Growing on the grid: Square-foot gardening in raised beds prevents weeds, easy to manage

ELTOPIA -- Gardening is easy if you take it one square foot at a time.

That's the message Susan Gray of Eltopia is spreading to beginner and experienced gardeners.

She's a graduate of the square-foot gardening class taught by Mel Bartholomew at the Square Foot Gardening Foundation in Eden, Utah. His method is based on growing veggies in raised beds and spacing the plants using a square-foot grid.

An experienced home gardener, Gray has been using the method for about 1 1/2 years.

"It's not as long as some people but long enough to get excited about it," she said. "I'm sold on it."

To educate other gardeners in the method and to capitalize on the resurgence in home gardens, Gray and her husband Kevin have started a business, Square Foot Gardens To Go.

The Grays are offering classes, taught by Susan, materials for the raised vegetable beds, Bartholomew's book All New Square Foot Gardening, and ready-to-use drip irrigation systems designed by Kevin for the modular beds.

Susan teaches square-foot gardening either in a classroom setting for $10 per person or in hands-on workshops for $20 per person.

"If people want, we can even come to their house and do one-on-one lessons," she said. Cost is determined on a case by case basis.

The first person Susan taught to garden by the square foot was her husband, who was used to farming by the acre.

"We've always had a home vegetable garden but we planted it in the ground in conventional rows," Kevin said. "It was fine in the spring, but by May and June when we were busy farming alfalfa and asparagus, we lost the garden."

"It was a weeding nightmare," Susan said.

"It was hard to go to containers at first, but I'm convinced now it's the way to go," Kevin said.

"Now, rather than spending every Saturday weeding, my son Matt and I go fishing."

Key points of square foot gardening taught by Bartholomew is to plant in raised beds, use a special planting mix you make yourself and water with drip irrigation.

The raised wooden beds are 4-by-4-foot square and six inches high. Each sits on a tough sheet of landscape cloth to prevent weeds and grass from growing up into it.

Instead of soil, which contains weed seeds, the beds are filled with a planting mix of one part each compost (Susan recommends homemade), peat moss and vermiculite. Then the container is topped with a grid of wood lathe dividing the bed into square-foot sections.

"Gardening this way the weeds never get out of hand," Susan said. "Kids like it and I do too because they won't grow up thinking gardening is backbreaking but something fun and we'll have a whole new generation of gardeners.

"And that seems to be the way we're going either to save money or for fresher, more nutritious produce," she added.

For more information on square foot gardening, the container gardens, irrigation systems or to book a class, call 509-297-4220 or 509-492-6599.

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Susan Gray of Eltopia will teach the square foot gardening method in a class from noon to 3 p.m. March 20 at Job's Nursery north of Pasco.

Cost is $10 per person or $15 per couple. Tickets are available at the nursery. To purchase, call 509-547-4843.

* Loretto J. Hulse: 582-1513;