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3 Expert-Approved Gardening Methods to Start Growing Your Own Food

Gardens come in all shapes and sizes, from tiny pots on a kitchen windowsill filled with herbs to an intensively planned backyard that provides enough produce to feed a family of four. Despite what the internet may tell you, there is no perfect bug-free, weed-free, one-size-fits-all solution, so we’ve consulted three gardening experts about their methods of choice to help you pick which is best suited for your personal gardening goals. Let’s play in the dirt—with delicious results.

Square Foot Gardening

Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of Taylor Kurtz/ Annabel’s Victory Garden, Matt Powers, the Food for Everyone Foundation)

The Expert: Taylor Kurtz’s lifelong love of gardening and his need to share his passion with others started when he helped his father grow vegetables on 4 acres in the Catskill Mountains. In 2018, he started Taylored Solutions to provide gardening and carpentry services to New York’s Hudson Valley, with a side mission to help families grow their own vegetables. In the spring of 2020, he worked with not-for-profit Philmont Beautification Inc. to build Annabel’s Victory Garden in Philmont, New York. He has since become a Certified Instructor for the Square Foot Gardening Method and helped many families start gardens and build fences in their own backyards. He is currently working with Philmont Beautification Inc. to develop a “Grow at Home” program that will help low-income families create Square Foot Gardens in their backyards.

The Method: This method uses every square inch of growing space to its maximum capacity, yielding abundant harvests from even a small garden. Raised garden beds (usually 4 by 4 feet or 4 by 8 feet) are divided by grids to create the squares for planting in Mel’s Mix™, a formula that calls for equal parts blended compost, peat moss, and coarse vermiculite. Vegetable plants can be tightly spaced; for example, 16 radishes can grow in one square, while a single plant of broccoli is grown in another square due to the size of the mature vegetable.

Epoch Times Photo
The method calls for planting in raised beds divided by grids for a consistent, beginner-friendly layout. (Courtesy of Taylor Kurtz/ Annabel’s Victory Garden, Matt Powers, the Food for Everyone Foundation)

Pros: Lower maintenance, as the density of crops combined with the square-foot breakdown make for much less weeding. The consistency of one square foot after another lets you plant companion plants and flowers in between vegetables yet still maintain an organized layout to attract beneficial insects and pollinators, which helps to keep pests away and maximize yields. Good for beginner gardeners, and those with limited growing space.

Cons: An investment to get started. The components of Mel’s Mix™, a necessary element for success, are pricey, though Square Foot Gardeners report the mix will last over a decade; it only needs a bit of compost blend after each harvest to refresh.

Expert Tips: Use vertical growing space as much as possible, such as training vining vegetables like cucumbers, squash, peas, and pole beans up a trellis. Kurtz highly recommends installing an irrigation system that uses soaker hoses on a timer for consistent watering.

Resources:,, Square Foot Gardening’s Planting Chart PDF,  “All New Square Foot Gardening, 3rd Edition


Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of Taylor Kurtz/ Annabel’s Victory Garden, Matt Powers, the Food for Everyone Foundation)

The Expert: Matt Powers was a successful touring musician when his wife, Adrianna, lost her thyroid to cancer. Immersing themselves in years of study and trial and error, they discovered that organic food grown via the permaculture method could be a powerful weapon in the fight against cancer. Powers wrote “The Permaculture Student 1” to help promote this system of regenerative planting and healthy living; now, he’s working on his 23rd book. Today, he is a plant breeder whose seeds have been sold by Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company; he was the first person to adapt pisccorunto, the Peruvian highland corn landrace, to North America, as documented in “Maize: Roots, Shoots, and Moccasin Boots” by Stephen Smith.

The Method: Used for millennia by traditional societies, permaculture is a farming method based on the natural cycles and patterns of nature. It focuses on healthy soil preparation and conditioning to slow, spread, and sink water, and it relies upon natural sources of fertility such as manures and compost. Key additions include biochar, which can hold three times its mass in water, to increase soil’s ability to hold water up to 45 percent; and mycorrhizal fungi, to increase root surface area by up to 10,000 times, while also boosting absorption of key minerals such as phosphorus. Permaculture is not as daunting as it may sound. If you have indoor plants, you have created a living, no-till soil that you feed and maintain—that’s permaculture in action. Similarly, if you compost your waste and incorporate it into your garden, that’s a key aspect of permaculture.

Epoch Times Photo
Powers and his family have moved several times over the years, and they implement permaculture wherever they go. (Courtesy of Taylor Kurtz/ Annabel’s Victory Garden, Matt Powers, the Food for Everyone Foundation)

Pros: Sustainable and reduces waste. Helps mitigate soil and groundwater pollution with chemical fertilizers.

Cons: Pricey. Takes a lot of work to get started. Compost and other natural odors. The mycorrhizal fungi can spread beyond the garden without proper care.

Expert Tips: Bad compost can harm your plants—don’t fool around with subpar compost. Make your own or buy organic, only using compost you can trust. Once you have it, you can make teas weekly and apply them as soil soak or foliar spray to add liquid fertilizer (depending on the soil, plants, and timing).


The Mittleider Gardening Method

Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of Taylor Kurtz/ Annabel’s Victory Garden, Matt Powers, the Food for Everyone Foundation)

The Expert: Jim Kennard, a student for 45 years of the Mittleider gardening method and president of the Food For Everyone Foundation full-time pro bono for the past 24 years, has taught many week-long live-in training boot camps at their campus in Kidder, Missouri, hundreds of free half-day seminars throughout the United States and Canada, and months-long training programs in countries around the globe. He has assisted in creating, growing, and demonstrating highly successful gardens from 1/100th of an acre to 100 acres, in growing conditions from 53 degrees north latitude to 20 degrees south latitude, at elevations from sea level to 6,000 feet, with pH levels from 4 to 7.8, and with soil types from extremely heavy clay to blow sand.

The Method: Developed by Jacob Mittleider based on what he identified as the six laws of plant growth, including the 16 nutrients that all plants need to grow, this scientific method requires balanced feedings of the essential nutrients in precisely measured amounts, in the form of a do-it-yourself fertilizer, and watering only at the root zone of the plants. Plants are spaced based on size at maturity, in a layout that uses narrow beds and wide aisles to save space, reduce work, increase yields, and cut water usage in half.

Pros: High yields in a small space. Inexpensive to set up. Works with any kind of soil or garden bed, and in all climates. Low maintenance during the garden season. The layout makes harvesting easy.

Epoch Times Photo
A Mittleider garden is planted with narrow beds and wide aisles to maximize efficiency and minimize labor. (Courtesy of Taylor Kurtz/ Annabel’s Victory Garden, Matt Powers, the Food for Everyone Foundation)

Cons: Needs regular watering and weekly feeding, so it should be set up near a convenient water source. Incorporates some commercial fertilizers, so some gardeners will not consider it to be 100 percent sustainable or organic. It is a highly detailed process and requires committing to following the instructions accurately and consistently.

Expert Tips: All you need to grow a successful garden is a spade, a rake, a two-way hoe, some good seeds (Kennard recommends True Leaf Market), the balanced natural mineral nutrients, and the recipe found in the “Mittleider Gardening Course” book. The fertilizer recipe calls for a pack of micronutrient mix formulated according to Mittleider’s research and sold on the Grow Food website, as an easier alternative to buying and combining the separate ingredients.

Resources:; “The Mittleider Gardening Course” (at 265 pages, it makes a good winter read); the Mittleider Gardening Group on Facebook

This article was originally published in American Essence magazine.

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