Square Foot Gardening
How To Make a Square Foot Garden
Square foot gardening is a popular method of gardening which allows closer planting of vegetables, herbs and flowers, producing a bigger crop in a smaller space with less work.
After I left home, I had always wanted to grow my own vegetables, but my first attempts at starting and maintaining a vegetable patch were quite dismal even though I had a friend help me with digging over the garden bed to prepare it.
My first real success came when I started using the square foot gardening method. The vegetables grew better and I was able to stay on top of the weeding.
This page will give you an introduction to square foot gardening.
and licensed for reuse under the CC BY-SA 2.0 license .
Sample veggie patch plan made using this garden planning software.
Mel Bartholomew - Introduction to Square Foot Gardening
Have you ever used the square foot garden method?
Vote by clicking next to your answer
1) The Boxes
With square foot gardening, you need to think squares and not rows. Your boxes should be at least 6 inches deep and no wider than 4 feet. If the box is wider than 4 feet, you would probably need to step onto the vegetable patch when planting, weeding, harvesting etc and this would compact the soil. They can be longer than 4 feet but the longer they are, the further you have to walk around to get from one side of the garden bed to the other. Each box needs to be able to be divided into foot squares, so the width and length need to be in whole feet, not fractions of a foot. (For example 4' x 5' is good, but 4' x 4Â½' is not.)
You can build your own boxes - I made my first ones from old recycled house bricks. The problem with bricks was that the holes in the bricks provided a great haven for snails. (Possible solution - fill the holes with soil / rocks / cement)
Alternatively you could buy a kit. See some possibilities below.
Suitable Raised Bed Kits - available from Amazon.com
Easy to build kit which comes with the special irrigation system which also doubles as the grid.
The square foot garden designs on this page were all produced using this great online garden planning tool.
2) Square Foot Garden Layout - Where to place your boxes
If you're going to have more than one bed, it is best to lay them out with a path or aisle between the boxes of at least 2 feet, preferably 3 feet. A path of 2 feet is more space-efficient than a path of 3 feet but you may find 3 feet is more practical. A 3 foot wide path will allow easy access to each bed for working and harvesting. There will be more room for a wheelbarrow or cart or just for kneeling down next to you beds.
When you build your garden beds, it would be wise to first remove all the weeds or place down a thick layer of newspapers or flattened cardboard boxes under them to stop any weeds from growing through.
More information on the best place to put your beds
Vegetable garden design Information to help you decide the best position to place your new vegetable garden.
3) Square Foot Garden Soil Mix
Mel has a really simple recipe for his perfect soil:
1 part peat moss
1 part vermiculite (coarse grade)
1 part compost
Unfortunately. Peat moss is a limited resource which could be depleted in the USA in as little as 20 years. Possible substitutes for peat moss include more compost (you could make your own) and coir dust.
You need to bear in mind that the level of the soil will go down, so it will need to be continually added to - another good reason to create your own compost.
4) Square Foot Garden Grids
Click on the thumbnails below for a bigger photo
Once you have put your soil mix into the boxes, you will need to mark the bed into a square foot grid. In my first attempt, I used string but this disintegrated too quickly. I have also used garden stakes laid in a grid on the soil. But there are other materials you can use, including Mel's recommendation of old venetian blinds.
string or coated wire
5) Square Foot Garden Spacing
Now for the fun part! Plant a different vegetable, herb or flower crop in each square on your grid. You will plant 1, 4, 9, 16 (or sometimes a different number) of each plant (seeds or seedlings) in one square foot depending on its space requirements.
The garden planning software I use clearly shows how many of each veggie or herb to plant per square foot - see the picture on the right - e.g. 1 cabbage, 4 swiss chards, 9 beetroots, 16 carrots. In this particular software in SFG mode, when you click on a plant to place it on your plan, the number used in each square foot will appear in the top left corner.
My Suggestion: Take into account the final height of the vegetables. My silverbeet (swiss chard) took off and totally swamped my little lettuces which then had to stretch for the light.
Sample Plans - Click on each thumbnail to see a bigger pictureClick thumbnail to view full-size
The frequency and amount of water used will depend on the type of crop. Root and leafy crops prefer frequent watering, whereas fruit and seed crops prefer deeper, less frequent watering. If you use a bucket of water, you can use a cup to spoon it out and apply only to the root area of the plant. This means that you use less water and also are not watering surrounding weeds.
I must confess that I didn't use the "spooning" method. I just used a watering can.
Unfortunately weeds still manage to get into your beds, but if you commit to weed "just one square" each time you walk by the garden, the task does not become an insurmountable one and only takes a minute or so. And weeds are so much easier to pull out when they are small.
When it is time to harvest, often you don't need to pull out the whole plant. You can just rip the outside leaves off swiss chard, leaf lettuces, mustard etc and just cut the top off chives, leeks, green onions. They will all continue to grow. If you do need to harvest the whole plant (eg a carrot), just add some compost to the square and plant a different type of vegetable, remembering to use the correct spacing.
Pictures to Inspire You
More veggie patch tips...
Vegetable Gardening Tips A list of various vegetable gardening tips arranged by topic - from planning your vegetables garden to how to grow different vegetables and herbs to garden tools and safety in the garden and much more.
Have you tried square foot gardening? Please feel free to share your successes, suggestions and improvements here.