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One Magic Square: The Easy, Organic Way to Grow Your Own Food on a 3-Foot Square

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  331 ratings  ·  53 reviews
A Hands-On Guide to Growing Organic Vegetables, Fruits and Herbs—Starting with Just One Square Yard!

Lolo Houbein has been growing food for more than 30 years—and now, drawing on her wide learning and hard-earned experience, she offers a wealth of information on how to turn small plots of land into sources of nourishing, inexpensive, organic food. Amateur gardeners wonderin
Paperback, 368 pages
Published March 9th 2010 by The Experiment (first published 2010)
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Average rating 3.89  · 
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One Magic Square provides a starting point for creating a small home garden. By starting with just a 3 foot square, a sustainable garden can be created and then slowly expanded upon over time. The book is comprehensive and easy to follow, with all the information needed to start a small plot. Note that there aren't many pictures or illustrations, so this is a do-by-reading experience. But Houbein is friendly, encourag
Jul 17, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: did-not-finish
I love compost. I dislike spending money and fossil fuel. This book's instructions for starting a bed are to pick up:
- a bag of mushroom or other compost
- a bag of organic potting soil
- a bale or pack of straw
- a bag of animal manure
- a small bag of gypsum for clay soil
- a tiny bag of lime for acidic soil
- organic fertilizer pellets or liquid seaweed fertilizer.
Maybe I'm just not the right audience for this book? But who is? Who likes spending money and fossil fuel they don't have to, in order
Jul 17, 2010 rated it really liked it
Thank goodness I checked this out from the library. This hasn't been the greatest year for gardening, and this book reminded me that I don't have to give everything up--I can plant now and still get good food for autumn.

This book combines a sort of backyard permaculture theory with the Square Foot Gardening concept, although she uses many things planted in a square yard, rather than one thing planted in a square feet. The author lives in Australia, so some of the plants are called by names we wo
Sep 12, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: gardening
This is one of those books you can crack open at any place within the pages and find something great. Lolo Houbein is very practical, knows how to make the best out of a square yard of growing space, and how to create a thriving permaculture in your own backyard. Having survived a horrific famine during World War II as a child living in Holland, Houbein has very personal reasons for learning to garden efficiently.

She doesn't mince words, and at times you may feel like you are standing in the ga
Mar 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is the most useful and most beautiful book of last year: for experienced gardeners it is full of practical tips, but for people aspiring to grow their own vegetables, like me, it is a godsend! Houbein takes you step by step from planning your vegetable garden on a square metre to a successful harvest with minimum effort. She convinces that growing your own vegetables does not need to be time consuming and you only need limited space. She shows you how important it is to reconnect with the s ...more
Feb 18, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: gardening
There is a great deal of information in this book. However, since much of the book is dedicated to plot details most of this information is too terse for me. The author seems to know her stuff, but I'd rather have a more detailed book as a resource ...more
Mar 31, 2010 is currently reading it
I'm going to grow a tiny vegetable garden! ...more
Kate Deeks
May 30, 2012 rated it it was ok
Too verbose. The content lacked focus, and I was alienated by the tone.
Wendy Wagner
Feb 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: gardening
Lots of basic information about organic gardening, but so very encouraging that it made me want to run out and plant something right away! Also contains a lot of great recipe ideas.
Scott Lupo
Apr 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
I am trying square foot gardening this year and wanted to see what this book had to say. A ton of useful information about organic gardening. I liked the author's style of just giving one 3 foot square plot a try. Just plant and see what happens. Basically just trying to get people started. Gardening can be addictive and just getting somebody started is a way to spread that addiction. Good job! The section on themed plots was interesting. With enough room I could imagine themed plots over time w ...more
Mar 05, 2021 rated it it was ok
This is not nearly as helpful as I'd hoped. The writing is rambling but colorful, the "translation" from Australian to American audiences is deficient, and the book isn't well organized. Nonetheless, I read it all the way through, hoping for redemption at the end... The first half of the book is composed of essays on gardening, some helpful, some spacey. The last third of the book, what I was really looking forward to, was on individual herbs and veggies but the info was incomplete. I wished for ...more
Mar 17, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Pretty comprehensive instructions and advice on how to get started on growing your own produce in your back garden in a metre square of ground. Lots of alternative growing schemes, plus what to actually make out of the herbs, veg and fruit that you grow. A focus on organic gardening and making your own fertilisers, some discussion on companion planting and plenty to satisfy the amateur through to the more experienced gardener. I got this as an ebook from the library but it's the kind of book I'd ...more
I learned some things from this garden book, but I had to remind myself many times that the writer lives in Australia where there is no snow. The seasons for growing were geared toward their climate and if I had never gardened before, I would be very confused and mislead. I do like her concept of just digging a 3 foot square at a time, and it's creative to theme each plot. I also like her organic viewpoint and low cost ways to start seedlings. ...more
Jun 22, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: gardening
Borrowed this book from the library and thought it would be a good book on growing in small spaces. In reality the first half was just repetitive basic facts about gardening that would only be helpful if you've never touched a spade in your life. The second half only really offered impractical themed garden plans along the lines of "a salsa garden" which which don't really work. ...more
Sep 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is the best book if you are looking for in depth tips for setting up a "square foot" style garden. Houbein's method takes the best parts of the concept of square foot gardening, discards the overwrought elements and creates a beautiful garden book packed full of relevant information, planting suggestions and diagrams. It is one I will buy for my garden reference library. ...more
Sep 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book for starting out gardening...or for experienced gardeners looking for more inspiration in different ways. Lots of simple advice for starting small, but all the ideas can be added together for a larger, more productive garden.
Mar 05, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: gardening, comebackto
great how to on very organic gardening - with ideas on garden plot plans and simple tips.
One to come back to as a resource. Although it did not feel completely suited to the climate that I live in.
Mar 08, 2021 rated it liked it
Good information. Has soapbox moments that I could do without. LOTS of typos and this is coming from someone who is terrible at grammar and spelling. (Read on Libby.) Was expecting more images. I wanted to see the chair for vines that was mentioned so many times.
Autumn Tiedgen
Aug 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Very helpful and inspiring. Already started some new plants!
Dec 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
The best part of the book was the plot drawings and specific themed lists toward the end. Excellent for beginners!
Mary Doss
Jun 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
a simplified square foot system with many helps
Jun 21, 2020 rated it liked it
This was a sprawling book. I learned a lot of tips but am still unclear on the "magic square" method. That seemed to be the least detailed section. ...more
Deborah Makarios
Sep 17, 2020 rated it liked it
A slew of useful information but also some oddities, e.g. calendula flowers being "endowed with magic health qualities. Pick an uneven number as magic never works with even numbers." ...more
Kirsty Hollow
Sep 25, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed it. Inspiring and informative.
Vanessa Andujo
Jul 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Gardeners, New Gardeners, Organic Gardeners,
Over all this was a great all around gardening book. It covers the basics of soil prep, watering, pests, crop rotation, pruning, problem solving, ect.

A beginner will need to read Part 1 and Part 2 in full before starting. Anyone with some gardening experience can jump ahead where the author suggests to do so.

Even people with gardening experience will get a lot from this book. I believe that this really is a 'must have.' It is informative enough for the average gardener but simple enough to u
Oct 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: gardening
This gardening book focuses on using raised beds to raise vegetables. The author grew up in Holland and later moved to Austalia, so some of her stories are a bit quirky to me as an American, mostly because I can't imagine battling a bandicoot in my own garden. But that's part of what makes it entertaining to read.

This book is a great reference book positively bursting with information acquired over a lifetime of growing her own food. But perhaps the most compelling thing about this book is the a
May 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2011
I've got the NZ version of this book so it's "One square metre" and the organic bit has been dropped, which is interesting. I really like the can-do attitude and lack of pretension. In fact, the book starts by saying, "Put down this book and go outside and mark off a square metre". You've got to love a book that starts by telling you to stop reading it immediately and get on with your garden! Having said that, I haven't actually done anything yet apart from read the plot descriptions, so it's ea ...more
Rachel Stansel
Dec 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
I have grown in square foot gardens for the past three years, but this book will be a huge step forward in helping me better utilize, plan and for next year's crops. I loved the intro and the 10 green rules. I found the section on improving the soil to be the biggest help and the most concise and informative I have read on this topic. It is straightforward with great, realistic ideas on how to best improve a backyard garden based on the time you have and what you hope to accomplish. This is defi ...more
Aug 07, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
It was pretty good. Needed a few more pictures. Was a little disorganized and wordy and the actual garden plot ideas left a lot to be desired (probably best to just wing it on your own). A couple of the tips were good but some of it was ridiculous. I'm all for repurposing things but by the time you put out all your old broken umbrellas as plant shade, used broken styrofoam containers as borders, half bury old bottles filled with water to regulate ground temperature, and use an old bathtub as a w ...more
Nov 30, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, green
Great resource when attempting to design a small/compact food garden. I was mostly interested in the pasta/pizza plots, but there are a lot of other good ideas as well, including stir-fry plots, salad plots, soup plots, etc.

I don't have a 3-foot square to call my own, but maybe I can convince the condo association to do a community garden in one of the shared green spaces? Hmmm...
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Born in Holland, Lolo Houbein came to Australia at 24 with her husband and children after growing up in an atmosphere of war. She studied the University of Adelaide, earning a Bachelor of Arts in Australian Literature, Anthropology and Classics in 1975. She later studied at the University of Papua New Guinea, and gained a Graduate Diploma in Teaching from the Adelaide College of Advanced Education ...more

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