Square foot gardening : Kat's Garden (2024)

There are so many ways to grow food. Each expert you consult will have different ideas, different dos and don’ts. There’s different ideologies: organic, synthetic, biodynamic, permaculture, no-dig, companion planting, square foot gardening, moon calendars, and so much more. It can get confusing when you first pick up a spade to grow something. Everyone seems to say something different.

As a result, I’ve learned to experiment with ideas I hear about. I might not follow them exactly, rather I meld them with other things I’ve learned and have decided to be true. Sometimes I get stuck into them right away. Sometimes I file their existence into the back of my mind to come back to later.

One technique I’ve heard about over the years is the concept of ‘Square Foot Gardening’ (SFG). It maximises garden space by splitting it into squares and then planting inside them. The idea is you can grow a lot of food in a small space with minimal effort. Great idea, right?

Because my garden has been rather large for a rather long time, it’s not an idea I’ve ever experimented with. But when I began thinking about ripping out one of my strawberry beds and transforming it into a salad bed, I ended up turning to Square Foot Gardening.

But why?

Summer here at The Outpost gets really, really hot. And dry. Each year, the garden suffers as I choose to conserve our tank water over irrigating the garden. Sometimes I go out with a watering can, but if I’m honest, that doesn’t happen very often.

It means my gardening mojo suffers. Pests take over the garden, plants run away to seed. Any harvests we do get are small and disfigured. It’s disheartening. I begin to avoid it. The weeds grow. It’s not until winter rolls around and I have to plant the garlic that my motivation returns. By then, it’s a huge and overwhelming job.

Not this year.

This year I’ve decided to use the principles of square foot gardening, apply some technology (and water), and focus on having one bed that really pumps. Hopefully it’ll keep me more motivated in the rest of the garden.

Step one: Research

Square Foot Gardening began its public life as a book. I was stoked to find an ebook copy of Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew in my local library. I read it from cover to cover in a day without leaving the house. Well, I skimmed it.

A lot of the book covers ‘general gardening’ topics, and I was looking specifically for how to make SFG work for me. So I read the pages I needed to, and flipped through the pages I didn’t. But I got the general gist. I wasn’t going to go to great lengths to alter the dimensions or soil of my bed, but in theory, the principles should still hold.

The main thing to know is there’s a maximum number of plants you can get in each square. How many plants you put in there depends on how big they get. For example, you can have one tomato plant, two cucumber plants, four lettuces, or 16 carrots in a single square-foot.

I decided to grow tomatoes, lettuce, mesclun, carrots, spring onions, basil, coriander, chives, capsicum and cucumber in a single small bed. Normally, these crops would be spread out in larger quantities around the rest of the garden – and possibly still may be. But I specifically wanted one bed I could raid nightly for a fresh salad. The book said this would achieve it, so I decided to dive in.

Step two: Planning

Next, I had to figure out what varieties I’d be planting.

I began with my existing seed collection, and if I didn’t have anything suitable, I moved onto the Kings Seeds website. There were 16 ‘squares’ to fill and I ended up filling 9 of them with seeds I already owned.

I particularly focused on small plants with good disease resistance. While I usually try to stay away from F1 varieties because they won’t continue to grow themselves, that was a lower priority here. With this bed, I want plants that perform well in limited space.

For tomatoes, I settled on Best Boy Bush F1. It should only grow a meter high while providing full-sized fruit. I’ll be growing two plants over two ‘squares’.

I lucked out with my cucumber as I already had Spacemaster seeds. I grew them last year and it’s a compact but vigorous variety. Perfect for my square foot garden. I’ll be growing four plants over two ‘squares’.

The previous owner of our property left us a huge collection of seeds when we moved in. As a result, I had a range of lettuce and leafy greens to choose from. So in one square, I’ll plant three Royal Oak Leaf and three Tennis Ball lettuces. Then I’ll sow another square with Italian Mix Mesclun along with Runway Rocket.

As it happens, I was already in the market for some carrots, so I purchased a pack of Kuroda Improved. These are baby-type carrots suited to the warmer temperatures of Northland. Two squares will be planted with them.

For the basil, coriander, chives, and marigolds, I know I have enough saved seed from previous years to make that work over the five allocated squares.

I was going to grow the spring onions from seed, but then had the opportunity to purchase a bunch of Multiplying Spring Onions from KoruKai Herb Farm. These are a perennial spring onion that should be the last spring onions I ever need to plant. For a lot of reasons they seemed like a good investment.

Finally, the capsicum. I decided this one I would purchase at a large grade when they arrive in stores (probably in October). Peppers I raise from seed never really produce well until the tail end of the season. I want to give mine a head start this year, so I’ll be blowing the budget and buying something big for the remaining two squares.

Step three: Set up

Firstly, I had to rip up the old garden. I pulled up all the strawberry plants – hundreds of them. The 25 plants I’d put in last year had gone really hard putting out runners this year. I gave a bucket of plants to a neighbour, and fed the rest to the poultry.

Then I made some adjustments to the soil. In Square Foot Gardening, they really hammer the importance of using a particular mix of soil for success. That’s fair if you’re building a new bed, but mine already exists, so I’m using what’s in it.

That said, I have done a soil test and know what’s missing in my soils. I added blood and bone, gypsum, and some superphosphate I had on hand, then topped the bed up with my home made compost. That’ll have to do the trick.

Next, I set out my squares. My bed measures 1.4m x 1.8m (or 4.5 ft x 6ft). I’d decided to go for a 4ft x 4ft design which gives me my 16 squares. Except my ‘squares’ are actually rectangles and bigger than a square foot at 350mm x 450mm. I set up some tent-pegs along the edges and set up nylon stringline to show my squares without biodegrading over time.

In theory, I could fit another 8 squares into this space, but in my heart I am still a gardener that believes plants need more room than one square foot. We’ll see how we go this year. Maybe I’ll cram more in there next year.

Step four: Layout

Next, it was time to plan the layout. There were two things I was thinking about here: height and companion planting.

The height was important because this garden will be covered with cloche hoops. This will restrict the height of the plants a little, especially on the sides. My hoops are very big, but the tomatoes, cucumbers, and capsicums would prefer more height, while the lettuce, mesclun, herbs, spring onions, and carrots could go on the outside where it’s lower.

In terms of companion planting, I’ve found a book that steers me right regularly, so I’ve decided to call it my trusted source to avoid the confusion of conflicting opinions. For this project, I used it to help place plants beside their friends (and away from their frenemies) as much as I could.

Square Foot Gardening: Maximizing Garden Space

Square Foot Gardening (SFG) is a gardening technique that maximizes garden space by dividing it into squares and planting different crops in each square. The concept was popularized by Mel Bartholomew in his book "Square Foot Gardening" [[1]]. The idea behind SFG is to grow a variety of crops in a small space with minimal effort. By following the principles of SFG, gardeners can achieve higher yields and easier maintenance.

Principles of Square Foot Gardening

The main principle of Square Foot Gardening is to divide the garden bed into square-foot sections and plant a specific number of plants in each square, depending on their size. For example, a single square foot can accommodate one tomato plant, two cucumber plants, four lettuces, or 16 carrots [[1]].

Planning and Planting in Square Foot Gardening

When planning a Square Foot Garden, it is important to choose suitable plant varieties that perform well in limited space. Disease resistance and compact growth habits are desirable traits for plants in SFG. The author of the article chose varieties such as Best Boy Bush F1 tomatoes, Spacemaster cucumbers, Royal Oak Leaf and Tennis Ball lettuces, Italian Mix Mesclun, Runway Rocket, Kuroda Improved carrots, basil, coriander, chives, marigolds, Multiplying Spring Onions, and capsicum [[2]].

Setting Up a Square Foot Garden

To set up a Square Foot Garden, the author first cleared the existing garden bed and made adjustments to the soil. While Square Foot Gardening recommends using a specific soil mix, the author used the existing soil in the bed and added amendments like blood and bone, gypsum, superphosphate, and homemade compost [[2]].

The author then divided the garden bed into squares using tent-pegs and nylon stringline. The squares were slightly larger than a square foot, measuring 350mm x 450mm. This design allowed for 16 squares in the 1.4m x 1.8m bed [[2]].

Layout and Companion Planting

When planning the layout of the Square Foot Garden, the author considered the height of the plants and companion planting. The garden bed would be covered with cloche hoops, which would limit the height of certain plants. The author placed taller plants like tomatoes, cucumbers, and capsicums in the center of the bed, where they would have more vertical space. Lettuce, mesclun, herbs, spring onions, and carrots were placed on the outer edges of the bed, where the height was lower. Companion planting was also considered, with plants being placed next to their friends and away from their "frenemies" [[2]].

In conclusion, Square Foot Gardening is a technique that allows for efficient use of garden space and higher yields. By dividing the garden bed into squares and following specific planting guidelines, gardeners can grow a variety of crops in a small area. The principles of Square Foot Gardening, as outlined in Mel Bartholomew's book, provide a framework for successful implementation.

Square foot gardening : Kat's Garden (2024)
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