The best way to start a raised bed vegetable garden:
Review of Ecological Gardening ( Food4Wealth) vs. Square Foot Gardening (SFG)

Are you just starting your raised vegetable garden? Read my best gardening method comparison. I wrote this to help you analyze the pros and cons of the top two methods and decide which system is right for you.  Don't waste your gardening season, learn from my mistakes and successes:

What is my experience with SFG and Food4Wealth?

I had been growing my square foot vegetable garden in 4x4 raised beds for four years when I learned about Food4Wealth by Jonathan White, a horticulturist and educator from Australia. In order to test this method I switched to it, and for the past two years I have been using the Food4Wealth system exclusively. 

 Food4Wealth, an ecological gardening system, claimed to eliminate  the hard work traditionally associated with gardening, so that I could enjoy my life as my plants grew. In addition, Jonathan White stated  that his system was cheaper than other methods of starting a raised bed vegetable garden and growing your own veggies.

Who wouldn't want to work less for the same result? Who wouldn't  want to save money? I was all for it, so I started gardening the Food4Wealth way.  And now I can share the  results of my experiment with you. ...So, let me start from the very beginning:  building your raised beds.

How to build raised vegetable garden: design, landscape choices, and cost

Both methods recommend almost identical ways to create a raised bed. Beds are built from four pieces of wood.They have no bottom. Just put four pieces of wood together, nail them to each other, and install them. Seriously, that's it. If you need more details, check out my article How to build raised beds

The installation method is somewhat different in SFG and Food4Wealth, but both gardening methods are very simple. 

Square foot garden: 4x4 raised vegetable beds

SFG recommends only 4x4 raised beds, period. I personally don't see why Mel Bartolomew insists on exactly 4x4, but SFG is his system, so he knows better. Some elaborate designs that I have seen on his website include a pyramid made of  4x4 an 2x2 boxes where 2x2 will be either symmetrically located in the middle of 4x4 or shifted to one of the corners. 2x2 box, in such case, will be 2 feet high so that its level is raised over the 4x4. 

This design works beautifully for flower beds. However, if your purpose is to grow vegetables in your raised bed garden, this is not the best solution. These require more soil mix, more wood, and  don't have the same aestetic appeal as a flower bed.

I grow all my food in three 4x4 raised beds and three 4x1 boxes. In the small urban garden they look nicer from a design standpoint than one 15x6 box, which is the size recommended by Food4Wealth.

4x4 raised beds are  convenient because you can reach any plant without stepping on the soil. It is recommended to leave at least one foot allowance around raised beds so that you can easily tend to your plants.

Other popular raised bed sizes are 4x2 and 8x2. From my experience, I'd only use them if I did not have enough space for 4x4 raised beds, or if my design called for narrower raised beds. They  require way more wood, and make mixing soil difficult ( this is important if you use SFG and have no space to prepare your mix)

Ecological gardening system Food4Wealth allows raised beds of all sizes.

If your organic vegetable garden is a part of your overall landscape design, you might choose to use boxes of different sizes, for example 4x8, 15x6, or 2x6.  Food4Wealth system allows you to grow your food on plots of any size, which significantly expands your choices of vegetable garden plans and designs. The recommendation is to use 15x6 so that your garden plot forms a mini-ecosystem where plants regenerate and the soil is enriched by a variety of your vegetables. 

A quick calculation shows that using one bigger box requires less wood. This, in turn, reduces the price. For example, two 4x4 boxes, located next to each other in my backyard, are built from 2x16=32 ft of wood, while 1 4x8 box would require 25% less - only 24 ft. This freedom to use various raised bed sizes not only saves you money, but gives you a way to fit your garden in an irregularly shaped backyard or any space available.

For example, there are very few sunny spots in my backyard, and one of them is on the deck.  I have built 4x1 boxes for my deck where I grow  tomatoes (against the wall), flowers, parsley, oregano, thyme and onions. 

Best soil mix for the raised bed garden

Please check out my detailed description  how to make a planting mix for raised beds as per square foot gardening system requirements . 

 Briefly, my  problem with SFG was that  every year I needed  to add more mix to my boxes. You will need to do that, too. The mix includes vermiculite – an ingredient that is expensive and hard to find. I spent about $20-25 per 4x4 bed every year on the mix alone.  

Adding that mix is only easy if you have a separate location to create it. I did not have this  luxury in my tiny urban garden, so I had to mix it right in my 4x4 raised beds. This was a problem, because SFG system requires that you divide your box into squares with the help of either wood planks or strings. In order to mix the ingredients and spread the mix evenly, you have to remove the dividers and then install them back in place.

Well, you don't need to go through all this hussle in the Food4Wealth system!
 It just uses compost and grass clippings, mixed in a certain way. Since compost is free in some cities and can be even produced at home ( Food4Wealth system's author gives you  detailed description how), I recommend you consider Food4Wealth if cost and convenience  is important for you. 

Crop rotation in raised beds: time and money

Square foot gardening requires an annual crop rotation, meaning more planning, more upfront work, and more money.

Rotation is necessary because plants use different nutrients from the soil and planting them in the same spot again and again makes it deficient. Rotating crops helps to replenish nutrients.

In a square foot garden, you pull out the plants that have reseeded, and either throw them away or relocate them. This always seemed like a waste of plants to me.

Contrary to this, in Food4Wealth system you don’t rotate your crops, and you allow plants to reseed naturally. My second year with Food4Wealth was really easy - the plants just grew wherever the seeds fell last year, and I pulled out some of them in the crowded spots.


Watering a raised bed vegetable garden

The need for targeted watering is one of the drawbacks to the square foot gardening method. To discourage weeds from growing in-between the plants, one has to aim the water flow directly under the root of the plant. Water pressure, therefore, should be low, so that the plants are not stressed. If your hose doesn’t satisfy these requirements you might need to buy a new one. It takes longer to carefully water each vegetable and herb rather than shower the whole vegetable plot with water.

Frequent watering is another constraint that SFG puts of my life, because I like going out of the city for weekends in the summer. I used to water my square foot garden once or twice a day during hot weather, and once every two days during mild periods. More than once, I came back from a camping trip just to find my tomatoes close to clinical death. Since pests choose to attack stressed plants, I had to fight three different types last year, losing 20% of my tomato harvest in the battle.

Will I change my lifestyle and start babysitting my plants? Unlikely. That’s why I appreciate that Food4Wealth allows weekly watering, and the use of any garden watering system, such as a sprinkler or ‘dripping hose’, or simply watering from the hose without targeting the base of every plant. It’s simpler, less trouble, and provides more freedom for an urban gardener. It relieves stress for beginners.

What plants are best to grow in your raised bed garden?

Food4Wealth system contains detailed recommendations on what plants to choose for your raised vegetable garden and how to plant them. The only plant that Jonathan recommends that did not come out very well in my garden was carrot. It grew well and looked happy, however it seemed, it did not have enough depth to grow and ended up growing in some funky, surrealistic shapes. SFG, I am sure, has recommendations as well, but I never bought Mel's book, so I cannot compare. Please read my article about my practical choice of  plants and see contributions of the other readers: Olga's list of the best plants to grow in raised bed garden

These were pros. What about cons of the Food4Wealth system?

There are two cons to using Food4Wealth. 

One of them is looks and design. Food4Walth garden is an ecosystem, pretty much like a forest.  If you really enjoy the structured look of the square foot garden, you might be not satisfied with messy natural look of the Food4Wealth-grown vegetable garden.

Another con  is recognizing legitimate plants from occasional weeds. When you plant one plant type per square foot, you know what to expect. If you allow your plants to re-seed and reproduce naturally, chances are that some weed will start growing and you will allow it to do so. Why? Because you won't even know that it is a weed. Small seedlings all look cute, but some of them grow and become big weeds. This happened to me more than once. 

These were two of the biggest drawbacks of this system for me.

Side-by-side comparison: SFG vs. Food4Wealth

I have created a table to compare the two methods based on the criteria that are important to me. First, I listed my criteria, then I ranked them using points, 1 point being the worst, and 5 – the best. You can use my table to find out which system is right for you. 

Table 1: Comparison of SFG and Food4Wealth systems
Criteria Square foot gardening Ecological gardening Square foot gardening Ecological gardening
Overall Price 2 4 Higher Lower
Frequency of Watering 2 5 Once every 1-2 days Once a week
Watering method 2 5 Targeted directly under the root; watering from hose is not recommended Any
Aesthetics; looks 4 2 Well organized; one plant type per square foot Natural, looks crowded
Design Flexibility 3 5 Traditional SFG uses 4x4 beds only Uses all kinds of boxes that suit your backyard
Planting mix price 2 4 Includes vermiculite (expensive) Cheap
Planting mix refilling 3 5 Need space to mix ingredients; space is limited Just add compost, no need to mix ingredients
Crop rotation 2 5 Necessary in order to replenish soil Not necessary; a self-regulating system
Weeds control 5 5 Easy - no weeds Easy - no weeds
Total score 25 40    

My score came out to 40:25 in favor of Ecological gardening(Food4Wealth).

Both SFG and Ecological gardening are better ways to grow your own food in a limited space than a traditional vegetable plot. They both provide superior weed and pest control, and maximize your harvest while minimizing work. It’s just that one of them minimizes work even better.

How to use this table

You can use my table to find out your own preferred way to grow your vegetable garden. For simplicity, I did not introduce weight of each criterion to this calculation. Weight is usually used to identify the importance of each criterion to you. For example, price may be irrelevant for you, while frequent watering makes more impact on your decision than crop rotation. I assumed that all of them are equally important. I suggest that you simply remove the criteria that are not important to you, and assume that the remaining ones are equally important. Assign points to them, and get your total score.

My conclusion

My conclusion is: Ecological gardening system (Food4Wealth) saves your time and money, which makes growing your own food even more fun and sustainable choice than SFG.

“Growing food is typically seen as either an art form or damned hard work. No wonder very few people do it on a serious level. But what if a technique came along that was so easy and so prolific that even the busiest corporate executive could grow a significant portion of their family’s food in less time than it takes to drive to the shops. Ecological gardening just might be the answer. In my experience, it’s the ultimate modern-day convenience veggie plot”

Jonathan White, Environmental Scientist and Horticulturalist,
creator of Food4Wealth, an ecological gardening system.

If you want to find out  how to create a raised bed vegetable garden the Food4Wealth way, please go to Jonathan’s Food4Wealth website and get a copy of book and videos. It is worth the  investment  and will save you a lot of time. Remember that some gardening  mistakes made this season can be corrected only the year after! 

Jonathan provides a 100%  unconditional money back guarantee.

In addition, you will help support my website if you buy this system through the above link. From your purchase, I will receive a commission. I use all  the money I receive from this site towards  its further development, to write more reviews, post more recipes and spread my message to as many people as possible.

However, I don't ever recommend products just for the sake of making money. So there are only few  products that I choose to endorse, and  I wholeheartetly believe each one of them will enrich your life and  make it easier for you  to maintain and improve your health . Jonathan's system is one of them.

Ecological gardening Food4Wealth

In his book and videos, Jonathan provides you with everything you need to start your own successful raised bed vegetable garden this year:

  • Vegetable garden plans
  • Project plan and maintenance checklists with step-by-step instructions
  • Guidance on how to build boxes, make planting mix, and select plants
  • Easy composting tips
  • Recommendations on the best plants to grow
  • Advice on growing tomatoes and potatoes
  • … and a wealth of other useful information in a very easy-to-read and easy-to-follow format.

I am sticking to the Food4Wealth system this year. 

What system will  you choose? 

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Return Home from Best ways to start raised bed vegetable garden: SFG vs.EcoGardening
Go to the review of SFG method:Why and how to grow healthy food
Read my review of another new book, The Superfood Gardener, especially if you plant in soil rather than soil mix
How to make raised vegetable beds
Read seven reasons to start growing kale