We had a comment recently from Linda, who said:
Mel, I’m landing on your websites and discovering Square Foot Gardening, which is very similar to the French Intensive Gardening I’ve studied over the years.
My answer started by saying that they are actually totally opposite. Opposite in the amount of space you need, tools, work, spacing, experience and need to learn. I’m not knocking the FIM, but it came to us as a farming method from the outskirts of Paris and other French cities. It was a huge improvement on single row gardening, which unfortunately the world still practices, but it was still very complicated and extremely labor intensive. I’ve gone into an explanation of it in recent response to Linda, but wanted to expand on it, so here is the full response.
SFG = Opposite of FIM
SFG is just the opposite of the FIM as far as condensed raised bed gardening goes. Here are my comments. FIM requires you to dig down 18″ deep to improve the existing soil. Since a shovel only digs 9″, you have to “double dig” and place one layer in one spot and the lower layer in another and then you work your way down digging trenches in your yard, putting some soil here and there and gradually filling in your extra deep trenches. I think by adding the top soil of one to the bottom of another. This is all to put the good soil down deep where the roots might want to grow. That’s a lot of work and takes a herculean effort every spring. They suggest you add the good stuff like peat moss, compost and barnyard manure in the soil too to keep improving them.
I did a survey when I first invented SFG of how long it takes to improve your soil. Serious gardeners averaged about seven years, then they had a perfect soil. What happens then?
They move! To add to the futility and humor of it all, a young gardener buys their house and I can hear the wife saying to the husband, “Let’s pave over that garden area so we can park our boat there.” All that work, all that effort, seven long years. That’s worse than a prison sentence. Most serious gardeners “do time” for that number of years. SFG on the other hand starts out the first year NO DIGGING, just build a box, lay it on the ground, add weed fabric to the bottom and fill it with a perfect soil mix that has no weed seeds in it.
Disadvantages of the French Intensive Method
The method for the FIM which I think is in 3′ wide beds (SFG is in 4′ wide beds making it 35% better) is as follows. You space your seeds 4-6″ apart according to the seed packet across the 3′ wide bed, all in a row. Then the next row is spaced the same distance but in between the first row. That allows you to move the second row closer to the first row by about an inch. The trouble is that you lose a half of a space on the end, eliminating the savings on that one inch row spacing.
On the other hand, SFG divides a 4’x4′ bed into common 12″x12″ spaces and all plants fit in that same space with either 1, 4, 9 or 16 plants per square foot with no wasted space.
The next disadvantage of FIM is when you harvest a crop, let’s say it’s two rows across the 3′ bed and you’re ready to replant with a different crop. That crop, because it might be 3″ or 9″ apart, wont’ fit in that exact same spacing you have vacated and you either have too much wasted space or too many crops planted. SFG plants only one square foot at a time and that same space will be suitable for your next and every other crop that follows. If you want more than one head of cabbage or 4 heads of lettuce, you just plant more in additional squares in different locations. That spreads that plant apart so they are not as prone to disease or insects spreading.
And the list goes on. I could spend another thousand words telling you that the FIM was designed for farming right outside of Paris and not for home backyard gardeners, yet I remember when it was introduced to our country back in the 60s or 70s and became a huge hit. Every garden writer studied it intently until they could understand all of the intricacies of the soil prep and the plant spacing and could write about it in their magazine and newspaper articles.
SFG has gotten a poor reception from all of the professionals and the experts. Why? Because it’s too easy, too simple, and probably just can’t work. So we have appealed to the beginners who don’t want a lot of work, tools, digging, and complicated gardening techniques. My question to you, is: how can we attract that audience and get more of them to start gardening when they realize there is no digging, no tilling, no weeding, and no work?
In addition, SFG produces 100% of the harvest in only 20% of the space, 10% of the water, 5% of the seeds and 2% of the work. I ramble on but the subject is passionate with me and my goal is to change the world of gardening from a hand me down system of farming by the square foot and now square meter gardening system. Think of how this could change the world, change the environment.