Written by Kristina Hicks-Hamblin
Are you a wannabe gardener looking for some inspiration?
Meet Paige Bartholomew! Paige lives in USDA Hardiness Zone 7b and just grew her first Square Foot Garden!
Although this was Paige’s first experience with a garden of her own, she has a special relationship with the gardening method created by Mel Barthlomew. She is Mel’s granddaughter and affectionately refers to her famous grandfather as Poppy.
I met up with Paige online to ask her about her first year growing a Square Foot Garden. Of course the first thing I wanted to know was what she grew!
Paige told me that she grew cucumbers and three types of tomatoes on her trellis – cherry tomatoes, slicers, and beefsteaks – then planted eggplants at either end of the trellis like bookends.
She also grew peppers and a few different types of herbs – and finished the summer with an abundant harvest of eggplants, cucumbers, tomatoes, jalapenos, and banana peppers. In a separate pot, she also grew catnip for her cat!
But the love of gardening is not just about growing – it’s about digging in and eating fresh and tasty food, so I asked Paige what kind of culinary creations she whipped up with all that homegrown produce.
Her list of cooking accomplishments was impressive!
She told me she made eggplant parmesan, lots of salads, tomato soup, tomato sauce, basil pesto, guacamole, and even a TikTok inspired pasta sauce made with Boursin cheese and roasted tomatoes.
But one of her favorite garden delicacies was fresh carrots enjoyed raw from her raised bed. We both agreed that there is nothing quite like a fresh, homegrown carrot in terms of taste and texture!
Here are some more highlights from our interview:
On Gardening with Mel Bartholomew
K: “So, your grandfather’s pretty famous in this community. Did you ever get to garden with him when you were growing up?”
P: “Yes, but I was very young, so I have a very vague recollection of it. I think I was six or seven, maybe a little younger. I remember him handing a packet of seeds to me and we’d go out back and be back there gardening.”
On Starting a SFG for the First Time
K: “So I understand this is your very first time growing your own garden?”
P: “Yes, I just bought a house this past year, so I finally had the space to grow a garden. I have an aboveground pool and attached to it is this staircase leading up to a deck overlook. So my dad came up with the idea of building a two-by-eight, 16 square foot bed along the side of the stairwell. And what we did was we built a trellis attached to it, so that when I put in tomatoes and cucumbers they’d be able to grow up the side of the staircase. And the idea was I could walk up the stairs to my pool and pick tomatoes from up top.”
K: “Oh, that’s really cool, I didn’t think about you being able to harvest from above. That’s really clever.”
P: “Yeah, well Poppy was always about being creative and working with your space. It doesn’t always have to be a traditional looking square foot garden, right? If you have a unique feature in your space, you can make the most of that.”
On Challenges as a New Gardener
K: “Was there anything difficult for you in caring for your square foot garden?”
P: “I had some leaf miners in my spinach that ruined my spinach, but after talking with my dad, we found that the solution was to pick off the effected leaves and sure enough, this ended up saving the plant more or less.”
P: “Also, a big challenge for me has been learning the proper time to plant things. But I’m learning, and for me, a lot of times I’m asking my dad or my mom, when can I plant this, when can I plant that. I’ve been harassing them for the last few weeks.”
K: “Well, you do have good resources in your parents!”
P: “I know! And why don’t I take advantage of that, right?”
On the Surprises of Being a New Gardener
K: “Was there anything that really surprised you about growing your own SFG?”
P: “How much I like it. I actually got really in to it. I really enjoyed learning about the proper things to do for certain plants. And seeing the successes. For example, when I started growing my cherry tomatoes, they didn’t take off immediately, but then I started pruning the tomato plant and clipping back suckers, and then the plant took off, and I was like wow, this really works!”
On Next Year’s Garden Plans
K: “Is there anything you’re going to do differently next time?”
P: “I think I’m going to reconsider where I put certain things. I also want to try growing different things. Last year I didn’t grow any peas. I just want to keep trying new things. I want to try turnips, onions, and maybe I’ll try pumpkins. I thought about doing strawberries too because I really like strawberries.”
“I also want to do more herbs. I did cilantro, mint, basil, parsley, and they were great, but I feel like I’m still going to the grocery store for things like thyme, rosemary, and sage, so I’d like to get some more herbs in the garden next year.”
Words of Advice for SFG Newbies
K: “For new gardeners who are kind of nervous about getting started, do you have any words of advice?”
P: “Just do it. Just do it because it’s worth it. That’s easy for me to say because I had so much help with my SFG. I wasn’t alone trying to build my beds, I had help from my parents. Consult the SFGF’s Instagram page, consult the YouTube channel and look at videos of beds being made. It might seem like this insurmountable task but once you get the hang of it, it really is second nature.”