Saturday, 24 June 2017

Square Foot Gardening - Growing Perfect Vegetables

I have to be honest and say that this book is not what I expected.

I am familiar with the Square Foot Gardening (SFG) technique, which has apparently become quite popular in the USA (though much less so over here in the UK, I believe), and in theory it is a technique that should appeal to me - an orderly, disciplined way of gaining the maximum yield from a small piece of ground, with the minimum of effort. This is what I thought the book would be about, but it isn't. There is a very brief introduction to the SFG technique at the beginning of the book, but the vast majority of the book is devoted to understanding when a vegetable is "ripe" - i.e. ready to be picked - and also (curiously) what to look for when buying vegetables in a shop / market. 126 pages are devoted to "Ripeness Listings", vegetable by vegetable. Each vegetable has at least one photograph, and approximately half a page of text, devoted to it.

There are basic tables indicating sowing / planting and harvesting times for each vegetable, shown mostly in relation to first / last frost dates, but precious little about actually cultivating it. In view of the title of the book, I find this disappointing.

Chapter 3 at the end of the book has a couple of short sections covering "Care and handling", "Short-term produce storage at a glance" and "Kitchen Wisdom", but they are extremely superficial. Who needs to be told that cucumbers are best stored in the fridge, but potatoes aren't?

Oddly, considering the title of the book, there is a complete chapter entitled "Outside the box", devoted to things that would not normally be practical to grow in an SFG bed, such as fruit trees (including exotics like durian, lychee, papaya and coconut!).

The real odd one out in this section is the kohlrabi which I would have thought would be fine for SFG - especially since Brussels Sprouts are reckoned to be so. The main emphasis of this chapter is understanding what to look for when buying these fruits / vegetables ("In the Market") and how to store them at home to enjoy them at maximum ripeness ("Extending Ripeness"). There are a few quirky bits of advice in this section which might just work - like storing pears at a temperature just below freezing for a couple of days to help them ripen. I've not heard this before, but it might be worth a try.

Interspersed throughout the book are little sections like "The 10 healthiest ripe fruit and vegetables" and "10 incredibly beautiful ripe fruits and vegetables" - with photos to match of course. I don't really think these sections add much - they are too subjective - but if you like looking at nice photos, then they are OK!

In fact, perhaps the best aspect of the book is that it includes lots of really good, clear photos. They are not always to be relied upon though - one the photos of "Flat-leaf Parsley" on page 69 is definitely of coriander / cilantro.

My personal opinion is that this book has little to offer for the serious gardener, and I find its title misleading. I suggest instead "A guide to selecting and storing perfect fruit and vegetables" - omitting all reference to SFG, which is not really relevant to this subject. Overall, a disappointing book, which seems to me like a jumble of miscellaneous bits and pieces.

P.S. I should point out that the book is aimed at the American market, and uses U.S. spelling and names - e.g. "Scallions" as opposed to "Spring Onions" and "Eggplant" as opposed to "Aubergine".

"Growing Perfect Vegetables" is published by the Quarto Publishing Group USA Inc. Price in the UK is £11.99.

Disclaimer: This book was provided FOC for review purposes.


  1. Hummm, sounds like what I call "a coffee table book"= one that sits on your coffee table and looks pretty but no one ever reads it. The words "a visual guide" I guess should have been a warning but I would have thought it had more information on actually growing vegetables too.

  2. I said the same in my review, Mark about the book having the wrong title. I just reviewed it as is rather than what I expected so I wasn't disappointed as you were. To be honest I wouldn't have found square foot gardening to be of use to me so was glad that wasn't what it was about. If anyone buys the book using the title as a guide they would definitely be disappointed.

  3. As someone who grows SFG and is an admin on the Square Foot Gardening UK Facebook group, I am surprised that this book has been published. The author is shown as the Mel Bartholomew foundation. Mel was the founder of SFG and is now deceased. It seems that his good name is being (ab)used just to make money.
    Kohl rabi is a great crop for SFG. I grow it successfully at 4 per sq ft and have some ready for harvest at the moment.
    Keep up the great blog Mark - It's some of my favourite reading.

    1. I agree with what you say about the money-making, Phil. The Mel Bartholomew Foundation appears to have published a lot of rather similar-sounding books related to the SFG theme, and this one just seemed to be one too many. I'd use the phrase "milking it"!

  4. This decade will be known for many things, but compilations of lazy lists of "ten best x" or "ten signs that y" will be one that stands out to me. I'm surprised to see it in a book - did they lift it straight from buzzfeed?


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