Tips and techniques for the 'Seasoned' gardener: Part III

Posted December 27, 2012 at 10:56 am


by Marilyn Odneal, Horticulture Adviser

This week, this seasoned gardener will look at some more techniques to take the stress out of garden work – for old and young alike. We talked about a few types of raised beds in the last column that take gardening up off the ground and more accessible. This week we will move on to more beds and even bags to grow plants in.

Square foot gardens: The square foot gardening system was developed by Mel Bartholemew – a former efficiency expert – who divides a 4 by 4 foot garden into 1 foot squares using a grid atop a raised bed. The boxes are spaced 3 feet apart and are filled with 1/3 compost, 1/3 peat moss and 1/3 coarse vermiculite. Each square is planted with different vegetables or flowers using one, four, nine or 16 plants per square foot depending on plant size. Once you finish harvesting a square, all you do is add compost and replant it with a new and different crop. Bartholemew has written several books on the subject and has a website with kits available, including trellises that attach to the back of the square for climbing plants.

Keyhole gardens: I wrote earlier about the keyhole garden I am constructing this winter. It is a 6 foot diameter circle with a wedge cut out. The sides are waist high so you can work in the garden while standing. There is a centrally located compost basket where kitchen scraps and other organic matter is added to nourish the garden. The rest of the garden is filled with organic materials, soil and potting media to accommodate the plant roots. My cats have already expressed an interest in the project, so I plan to put a covering with bird net or chicken wire attached so they don’t get the idea that it is their outdoor litter box!

Garden bags: Vertical plastic bags have been used in greenhouse production of cut flowers, strawberries and tomatoes and are also used as hanging baskets for ornamentals. Gardeners in Britain have planted directly into plastic bags of potting soil to grow crops on steps and patios. New double layer polypropylene fabric bags that “breathe” and avoid heat build-up or overwatering have been developed and are available from several companies. Different sized bags are available for peppers, herbs, tomatoes, potatoes (small and jumbo), carrots, salad, garlic and even beans. The bags are filled with potting media and can be used with tomato or veggie cages for support. Grow bags are also used for production on the ground and are used for many vegetables instead of pots. The bags can be grouped on the ground or in a raised bed system for easier access.

Whether it is a raised bed or a bag, there are many different types of gardens nowadays and it is easy to find the best ones for your age and energy level. And don’t worry – old gardeners never die, they just throw in the trowel!

For suggestions, comments or questions on this column, contact Marilyn Odneal via email at; write to Missouri State Fruit Experiment Station, 9740 Red Spring Road, Mountain Grove, Mo. 65711; or call (417) 547-7500. Visit our Web site at

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GARDENING IN A BAG – My friend, Geri, tried some grow bags for her tomato plants this year. I liked the idea and thought I would like to put two large grow bags in my double galvanized laundry tubs as an easy way of constructing a raised planting bed.