Square-foot gardening was popularized by Mel Bartholomew in the 1980s as a different approach to organizing and developing sustainable food-production processes for individuals. Based on a four-foot-square plot of arable land, the garden was sectioned into individual square-foot areas, 16 in all, and an array of different vegetables was planted in each square. His single four-foot-square garden required only one hour per week of tending after initial planting, and it yielded terrific results.
The simple size of the garden makes it easy to fit in almost any space, and as the garden can be approached from all sides, the greatest physical reach required is two feet to the center, thus reducing muscle stress and back pain. Subsequent versions of the square-foot garden have included raised beds and tabletop gardens, also known as salad tables. These raised beds are especially popular for teaching children how to grow vegetables and for therapy for the physically challenged and infirm.
The positive health effects of tending gardens are well documented. Urban gardeners generally grow organically without using insecticides to control pests. Weed management is done simply by hand, which provides a relaxing relationship between the farmer and the plants. The produce is free of manufactured chemicals and generally is acknowledged as being tastier and full of flavour and nutrients.
According to the American Journal of Public Heath and the journal of the Association for Psychological Sciences, there are also an increasing number of studies that point to greater personal health benefits to square-foot gardening. Apart from the improved nutrition benefits, the physical labour required to tend the garden also contributes to health. People who tend gardens as a rule have lower body-mass indexes and lower odds of being overweight or obese. People who garden and or live near green spaces as a rule had a greater sense of well being and reported less stress and higher satisfaction with life.
Physically maintaining a garden is good for your appetite, your muscles, your weight management, your nutrition and your sleep. Some reports from individuals suggest improved sex lives as well! Psychologically, gardening nurtures your natural instincts, cultivates a sense of patience, explores creativity, relieves stress, reduces anxiety and improves your attitude. For $2 worth of seeds and 16 square feet of space, backyard gardening and square-foot gardens have a lot to offer.
Here in Bermuda, there are many enthusiastic advocates of modern-day homesteading. The plant nurseries have hosted vegetable-gardening seminars, and Greenrock (www.greenrock.bm) has launched a community garden in support of its Healthy Harvest program. The Foot of the Lane community garden has been a success for years, and the National Trust, various churches and interest groups have also developed community gardens.
The Bermuda College has offered courses in developing backyard gardens. Frances Eddy, a great proponent and teacher of Grow Biointensive Bermuda, has developed a private-tuition course that educates the backyard farmer on the strategies required to make profitable use of small parcels of land. Community gardens provide another essential health option: social cohesion. Community gardeners share ideas and tips, and, in the process, they develop lasting personal and positive relationships.
It is clear there is a new attitude and appreciation for the habits and resourcefulness of our grandparents’ generation. A new wave of backyard gardeners is changing values. That the U.S. White House and Bermuda’s own Government House have kitchen gardens tells us that the move to healthy eating and gardening activity is not a fleeting trend but a reapplication of simple good sense and a logical means of improving our nutrition. The costs to get started are small, the benefits are large, and that is some good news we all can live better by!