Square foot gardening for beginners: Short on time and space? Here’s everything you need to know about square foot gardening
If you live in a city or are tight on time but always wanted a vegetable garden, square foot gardening could be perfect for you. This square foot gardening for beginners guide outlines everything even the most novice gardener needs to know about planting a square foot garden. No green thumbs needed!
What is square foot gardening?
Popularized by Mel Bartholomew in his 1981 book Square Foot Gardening: A New Way to Garden in Less Space with Less Work, square foot gardening is a gardening method that relies on square raised beds and grids to produce abundant vegetable gardens in small spaces.
Since the 80’s, Bartholomew has tweaked and modernized his approach slightly, but has not made many changes to his simple and effective gardening technique over the years. He’s garnered a loyal following who rely on square foot gardening to essentially build a full vegetable garden in a small, condensed area.
What are the basics of square foot gardening?
Square foot gardening has many unique qualities that separate it from other approaches to gardening.
First, square foot gardening utilizes square, raised beds. Bartholomew recommends dividing each bed into 9 squares with equal lengths. For instance, if you are using a 12’ by 12’ raised box, you would divide it into 4 squares with equal lengths of 4’ on all sides.
Next, after you have the squares arranged, you invisibly divide each one further so every square contains a different plant species. For instance, in a 12’ by 12’ box that contains 4’ squares, each 4’ area can be divided into 16, 1’ squares.
Another element of square foot gardening that is different than a traditional approach to planting a vegetable garden is the soil. Bartholomew recommends using raised beds and filling them with rich soil rather than planting directly in the dirt.
Square foot gardening benefits
There are many of benefits to square foot gardening:
- Because you use each square for a different plant variety, the planting method encourages a diverse mix of crops over time.
- Because the plants are densely planted, they form a rich mulch, which prevents weeds from creeping in.
- By using natural insect repellent methods such as companion planting, you can naturally repel bugs without using pesticides.
- Having a large variety of crops in a small space prevents plant diseases from spreading.
- Because the plants are close together, you can save on water and irrigation efforts.
Square foot gardening for beginners: 5 easy steps to creating an abundant square foot garden
Build a box
First, start by tracking the sun and shade patterns in your yard and determine how much room you have for a box. Ideally, build the box in an area that gets plenty of sunshine throughout the day (about 6-8 hours) and is level. Make sure the area is not prone to moisture or puddles after it rains. Here is a materials list as well as a step-by-step guide to building your box. Short on time? You can find kits at Home Depot and already-built boxes online.
The box can be simple or decorative, depending upon how much time and effort you want to put into it. If you are planting more than one box, make sure you leave some room between them so you can get to them easily.
Fill it with soil
Next, fill your box with a nourishing soil mix. Bartholomew recommends his “Mel’s Mix” blend, which contains ⅓ compost, ⅓ coarse vermiculite and ⅓ peat moss. If you are making your own mix, be sure each component is free of fertilizers and pesticides.
Here is a soil volume calculator to help you determine how much soil you will need for the size bed you are planting.
When planting a square foot garden, always think in squares. Before planting anything, plan out what you will put in each of the visible – and invisible – squares. Depending upon the size of the mature plant, you’ll want to plan to grow either 1, 4, 9 or 16 plants per square foot. For example, if the seed packet recommends that you plant them at least 12” apart, you’ll want to plant one per square.
Here are some great “plant-a-grams” that outline exactly how to create and space an herb garden, a canning garden, a salsa garden and more in 4’ raised square beds.
Finally, it’s time to start planting! Since each square is so small, use your hands to dig small holes where each individual seed will go. Place 1-2 seeds in each spot and lightly cover them with soil.
Care for your garden
Feel free to harvest the plants as soon as they are ready and continuously. Once the crop is finished for the season, remove the roots, add new compost and plant a new seed (or seeds) in that square.
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