For years I’ve tried to grow a decent vegetable garden. It was the high cost of fresh basil—$3.50 for a few measly, wilted fresh basil leaves, ditto for a pound of somewhat reddish tomatoes—that prompted me to try. In no time I added zucchini and cucumbers to my repertoire—even corn one year.

My harvests have ranged from disappointing to mediocre. Only one year my harvest produced enough to share with others. I’m still trying to remember how I did that. So far, I’ve been unable to duplicate the results.

One thing I do quite well is weeds. I try not to take too much credit here, but I have to tell you I’ve never seen anyone else grow weeds quite as successfully as I do.

While I love the concept of a garden that’s not only nice to look at but actually produces something we can eat, I’m not 100 percent in love with the anxiety, pressure, guilt, backaches, leg cramps, and fear of needing hip replacements.

While in the past my efforts to garden have been more of a hobby than a serious endeavor, I feel that changing. The high cost of food—specifically produce—tells me it’s time to get serious. We need to become more self-sufficient, but in a cost-effective way.

While I feel that I’ve mastered weeds, I’ve failed miserably in cost effectiveness. I shudder to imagine the true cost of the pathetically tiny bounty I’ve garnered over the years. 

History lesson

During World War II, Americans were encouraged to plant gardens—Victory Gardens—to reduce the pressure on the public food supply brought on by the war effort. In addition to indirectly aiding the war effort, these gardens were also considered a civil “morale booster”—in that gardeners could feel empowered by their contribution of labor and rewarded by the produce grown. Planting Victory Gardens became a part of daily life on the home front.

I propose a similar concept. We can call ours Freedom Gardens—a way to gain freedom from the high cost of produce and break, if only in a small way, our dependence on others for our sustenance. As a bonus, this is going to be very enjoyable, and with any luck, equally cost effective.

I’m ready to change everything about the way I’ve gardened in the past, and invite you to join me.

Square foot garden

Mel Bartholomew is the genius behind the concept of “square foot gardening” and author of the new, updated All New Square Foot Gardening (Cool Springs, 2006, $19.99).

Bartholomew, a civil engineer by profession and a frustrated gardener on weekends, became convinced that gardening in single rows because “that’s the way we’ve always done it,” is a waste of time, energy and money.

He condensed his garden to above-the-ground, 6-inch deep plots measuring four feet by four feet, which yielded 100 percent of the harvest in 20 percent of the space—without all the hard work and drudgery of single-row gardening.

This method is easy to understand even for beginners. A square foot garden requires 80 percent less space and can be located anywhere—even on a patio, balcony or driveway. But you can expect twice the harvest of a regular-sized garden.

A square foot garden, which can be as small as two feet square, is simple to protect from weather and pests. And, best of all, this kind of garden is very productive.

A square foot garden can be created and maintained by those with physical limitations, as the boxes  can be raised to an appropriate height.

You can start a square foot garden in any season. Planting requires no thinning, no tilling and very few seeds. And did I mention no weeds? None. Zip. Nada.