Square Foot Gardening (2024)

The beauty of square foot gardening lies in its simplicity. Garden space is divided into a grid of 1’ x 1’ mini-plots that are planted with a prescribed number of plants depending on the crop.

“Sow seeds 2” apart in rows 18” apart.” Instructions like these are common on seed packets. But is sowing in rows really the best way to plant a garden? Mel Bartholomew, author of the bookSquare Foot Gardening, thought not. Taking up gardening in 1975 when he retired from his civil engineering career, Mel quickly realized that planting in widely spaced rows, while useful for large, mechanized, single-crop farm fields, didn’t translate well to small gardens of diverse crops.

He saw that planting in rows wastes space, wastes water, and encourages weeds. Much of the unplanted area — the footpaths between rows — could be productive growing space. When the garden is watered, the paths end up getting as wet as the crops, creating fertile ground for weeds.

Innovation Leads to Efficiency

The beauty of Mel’s square foot method lies in its simplicity. Garden space is divided into a grid, with individual squares measuring 1’ x 1’. These mini-plots are planted with a prescribed number of plants depending on the crop.

Plants are spaced closer together than in a row-based garden, which yields some important benefits.

  • You get a larger harvest in the same-sized garden plot.
  • There’s less bare soil, so there are fewer weeds to pull.
  • The plants shade the soil, keeping it cooler and conserving moisture.
  • Compared to row-style gardening, this method is estimated tocost 50% less, use 20% less space, use 10% of the water, and require just 2% of the work, according to the Square Foot Gardening Foundation.

When Mel introduced the idea, many seasoned gardeners viewed this new-fangled technique with skepticism, but the idea quickly caught on — especially with beginner gardeners who weren’t stuck in the “but we’ve always done it this way” mindset.

Square Foot Gardening with Kids

Square foot gardening isn’t just efficient, it’s also fun! The grid design adds a playful twist, and invites imaginative planting plans. Because it cuts the amount of time needed for weeding, watering, and other maintenance chores, square foot gardening helps get even the most reluctant youngsters excited about gardening. And it offers fertile ground for real-world lessons in science, math, art, and nutrition.

Square Foot Gardening Basics

Raised beds.Although you can use the technique for in-ground beds, square foot gardening is much more successful when done in raised beds. Ideally, a raised bed should be 3’ to 4’ across so you can reach the center without stepping into the bed. If children will be tending the beds, choose a 2’ or 3’ wide bed.

Learn more:Raised Beds 101

Grids.Here’s where the fun starts! Use narrow strips of wood tacked onto the bed lengthwise and crosswise to create 1’ mini plots. You can also create the grid with twine stretched lengthwise and crosswise over the bed, but it’s less visually appealing and may make it more difficult to get youngsters excited about the new technique.

Soil mix.Fill the bed with a freely draining, compost-rich soil blend. A key to success with the square foot method is a keen appreciation for the health of the soil. Because crops are densely planted and you’re harvesting more from them, they need a continuous supply of nutrients. Depending upon the quality of your soil you may want to add slow-release fertilizers at planting time.

Crops.Just about any crop can be grown in a square foot garden. The key is to know each plant’s mature size, so you can give them the space they require. Large plants, like peppers, and cabbages, require an entire 1’ x 1’ square. Medium-sized plants, like leaf lettuce and chard, are planted four to a square. Smaller plants, such as beets and spinach, can be planted nine to a square. Carrots, radishes, and other compact crops are planted 16 to a square. (Mel’s book gives a complete rundown.)

Design.Let your inner artist shine! You can plan ahead by using graph paper to design your plot. Consider foliage shapes, sizes, and colors that will create a living work of art. If you’re growing four squares of beets, for example, you don’t need to place them all together. For example, plant each corner square with beets, with other crops in between. Separating crops in this way not only creates an attractive pattern, it also helps foil pests that may find one square of beets but completely miss the square of them at the other end of the bed.

Supports.Giving taller plants some support will conserve space even more. Cages and ladders can keep tomatoes and other rambling plants in-bounds. Set the supports at planting time and direct plant growth upwards, tying the stems with soft ties if necessary.

Maintenance.Your square foot garden will quickly transform into a beautiful array — think exotic mosaic or intriguing quilt — as the different plants begin to fill in their squares. Monitor soil moisture and water as needed. Soaker hoses are particularly useful, because they apply water at the soil, where it’s needed. Overhead watering, on the other hand, can be wasteful, and due to the closely spaced plants, it may never even reach the soil underneath. A mid-season addition of fertilizer may also be helpful.

Succession planting.Fast-maturing plants like radishes will be ready to harvest in as little as a month after sowing. You can replant the square with a second (“successive”) sowing of radishes or greens.

When summer heats up, bush beans and basil are good choices. Cucumbers and summer squash are also warm-season crops; however, the plants get quite large. Look for compact bush varieties and give each plant two squares along an edge of the bed so it can trail over. Or choosing a vining type and provide a sturdy trellis.

As the growing season progresses, the work of art created by the foliage colors and shapes slowly transforms, too.

When it’s time to put the garden to bed, remove spent plants and cover the soil with a scattering of shredded leaves, straw, or a cover crop to protect the soil over the winter.

Resources

Compact Plants for Small Space Growing

Square Foot Gardening, by Mel Bartholomew, was first published in 1981. The 3rdedition was published by Cool Springs Press in 2018.

Square Foot Gardening Foundation

Square Foot Gardening (1)

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Introduction

As an expert in gardening and horticulture, I can provide you with information about square foot gardening. Square foot gardening is a gardening method that was popularized by Mel Bartholomew, the author of the book "Square Foot Gardening." This method involves dividing the garden space into a grid of 1' x 1' mini-plots and planting a prescribed number of plants in each square foot. The goal of square foot gardening is to maximize productivity, minimize waste, and make gardening more efficient and enjoyable.

The Concept of Square Foot Gardening

Square foot gardening is based on the idea that planting in rows, which is commonly done in traditional gardening, wastes space, water, and encourages weed growth. By using a grid system and planting crops closer together, square foot gardening offers several benefits:

  1. Larger Harvest: By spacing plants closer together, you can achieve a larger harvest in the same-sized garden plot.
  2. Reduced Weeds: With less bare soil, there are fewer weeds to pull, as the plants shade the soil and prevent weed growth.
  3. Conserved Moisture: The plants in square foot gardening shade the soil, keeping it cooler and conserving moisture.
  4. Cost and Space Efficiency: Compared to row-style gardening, square foot gardening is estimated to cost 50% less, use 20% less space, use 10% of the water, and require just 2% of the work, according to the Square Foot Gardening Foundation.

Getting Started with Square Foot Gardening

To start square foot gardening, here are some basic concepts to keep in mind:

  1. Raised Beds: Square foot gardening is most successful when done in raised beds. Ideally, the raised bed should be 3' to 4' across so that you can reach the center without stepping into the bed. If children will be tending the beds, choose a 2' or 3' wide bed.
  2. Grids: Use narrow strips of wood or twine to create a grid on the raised bed, dividing it into 1' x 1' mini-plots. The grid helps maintain the organization and structure of the garden.
  3. Soil Mix: Fill the raised bed with a freely draining, compost-rich soil blend. Good soil health is essential for the success of square foot gardening.
  4. Plant Spacing: Each plant requires a certain amount of space. Large plants like peppers and cabbages require an entire 1' x 1' square, while smaller plants like beets and spinach can be planted nine to a square. Mel Bartholomew's book provides a complete rundown of plant spacing for different crops.
  5. Design: Square foot gardening allows for creativity in design. You can plan your garden plot using graph paper and consider foliage shapes, sizes, and colors to create an attractive pattern.
  6. Supports: Taller plants may require support to conserve space. Cages and ladders can be used to keep plants like tomatoes and other rambling plants in bounds.
  7. Maintenance: Monitor soil moisture and water as needed. Soaker hoses are particularly useful for applying water at the soil level. Remove spent plants and cover the soil with shredded leaves or straw to protect it over the winter.
  8. Succession Planting: Fast-maturing plants like radishes can be replanted with a second sowing after the first harvest. This allows for continuous production throughout the growing season.

Square Foot Gardening with Kids

Square foot gardening is not only efficient but also fun, especially for kids. The grid design adds a playful twist and invites imaginative planting plans. Additionally, square foot gardening reduces the amount of time needed for maintenance tasks like weeding and watering, making it more engaging for children. It also provides an opportunity for real-world lessons in science, math, art, and nutrition.

In conclusion, square foot gardening is a simple and efficient gardening method that maximizes productivity, minimizes waste, and makes gardening more enjoyable. By dividing the garden space into 1' x 1' mini-plots and planting crops closer together, square foot gardening offers numerous benefits, including larger harvests, reduced weeds, conserved moisture, and cost and space efficiency. It is an excellent option for both beginner and experienced gardeners, and it can be a fun and educational activity for kids as well.

I hope this information helps you understand the concepts and benefits of square foot gardening. If you have any more questions, feel free to ask!

Note: The information provided in this response is based on this article and my expertise in gardening.

Square Foot Gardening (2024)
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