the world you live. I envy those in California who can garden year round! In the south (Arizona, Nevada, Texas, and Florida) there are places where it’s too hot in the summer for a garden to grow. The farther north or higher the elevation, the shorter the summer becomes.
Here is a brief overview of the different methods of gardening. Choose the one that best suits your circumstances.
Imagine a large plot of earth tilled up, and organized in long rows. This is a traditional garden. It requires a lot of space, and a lot of work.
It’s important to know what kind of soil you have (even get it tested at a local extension office), so you can add appropriate amendments. Sand or clay? Acidic or Alkaline? It’s always good to add compost–compost makes good soil better.
Amending and working in the garden can be very labor intensive and requires equipment. This is not a good method for those with physical limitations that make it difficult to bend, kneel, etc. In the spring and fall the garden needs to be tilled–although you may be able to rent or borrow a rototiller, you will still want to own a hoe, shovel, pitchfork, and sometimes more.
The other challenge with traditional gardening is weeds. Mulching can help, but you will inevitably battle as many weeds (or more!) as you have plants.
Some of the benefits to this method–you can grow A LOT of food, and if you want to grow enough to eat now and store for later, traditional gardening is your best bet. If you have good soil the startup costs can be very low–just purchasing some seeds.
For those with the space and energy, traditional gardening is a great option.
Square Foot Gardening
Square foot gardening is a method that combines several strategies of intensive gardening. First, gardening beds are built and filled with soil. Raised beds are easier to access, especially for those with physical limitations.
Square foot gardening recommends a mix of peat moss, vermiculite and compost–this is a very light soil that drains well, but also retains moisture for the plants. This eliminates concerns with very rocky, clay, acidic or other problematic soil. With this type of soil there is very little weeding to do.
Plants are spaced very close together, eliminating “rows.” This method also utilizes vertical gardening–supporting plants with trellises, staking, etc. This reduces the space needed on the ground by growing vining plants up instead of out.
The disadvantages of this method–the startup costs can be much higher because beds must be built or purchased, and soil must be replenished each year. You may need fertilizer to provide enough nutrients for the plants to grow and thrive. Compared to traditional gardening, this method may not generate as much produce per plant.
For those with very small yards or just a balcony or a porch to use, container gardening is a great option. From large tubs (like the Earth Box) to small pots, food can be grown in a very small space. Many “urban gardeners” use this method. Fortunately, many “dwarf” varieties have been developed to help those growing in such small areas.
The advantage is–space. It requires very little. The disadvantages are that your harvest may be limited, the soil will need constant improvement and fertilizer, and plants grown this way can be more susceptible to disease.
While houseplants may live and even thrive inside, it is difficult for plants that are trying to create fruit to get enough energy from indoor lights. A window might provide enough light to grow salad greens and herbs. Another great option is to provide artificial light, like the AeroGarden.
By “sheltered gardening” I mean use of a physical shelter like a greenhouse, row covers, or cold frames. In areas where the summer is short and temperatures stay cool, this might be the only way to have a successful garden. Many gardeners in normal climates use these to extend the growing season. This requires equipment (the various shelters) which can be expensive.
I have chosen to use a modified square foot gardening method. It was easy to set up, it is easy to maintain, and I am very happy with my harvests. Hopefully you will find a method that works well for you! Happy gardening!