Square Foot Gardening: Self-care modality

When I was a first year graduate student in psychology, we studied many personality theories as well as a variety of methods of psychotherapy. As a traditional Western institution of higher learning, the program I attended mentioned non-traditional and alternative approaches but gave them relatively short shrift. As a result, we students developed shorthand ways of referring to the methods about which we learned very little. One of those methods was Morita Therapy. We referred to it as digging-in-the-dirt therapy.

First, I will make profound apologies to Dr. Shoma Morita, The Morita School, and The ToDo Institute for the lightness with which we treated this Japanese School of Psychology. We focused on one kind of direct action in the world that was used in this therapy. . . working in a garden. That is one very tiny piece of this Zen Buddhist inspired method.

Fortunately for me, it is the piece I took away and have used throughout my adult life. Gardening has always been the way I nurture myself. Getting down on my hands and knees and getting my hands into the dirt is one of the most profound ways I have experienced of centering myself and taking care of myself. It is the action I take to relieve anxiety and to recover from sadness.

This past week, I expanded my gardening repertoire. I had the exciting experience of completing a teacher certification class offered by the Square Foot Gardening Foundation.

In the past six months, I have had two people point me to Square Foot Gardening. . . a friend in South Florida who had undertaken one there, and my nephew Zachary who had planted one in Chicago last summer. Many years ago, I had read about Square Foot Gardening in a chapter of a book entitled Florida Home Grown 2: The Edible Landscape by Tom MacCubbin. Like most gardeners, I found it very hard to believe that so much could grow successfully in so little space. . . so I did not try the method. With Zachary’s encouragement, I purchased a copy of the All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. I quickly decided this was for me. When, one week later, a third friend told me about the teacher class being held in my home county, I knew the synchronicity was too compelling to ignore.

What could possibly be so exciting about gardening? Why would anyone want to spend their time in the dirt rather than walking the aisles of the food store?

Have you ever eaten freshly picked vegetables? Have you felt the satisfaction of planting, nurturing and harvesting beautiful, nutritious food that tastes wonderful? Have you ever felt the sense of well-being that goes with producing your own food?

Square Foot Gardening can be done by anyone in tiny spaces with little work, small quantities of water, virtually no weeds, and lots of results. Mel says you can get 100% of the harvest in 20% of the space, with 20% of the water and less than 5% of the work of a traditional row garden. The above-ground boxes divided by a grid provide a unique, attractive garden.  Because you grow in a mix of vermiculite, peat moss (or coconut coir) and blended compost placed in a 4 x 4 box over weed blocking  fabric, you start with no weed seeds and can keep the garden free of weeds easily.  In fact, you can even place boxes on hard surfaces like parking lots or driveways. If bending over is a problem for you, you can build your box on a tabletop. In a recent blog, Mel addressed the 10 most common excuses for not gardening. Which ones are yours?

For me, there are two crucial reasons to garden. (1) Gardening can dramatically improve mental health, reducing anxiety and depression. (2) Producing one’s own food creates a strong sense of self-sufficiency. In fact, I can imagine that a Square Foot Garden built and maintained by patients in residential and intensive outpatient programs, or at a community mental health center could produce major therapeutic effects.

If you are interested in learning more about Square Foot Gardening, please feel free to contact me. You can also visit any of the site links above. And, as always, I love to hear your comments!


0 thoughts on “Square Foot Gardening: Self-care modality

  • Kathy, this is fascinating and I am eager to find out more. Like you, I find gardening to be extremely relaxing, as well as rewarding, and have often recommended it to patients. I definitely enjoy bringing in fresh herbs and other edibles when preparing something to eat. Unfortunately, in NJ I have limited space as the deer eat anything on or near ground level, so I do what I can in containers on my very small deck.

    Now that I am partially-retired and am splitting my time between South Florida and New Jersey, I hope to have more time for a garden. So I’d appreciate any information about square foot gardening. Do you know of any courses in the Palm Beach county area that are similar to the one you took? Also, in addition to the sources in your blog, can you recommend any books on plants/shrubs/trees that are typical of the area and that do well here?

    Thanks, and best wishes,

    Lois ….

    • Hi Lois,

      Thanks for your comment. Boca, huh? That is where the first friend who told me about SFG lives. One of my classmates is from Sebastian, a bit north of Palm Beach. At the end of our class, we elected a secretary who is supposed to share a class roster. When I get it, I will ask Judy if I can share her information with you.

      Even though he has not written anything new in quite a while, Tom MacCubbin and his books are among my favorites. I do not have this one, but think I will get it! Month-by-month Gardening in Florida is likely very similar to the weekly/monthly columns he does for the Orlando Sentinel. Because Boca Raton is farther south and in a different hardiness zone than Orlando, you should find your local agriculture extension service and get in touch with them. Go to: http://www.pbcgov.com/coextension/. There you will find all sorts of information including lots of documents about Florida-friendly gardening. You should not have any problem with deer down here, but summer gardening is a challenge because of the heat.

      One of the fun things about Square Foot Gardening is that it is easy to protect what you are growing because the space is so small. If you cannot easily get hold of a copy of the All New Square Foot Gardening, let me know.

      Good gardening and enjoy your semi-retirement!

  • JoAnne Ringer says:

    I work for a psychologist and I Square Foot Garden both at home and in a community garden. I find the same things you do, Kathy, as well as spirituality. Like you said digging in the dirt is about as close to whatever you believe in as you can get. The garden is my place of worship. If you don’t believe in miracles, plant a seed and watch it grow into a tomato plant and then eat the fruit…

    • I agree completely, JoAnne. Any chance there is a location for an SFG at work? It could be a great way to connect with your co-workers and potentially to share another powerful positive with patients. Thanks for your comment.

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