At A Glance
Title: Square Foot Gardening With Kids
Author: Mel Bartholomew
Publisher: Cool Springs Press
Release Date: January 2014
Cover Price: $24.99
Target Audience: Parents who want to get their kids involved in the garden; kids of all ages with a desire to get their hands dirty
In 1981, in his first book, Mel Bartholomew coined the term “square foot gardening” to describe an easy-to-learn, adaptable small-scale gardening method designed to help new growers experiment with plants and design their own intensively planted starter gardens. The idea’s innate simplicity and ease of implementation caught on, launching Bartholomew’s career as a garden writer, television host and founder of the Square Foot Gardening Foundation.
Now, he’s taking those very same square foot gardening principles and gearing them toward budding growers with his newest book, Square Foot Gardening With Kids, designed to help parents teach their children gardening basics and get them excited about food production while also helping them build science, math and health skills.
In a nutshell, square foot gardening consists of building a 3-by-3-foot box, filling it with soil—Bartholomew recommends a mixture of equal parts peat moss, vermiculite and compost that he calls Mel’s Mix— and dividing it into nine 1-by-1-foot sections. From here, kids (or adults—don’t knock it till you’ve tried it) can decide what fruits and vegetables to plant in each of the squares. The fresh potting soil minimizes weed growth and eliminates most of the more arduous garden tasks (think tilling and fertilizing); the multi-square grid encourages garden experimentation through its minimal space for each plant; and a square foot is actually a great amount of space for small plantings of lots of herbs and vegetables—just maybe not pumpkins or fruit trees.
Honestly, it’s a little surprising that this book is only coming out now, almost 35 years after the original volume. The principles behind square foot gardening seem tailor-made for kids, and Bartholomew does a excellent job pointing out the lessons children can learn from the various steps of the process, from constructing the box to harvesting that first ripe tomato. The book is written for parents of any-aged children, but he does pull out tips, experiments and strategies for specific age groups where possible.
Take the section on growing transplants, for instance: Bartholomew outlines how to start seeds in small containers of vermiculite that can be transplanted into the square foot garden when they sprout. He encourages the use of a cottage cheese or yogurt container to teach the value of recycling. He also builds in a lesson on capillary action by urging parents to poke several holes in the bottom of the container and set it down on a saucer of water so kids can see the water absorbed by the plant as it begins to poke through the vermiculite.
I’d wager that these are the most valuable takeaways from Square Foot Gardening: not the kids’ guide to herbs and vegetables or the solid gardening advice throughout, though both definitely have their merits. The book is chock-full of ways to get your children excited about growing food while also providing frequent strategies for additional education and involvement. Looking at square foot gardening through the eyes of a child merely hammers home what an excellent technique for beginning gardeners is really is.
The Final Word: Square Foot Gardening With Kids is a good way to instill a lifelong love of farming and growing in your kids, and provides an excellent summer activity for the whole family to enjoy.
Find more advice on getting children involved with farm life:
- 5 Farm Chores Your Kids Will Say “Yes!” To
- Teach Kids With Chickens
- 5 Perennial Vegetables for a Children’s Garden
- Garden Design With Children
- 7 Heritage Cattle Breeds to Raise With Your Children