How to Start a Thriving Square Foot Garden in 5 Easy Steps

All the options we have with gardening these days blow my mind. My great-grandparents were farmers, and they didn’t have all of these interesting options.

They merely put seeds in the ground and did the best they could with what came up.

Now, it’s possible for almost anyone anywhere to grow what they want because of these advanced gardening techniques. You can also read about Trench Gardening, Lasagna Gardening, and Core Gardening.

One gardening technique I want to discuss with you today is square foot gardening. It was developed back in the 1970’s by Mel Bartholomew. Years later many gardeners still appreciate this method.

In case you haven't considered square foot gardening, I want to share with you what it is, how you can create one, and share a few other tips to help make your gardening experience a success.

What is Square Foot Gardening?

via rodalesorganiclife.com

Square foot gardening is a method which divides a raised bed into equal squares, roughly one foot in length each. It was designed to allow the gardener to produce more food with less effort towards maintaining the garden and optimize space. Because of the planting mix developed with this method, it’s also said to use less water.

How to Create a Square Foot Garden?

A square foot garden is a neat idea and great for people who are short on space or aren’t physically able to keep up with a more extensive, demanding garden.

Creating a square foot garden isn’t difficult. It requires only a few steps to have a highly-effective gardening space:

1. Build a Bed

You’ll begin the process of creating a square foot garden by creating as many four feet by four feet beds as you’ll need to produce an adequate amount of food according to your goals.

Each bed should be a foot deep. You’ll place a wooden divider over the top of your garden which will visually show each square foot section in the bed. This makes for easy planting.

2. Add the Perfect Mix

Next, you’ll create the perfect planting mix. Be sure to remove the square foot divider before adding your planting mix.

If your soil quality isn’t the best, don’t worry about it because you won’t be using traditional soil.

Instead, you’ll fill 1/3 of the bed with compost, 1/3 of the bed with peat moss, and 1/3 of the bed with vermiculite.

This creates a weed-free bed from the start which also is high in nutrients and can retain moisture.

Be sure to mix everything very well, before using it.

3. Stay Out of the Garden

This is common knowledge, but if you want your soil to stay nice and fluffy, don’t walk on it. When soil becomes compressed, it’s difficult for plants to grow and difficult for soil to drain.

Your planting mix shouldn’t be compact after adding it, but if someone accidentally walks on your beds, be sure to fluff them before planting.

Also, be sure everyone knows around your garden to not walk in your beds for the sake of your harvest.

4. Plant Appropriately

When you have fluffy planting mix in your beds, add the square foot divider back to the top of the raised bed.

From there, it’s time to plant. In a square foot garden bed, based on the size of the plants, you’ll either plant 1, 4, 9, or 16 of a plant in each square.

Beans and peas are the rare exception. They have to be planted in two short rows, which would take up two squares for each vegetable.

As an example, a tomato would be a vegetable variety where you’d only plant one per square. You could grow four heads of cabbage per square foot, nine carrot plants per square foot, or 16 radishes per square foot.

Obviously, the larger the plant, the fewer you’ll fit per square foot and vice versa.

5. Handle Your Weeds

Finally, you’ll eventually have weeds growing in your square foot garden. It’s a fact of life when gardening.

However, since everything is grown tightly in a square foot garden, you can’t go through the bed and yank weeds out. You’ll disturb roots in the process.

Instead, you use your scissors to cut weeds off at the base. You’ll have to catch weeds when they’re small, but with a smaller garden, it shouldn’t be too difficult to control weeds.

Planning Ideas and Tips

Knowing how to layout your square foot garden or how far apart you should plant each crop can be the difficult part of planting a square foot garden.

However, when you get past those issues you need to keep a few tips in mind to help you succeed at square foot gardening:

1. Water Adequately

Raised beds have a harder time retaining moisture than larger garden beds because there’s less soil for the plants to pull moisture from.

In knowing this, it’s important to make sure you water deeply. Instead of watering more frequently throughout the week for shorter time spans, it’s important to water only a couple of times per week for longer periods.

The idea is to make sure you have saturated the soil to the bottom of the bed. This will give the plants the necessary water they need to grow properly.

2. Consider Shade Cast from Other Plants

When planning your square foot garden, consider the plants as they grow. If you plant a shorter vegetable near one which grows tall, will the taller one cast too much shade on the shorter plant?

These things matter because if plants can’t get adequate sunlight, they won’t produce.

3. Adequate Sunlight

As I previously mentioned, adequate sunshine is a must for your square foot gardening bed. It’s important to place your garden where it’ll get six to eight hours of sunlight per day.

This is a good idea because the majority of most common vegetables prefer full sunlight. It leaves more opportunity for more variety to grow in your garden.

4. The Garden Should be Near Your Home

It’s a good idea to place your square foot garden near your home. It should protect it from the elements if you could put it on the backside of your home.

Also, when a garden is convenient for you, it’s more likely to be well cared for. Keep this in mind as you’re planning your square foot garden.

5. You Don’t Want a Mud Puddle

Consider how water flows during rainstorms around your home. You don’t want to place your square foot garden where water won’t drain well from it.

For instance, if you have a location near your house where you know water will collect in your garden like a mud puddle, you’ll know to find a new site.

6. Add Vertical Gardening to the Mix

You may enjoy growing vegetables which grow on vines or bush out, and you’re concerned they won’t work well in a square foot garden.

One way to help them (potentially) fit better into a square foot garden is to introduce vertical gardening to this gardening method as well.

When you give plants with large vines or bushy plants a cage or trellis to grow up, it could help to keep them compact in a compact garden.

7. Mark Off Your Garden Differently

Many people lean toward a wooden divider going through a square foot garden, but what if you don’t have wood on hand?

You don’t have to stick with what’s traditional. Instead, consider making a divider out of PVC pipe, or you could mark your garden off with string.

It doesn’t have to be fancy. It simply must function.

The Downside to Square Foot Gardening

Before you launch a new gardening technique, it’s only fair to share some possible downsides to using this technique.

1. Difficult to Grow Large Crops

Growing large crops in a square foot garden present its challenges. I mentioned earlier; you could try to put larger plants on a trellis or in a cage to make them more compact.

In some cases, this still won’t help. For instance, trying to grow watermelon or full-sized pumpkins in a square foot garden might not be a good idea.

You’d have to create a separate garden bed for these vegetables because of their size.

2. Costly to do on a Large Scale

My family and I grow multiple large gardens every year. Square foot gardening is something we did in the days when our family was smaller, and we didn’t need such large quantities of food.

However, it’s impractical for us to participate in this gardening technique now because of the expense to set-up as many square foot gardens as we would need.

3. Grow Mix Can be Pricey

Some people mix their own soil to put in a square foot garden. The reason being is the planting mix described above and initially designed by Mel Bartholomew is more than some people have in their budget to invest in a raised garden.

If you want to practice square foot gardening but are on a budget, consider amending the dirt you already have around your home to put in the raised garden bed.

The Upside to Square Foot Gardening

In the spirit of ending on a high note, it’s important to note a few additional upsides to gardening in a square foot garden.

1. Makes Succession Planting and Crop Rotation Easier

When you grow a garden in a compact space, it makes it easier to keep up with succession planting and crop rotation.

You no longer have to worry about filling in rows or rotating rows. You only focus on rotating squares. It simplifies the whole process.

2. Low Maintenance

When you can produce enough food for yourself in a smaller garden, why wouldn’t you? With less gardening square footage, it leaves less room for weeds to grow and less you must maintain.

3. Can Grow Anywhere

Finally, if you’re someone who has no yard to grow in or you have too many animals who munch on your garden in your yard, you can still use the square foot gardening method.

If you have a patio table, you can place a raised garden bed on the table, fill it with the planting mix, and grow a vibrant garden.

Well, you now know how to successfully create, plan, and grow a square foot garden. This could be the gardening method you’ve desperately needed to make gardening a reality in your particular situation.

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