Do you want to have a bountiful summer garden, but think that you don’t have enough space? Think again. Let me introduce you to square foot gardening basics. Once you learn how much you can grow in a small space, you’ll be shouting it from the rooftops!
What is square foot gardening?
Square foot gardening is basically employing the use of a raised bed, but involves the use of a grid and specially made soil to plant crops close together. Square foot garden beds are perfect for gardeners in urban or suburban areas who don't have a lot of space to work with. Growing in square foot gardening style saves 20% more space than growing plants in rows. This means that with this gardening style, anyone with a backyard and some sun can grow an abundance of food for their family, regardless of where they live.
Mel Bartholomew invented the method back in 1981. As the story goes, Mel “took up gardening as a hobby, but then set out to solve the frustrations of most gardeners, 'To replace the traditional wasteful single row gardening method with a better way to garden, one that’s more efficient, more manageable, and less work.' His answer was to invent the Square Foot Gardening system.” - MelBartholomew.com
Mel went on to form several nonprofits in an effort to feed the world by planting a garden in every yard, school and business. His foundation teaches the method to people all over the world to create self-sustaining communities and end world hunger. You can read more about his work on his website: Square Foot Gardening Foundation.
I’m sure at this point you’re eager to find out how you can have your very own square foot garden. So without further ado, onto the how-to for square foot gardening basics!
Step 1: Build a raised bed frame
You’ll need non-pressure-treated lumber for the raised bed. This bed will ideally be 4 x 4 and at least 6 inches deep, but you can find success with any size. Just make sure you don’t make your bed too wide -- you’ll need to have access to the plants inside without stepping onto the soil. This part is literally just putting four pieces of lumber together to make a frame -- it can be as fancy or as basic as you’d like. Place the frame in a space that gets full sun, which is at least 6 hours per day.
Step 2: Place a weed barrier
It’s a good idea to place some weed cloth in the bottom of your frame before you fill it with the soil mix. This will keep grass and other weed seeds from getting into your garden and will drastically cut down on the amount of weeding you’ll need to do throughout the season. This step isn’t absolutely essential, just beneficial if you have the desire to do so.
Step 3: Measure out the squares
Use measuring tape and a pencil to mark every 12 inches all the way around your frame. The squares can be sectioned off with any number of materials, just as long as you can tell where the borders are when you plant. Most people hammer thin slats of wood onto the box to form the squares. When we made our square foot garden, we hammered nails into the 12 inch marks and tied string from nail to nail to form squares. It’s a less permanent solution, but cheap and easy. Again, this can be as fancy or as basic as you’d like.
Step 4: Fill the bed with soil
Many home and garden stores sell soil specially mixed for square foot gardens. If yours carries it, great! If not, there’s a very basic recipe to make your own.
Square foot garden soil recipe:
- 1 part course vermiculite
- 1 part peat moss
- 1 part blended compost
The great thing about making your own soil for your square foot garden is the extreme savings that come from making your own compost. Of course, you can buy compost at the garden center, but why do that when you can make it for free?
If you do go with store-bought compost, it’s important to read the label and buy a type that has a variety of different types of waste, such as animal manure, worm castings, leaf compost or mushroom compost. This blend will give your plants all the nutrients they need to thrive.
Step 5: Planting
Adding plants or seeds to your square foot garden couldn’t be easier. Examine the seed packets to determine how far apart each seed needs to be planted and use the following format accordingly for each square.
- Extra large: 1 seed per square (12 inches apart)
- Large: 4 seeds per square (6 inches apart)
- Medium: 9 seeds per square (4 inches apart)
- Small: 16 seeds per square (3 inches apart)
Step 6: Care and harvest
Care for the plants the same as you would in any other type of bed. When you harvest the crops from a particular square, add a shovelful of compost to the square and re-plant new seeds or seedlings for the next crop.
Gardening in a small space couldn’t be easier with the square foot garden. Now that you know exactly how to do it, it’s time to get on those gardening gloves and get to work!