Surprisingly, the strongest reaction we get is when we quote Square Foot Gardening creator and author Mel Bartholomew who said, “If your garden box doesn’t have a grid, it’s not a Square Foot Garden.”
We get a few inquiries asking why we’re so adamant about it, and occasionally we get a quite contentious reaction. Something like this, “I don’t use a grid. I don’t need it. I can still estimate where things go.”
Mel would shake his head because he felt they were missing a very important point, that using a grid makes the job of gardening much easier. How can a few pieces of wood lathing, or screen molding, or thin bamboo poles or even old Venetian blinds set on top of your Mel’s Mix growing medium really make a difference?
In the original book Mel, who loved to save every penny he could, said the grid could be made by pounding nails into the raised bed and making a grid from string. After a while, he realized that the string would become buried in the soil, deteriorate and often break. In 2005, with the publishing of the first edition of the All New Square Foot Gardening book, he encouraged people to ditch the nails and string and make their grids “prominent and permanent,” and we completely agree.
If you showed someone a 4’x4’ raised bed without a grid and asked them how many crops they could grow in that tiny space they usually say, “Four? Six? Well, maybe eight if I pack them in really tightly.” It’s not until you lay the grid on top of the Mel’s Mix that the brain can comprehend that you can grow a whopping sixteen different vegetables, herbs and flowers in that small raised bed! Let’s just say that you will truly have an aha! moment when you add a grid.
Another reason to have a grid is that it’s much less intimidating, especially if you’re a beginning gardener, when you can put all your attention on a single square at a time. “OK, let me focus on that square of four leaf lettuces. Let me learn how to grow that one crop. Mel’s right, I can do this!” Having your raised bed divided visually into separate mini gardens.
Prominent and permanent grids, according to Mel, make your garden distinctive, tidy and downright beautiful. In his words, “This is just one of the reasons I insist if you’re going to call your garden a Square Foot Garden it must have a grid. And not a string grid, with rusty nails holding it tight.”
Mel loved to have fun and asked his fans to come up with some, “A Square Foot Gardening without a grid is like a ________ without ________. Here are a few:
A Square Foot Gardening without a grid is like . . . “
A parking lot without lines.
A highway without lanes.
A tic-tac-toe puzzle without lines.
A house without interior walls.
A tennis court without a net.
A basketball court without boundaries.
A chess game without spaces.
So why wouldn’t you want to have a grid on your Square Foot Garden?68