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Square Foot Gardening

Updated on April 19, 2013

Maximize your small garden

Square foot gardening is a logical way to get the most vegetables from a small raised garden bed. It's perfect for small spaces and can even work if all you have for a yard is a concrete patio.

Mel Bartholomew is the mastermind that developed this ingenious gardening plan that will ensure every square inch of a vegetable garden is used to its fullest potential. His book will teach you how to vertical garden, extend the growing season, produce a more plentiful harvest and so much more. I can't recommend it enough.

My husband built this lovely garden box pictured here with gates on 2 sides to keep out the bunnies and dogs, but let me in to work. I used string to create my square foot gardening grid, which you will learn the significance of later. All said and done, we have a 4x4 raised garden, filled with "Mel's Mix" that can be refilled year after year with at least 16 different varieties of plants.

This page will point you in the right direction, but I highly recommend the Mel Bartholomew's book: "All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space!"

Photo Credit: Nibbled.

All New Square Foot Gardening - Grow More in Less Space! - Author Mel Bartholomew

Looking for a way to garden that will produce large quality harvests without having to spend your entire spring and summer tending to the garden? Then this is the book for you!

Mel even takes you through what plants do well when placed next to each other and even has a section for flowers if you'd rather make your own bouquet cutting garden.

The Theory of a Square Foot Garden

How can a 4x4 box garden produce more than a row planted garden?

A 4'x4' garden box allows the gardener to easily access plants from all sides of the garden. The garden boxes can be extended, but each side should be accessible so you are not having to reach more than 2 feet. For example, many people will line the foundation of their home, say with a 12'x2' garden box. We chose the 4'x4' plan. You might choose 3'x3' or 2'x2' for a child's garden.

The grid system is essential to a productive garden plan, and is a step that shouldn't be skipped. Use string, dowels or scrap wood to assemble the grid. A 4'x4' garden box will host up to 16 different squares. Each square can hold a plant or plants of your choosing depending on the space requirements for the plant.. For example a single tomato plant will take up a full square and will be planted in the middle of the chosen square, but you can plant anywhere from 16/24 carrots in a single square. Each individual square can be broken down further with an additional grid to plant your seeds evenly. I recommend creating or purchasing seed planting templates that will help keep your seeds evenly spaced.

Another important element to the square foot garden is the special soil mix, dubbed "Mel's Mix". You may be surprised to find that there is no dirt in this mix, it's a blend of compost, vermiculite and peat moss. The combination creates a nutrient rich food source for your plants that holds water incredibly well. This special soil-less mix is what creates such a plentiful harvest. The mix cuts down on weeding and only needs added compost to keep things growing.

Photo Credit: Nibbled.

What is in my square foot garden for 2013

No starter seedlings this year again, too much work with a baby in the house! But we plan to visit a nursery once we go more than a week with no snow!

  1. Lettuce
  2. Multiple bell and hot peppers
  3. 2 tomato plants, one cherry
  4. Radishes
  5. Peas
  6. Green beans

Square Foot Gardening Videos

Check out these great vids with tips and instructions for the perfect square foot vegetable or flower garden.

Squarefoot Gardening Resources - All the info. you need to get started

Learn about the theory behind square foot gardening, what plants thrive in your area and what plants are best to grow together. Plus a slew of happy square foot gardeners welcome you into their gardens.

Seed Starting - For those in colder climates

If you aren't one of the lucky ones that can garden year round, you probably want to start your seeds indoors before all that snow melts. There are certain plants that are simply easier and sometimes cheaper to pick up at your local nursery, but seed starting can be a fun and satisfying experience.

Photo Credit: Nibbled.

No Yard, but Still Want a Garden - No yard needed for square foot gardening

No grass required!
No grass required!

Photo used under Creative Commons from andy pad.

With a raised bed and wonderful Mel's Mix, you won't need a yard to plant a garden. Set up your raised bed on the concrete patio, deck or even rooftop. You will still have the same amazing results.

Have you tried Square Foot gardening? Please let us know your experience!

What's your best gardening tip? - My seedlings are ready to be planted, are yours?

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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Have been using raised beds for a number of years, but not really square foot style. Plan on doing more like Mel in 2014.

    • ghoststorylover profile image


      5 years ago

      My mom and I used to square foot garden, brings back good memories!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Hi Nibbled, great lens, lots of info on S F G. I acquired my SFG certification. A little bit ago, and started a lens, for my group of gardeners at the class. I have been sfg'er for 9 years. If u have time, come on over and take a look, still a work in progress, but I am looking for SFG'ers like ur self to join our club. and thanks for spreading the word! Bowen

    • WhyCleanCounts profile image


      6 years ago

      great lens! This is going to be my next gardening project!

    • lbrummer profile image

      Loraine Brummer 

      6 years ago from Hartington, Nebraska

      Lots of great information, I love the idea of small garden spots. I'm featuring this lens on my tongue-in-cheek lens about my experiences with gardening over the years, How To Start a Garden: My Point of View.

    • casquid profile image


      6 years ago

      Gardening with neighborhood kids was so much fun, one year on a patio. The children came from the first day until we prepped for winter. All this, and many families came to take pictures during the growing process. We grew mini-melons, tomatoes, peppers (two kinds), squash and other things which I forget. Everyone got to take home some veggies or fruits. My heart was full for showing kids another fun activity.

    • Mickie Gee profile image

      Mickie Goad 

      6 years ago

      Just make sure you have a spot that gets at least 6 hours of full sun a day.

    • ChinaGal profile image


      6 years ago

      My mom-in-law got us the book for Christmas last year so we'll be trying it this summer.

    • DhixsGarden profile image


      7 years ago

      great resource of information about gardening especially those who have a small space or limited area.

    • Gayle Dowell profile image

      Gayle Dowell 

      7 years ago from Kansas

      I've not tried this, but will have to this spring. I've done container gardening and love that as I don't have to weed it. It's just not possible to grow corn in a container. Blessed.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Great idea for those with limited space - thanks for sharing!

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image

      Tolovaj Publishing House 

      7 years ago from Ljubljana

      I had a garden on the balcony. The main problem was lack of sunlight. My tip? One yard or thousand yards, plants need care:)

    • hysongdesigns profile image


      7 years ago

      A nice intro to SFG. Mel's method is a very good introduction for people who have never gardened before.

    • blessedmomto7 profile image


      7 years ago

      Stopped back by to let you know that this lens is featured on my square foot gardening adventure lens.

    • Rockett LM profile image

      Rockett LM 

      7 years ago

      Love your information. I live in an apartment now, but used to have a house where I had about a dozen raised planters. I used the square foot method and just loved it!! Highly recommended.

      Please keep the photos of your garden coming, I'd love to see a photo of your fall bounty.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Now this is an idea that makes sense and enables more people to enjoy the gardening experience.

    • pixelposy profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      @GetSillyProduct: Wow, thank you very much! I'm very flattered! I agree. Even a 2x2 would work lovely on a patio or deck for herbs or a tomato plant or two.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      perfect for those of us without a garden, nominated for LOTD!

    • SheGetsCreative profile image

      Angela F 

      7 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Great lens and a super way to garden in small places.

    • Board-Game-Brooke profile image

      C A Chancellor 

      7 years ago from US/TN

      What a cool idea! I might try this at some point.

    • Kevin Wilson 2 profile image

      Kevin Wilson 2 

      7 years ago

      Mel's book is the one I recommend most to beginners. It helps keep people from falling into the trap of taking on too much, too soon.

    • glenbrook profile image


      7 years ago

      Very cool lens. My mom gave the book to me and my wife for Christmas last year. Can't wait to try it out.

    • pixelposy profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      @GonnaFly: It's on honor. Thank you. I've lens rolled you back.

    • pixelposy profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      @grandma deal: We want to try potatoes this year. Did you build up an area of your box for them, or did they have their own? Happy gardening this spring!

    • GonnaFly profile image


      7 years ago from Australia

      Your lens has been blessed and added to my Growing Vegetables and Herbs lens.

    • pixelposy profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      @blessedmomto7: We found some garden liner near the garden pond making supplies and actually put that down into our bed over the ground before filling with "Mel's Mix". Depending on they type of plants you select, you'll need somewhere that needs at least 6-8 good hours of sun. Other than that, you can place them anywhere. Hope that helps!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      very interesting concept sure beats trying to take care of a quarter acre

    • blessedmomto7 profile image


      7 years ago

      This will be my first year. I am trying to figure out where to put my raised beds and what to put underneath them.

    • grandma deal profile image

      grandma deal 

      7 years ago

      During the '70's and '80's I subscribed to "Organic Gardening" magazine. That's where I first learned of the square foot gardening system. I used it for years and highly recommend it for the "back-yard gardener." I grew everything from radishes to corn and potatoes. I made eight-foot long beds that were four-foot wide. Once the ground was turned in the spring, there was no tilling needed the rest of the year. I'd forgotten about this. So glad you reminded me. I'd sure like to have some home grown tomatoes.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I like herbs.They are easy to take care.

    • Charmcrazey profile image

      Wanda Fitzgerald 

      7 years ago from Central Florida

      I had a square foot garden once. We got a lot of food from it. It's a great concept.

    • profile image

      doubleside lm 

      7 years ago

      Beautiful lens. Nice job.. :)

    • Carterpants profile image


      8 years ago

      Look at that craftsmanship on the garden. He must be a master carpenter! ;-)


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