Square Foot Gardening
Many thanks to Mel Bartholomew and his book: “All New Square Foot Gardening” (available at many libraries also). www.squarefootgardening.com
Advantages of Square Foot Gardening (sfg): (back to top)
- Square Foot Gardening (sfg) perfect for Beginners.Most beginners tend to enthusiastically try to plant a much bigger vegetable garden than they can possibly manage. This results in a big mess of an untended, weedy vegetable garden, with little yield. It also provides a generally unpleasant gardening experience.
The square foot garden, however, is far more manageable and actually requires less work.
- Square Foot Gardening (sfg) perfect family project for Children. Give each child their own square foot garden (sfg) to plan, plant, and manage. Besides learning about the science and art of vegetable gardening, a square foot garden project also teaches planning/reasoning skills, basic mathematics, patience, and discipline.
- Very Few Weeds with Square Foot Gardening Because you’re using a perfect blend of soil to nourish your plants, there should be few weed seeds that are imbedded in your square foot garden bed. You may pick up a few weeds that place themselves there through nature (wind, etc.), but they’re easy to pick out.
One of my biggest worries when weeding the garden is which is a weed, and which is the sprout that I want to keep. With square foot gardening, you know precisely where you planted your seeds. Anything growing outside of that precise location, is a weed and needs to be removed. It takes the stress out of weeding!
It Doesn’t Matter What Your Soil Is Like, With Square Foot Gardening
In your square foot garden, you build your vegetable garden bed from the ground up. It doesn’t matter what type of soil is underneath, as you create the perfect soil for your vegetable garden in the raised bed. It’s far more efficient, as you’re more concentrating your efforts to the actual gardening space.
In a traditional garden, you spend hours (years) and significant money to treat and condition the soil into something that’s usable. And, most of that dirt (that you so carefully created) doesn’t get used (except, perhaps, by weeds). Square foot gardening concentrates your soil-building efforts to only the garden space that you’re actually going to use.
- No More Rotor-Tilling, with Square Foot Gardening (Need I say more?)
- No Fertilizer Needed, with Square Foot Gardening If you use the recommended blend of soil (6” of soil is all you need for your square foot garden bed), you will not need to fertilizer your vegetable (or flower) garden. The soil will provide all the nutrients that are needed.
- Less Water Needed, with Square Foot Gardening Because you will be growing your vegetables and flowers in a concentrated space, you will spend less water (and less time) watering your garden
- Less Seed Needed for your Square Foot Garden You will be maximizing your yield in a small space, so you will find that you need much fewer seeds for your garden than you did with the traditional in-ground “row” style garden.
How to Make A Square Foot Garden Raised Bed: (back to top)
Location: Pick a spot that’s not too far from your house. Your square foot garden bed will be pretty & you want to be able to enjoy it. Plus, the closer it is to the house, the more likely you will be to keep it tended. Pick a reasonably flat location, with plenty of sunshine. It’s best to place the garden bed away from trees and shrubs, as their roots will search out your garden bed area.
You will need the following materials, for one complete Square Foot Garden Bed.
- four (untreated) boards, 2”x 6”x 4’ (most lumber yards will cut the boards to size for no additional cost)
- six lath boards (4 feet long)
- weed (ground) cloth
- coarse thread wood/deck screws
- soil mixture (see description)
You may be tempted to make a larger garden bed than the 4×4 square. When considering this, please keep in mind that the 4’x4’ bed was designed specifically so that you can easily reach into the bed without ever having to walk on (compress) the soil within the bed.
Or for beautifully hand-crafted square foot gardening kits, look here: www.squarefootgardening.com
Fasten the corners using 3 wood (deck) screws at each corner. Rotate or alternate corners to end up with a square inside.
Note: Excellent photographs & diagrams showing the easy assembly instructions are included in Bartholomew’s latest book:
Roll out the weed cloth so that I completely covers the area that you wish for your square foot garden. (I prefer to overlap the weed cloth, so that the weeds don’t push their way up through a gap in the fabric.)
Place the frame over the weed cloth.
Note: It’s best to allow at least 3 feet or more between the square foot garden bed and any other obstacles (including other square foot garden beds). This will give you ample room to mow between, and also enough room to comfortably work in the garden bed without feeling crowded.
Use this soil mixture for the best results:
- 1/3 coarse vermiculite (16 cubic feet)
- 1/3 peat moss (16 cubic feet)
- 1/3 compost * (total of 16 cubic feet)
* It’s best to use compost you’ve made, but if that’s not an option, be sure to use a mixture of at least 5 different types of (store-bought) compost. This will give you the best mixture of nutrients.
You can use a tarp, laid out on the ground as your mixing bowl, to mix the soils. Then fill the garden frame to the top. (6” of soil is all you need for all gardening, except for root crops like potatoes and carrots. You’ll want a deeper garden bed for those.)
Once the bed has been filled with the soil mixture, water the bed. Once it settles, add more soil mixture, filling it to the top. Repeat this process a total of 3 times.
Apply the grid:
The grid is a very important part of this gardening procedure. Please be sure to include it. You may find other materials that work well for the grid also.
For the grid: measure and mark at 1 foot, 2 feet, 3 feet on each board of the frame. Attach a lath board so that it rests at the 1 foot mark on one side and also at the same point on the opposite side of the frame. Attach with screws. Repeat, so that the lath boards are 1 foot apart. Then, repeat the entire process on the adjoining side. The end result should be a grid that provides you with 16 1’x1’ squares.
Planting your Square Foot Garden Raised Bed: (back to top)
In advance, you know that you will have a total of 16 x 1 foot by 1 foot squares to plant, so be sure to plan ahead.
- For starters, you’ll want to place tall plants on the north side of your square foot garden bed (so they don’t shade the other plants in your garden).
- Consider companion planting (click here for info on companion planting). This is a natural process of placing plants that thrive together, near each other. Also, of considering a strategy to avoid placing plants near each other that tend to stunt each other’s growth.
- Timing. Some plants grow well as early or late season crops. Some need the heat of summer. Some grow in a short time frame, some take the entire growing season. If you plan your garden right, you can get several crops out of each space before the growing season is over!
For very large plants (like cabbage, peppers and broccoli), you’ll want to place one plant per square (place it in the center of the square).
Large plants (like leaf lettuce, swiss chard, marigolds) can be placed 6 “ apart, at 4 plants per 1’ square. (You would simply draw a cross in the dirt in your 1 foot square, dividing it into 4 sections. Then plant each item in the center of the smaller squares)
Medium plants (like spinach and beets) can go 4” apart, so 9 plants per square.
Small plants (like carrots, radishes, onions) can go 3” apart, so 12 plants per square.
So, except for the largest plants, you will have a grid within each square of the larger grid.
Note: If this sounds confusing, please check out the description, diagram, and instructions included in the book… it will all make perfect sense!
Planting Seeds in your Square Foot Garden:
Poke a hole in the dirt with your finger, and sprinkle a few seeds in the hole. Cover with dirt, but leave a slight saucer like indentation over the area where the seeds are. (This will allow more water to get to your seeds, and to the plant’s roots once it’s grown – rather than the water just running off!)
Once the seeds immerge, take a scissors and cut the weaker looking sprouts, leaving only 1 sprout per planted area. (Pulling the sprouts out can damage the survivor’s roots, causing a weaker plant more susceptible to plant diseases and pests.)
Planting Seedlings in your Square Foot Garden:
Some plants will produce sooner and better if you start them indoors and transplant the seedlings into your outdoor square foot garden. (Tomatoes, peppers, etc.) Be sure to harden-off the plants before moving them to the outdoor garden.
Hardening-off simply means getting them used to the out of doors. Placing them immediately outside will cause the plants too much shock, and the sunlight will likely burn them. Start by placing them in the shade. Then day by day, move them a little more into the sunlight.
It’s best to water from beneath the plant, rather than from the top down. (Top down watering tends to invite plant diseases and funguses.)
Bartholomew prefers to keep a couple of large buckets of water by his square foot garden, that have been warmed naturally by the sun (the warm water helps keep the soil warmer and doesn’t shock the roots). He then ladles a cup of water into the saucer-like depression around each plant. It gets readily absorbed and efficiently goes right to the plant’s roots.
Don’t over water (this also invites plant diseases). Your climate will determine how often you need to water, so you’ll want to keep an eye on the plants. You will need to water them a little more frequently than you would the plants in a regular garden. But they take less water at a time, and use it more effectively. You can also consider drip-irrigation hoses.
Adaptations for Unique Situations (back to top)
The book “All New Square foot Gardening” has wonderful illustrations, descriptions and photographs, for suggestions addressing the following:
- table top gardening for gardeners that are physically challenged
- railing and planter gardens
- structure design to add to your square foot garden, so that it can support melons, pumpkins, squash, more easily. (These plants can actually climb successfully – no need for them to sprawl all over your garden!)
- structure design to easily turn your square foot garden into a mini-greenhouse
- suggestions for keeping critters out of your square foot garden