Square Foot Gardening

Square Foot Gardening in Action
What is Square Foot Gardening:
Square foot gardening is essentially gardening in 4 foot by 4 foot boxes. In order to make each box more efficient and to allow for a greater variety of vegetables to be grown, the box is gridded into a series of smaller boxes.  Each box is 1 foot by 1 foot, hence the name: square foot gardening.

Anyone can square foot garden. It’s a great project for those who have little space or time to care for a full-scale garden, can be used to teach children about nature, and makes a great alternative to traditional row planting for seasoned growers.

Square foot gardening is easy to do, economical, and efficient. Specifically, square foot gardening requires up to 80% less space than a traditional garden, eliminates all tilling, weeding and digging, and can harvest up to 5 times more produce than a conventional garden. In addition, you get to select what you grow and how you grow it, which means no pesticides or chemicals.

The Benefits of Square Foot Gardening:

  • Much less work. Conventional gardening requires heavy tools to loosen the soil, whereas in this method, the soil is never compacted and it remains loose and loamy. Weeding takes only seconds to minutes, due to the light soil, raised beds, and easily accessed plants. Harvests per foot of garden are increased due to the rich soil mixture, well-spaced plants, and lack of weeds.
  • Water Savings. The soil mixture advised has water-holding capacities, so that the garden needs water less frequently, and in much smaller quantities than when using other gardening methods. 
  • Very little weeding. One benefit of this close planting is that the vegetables form a living mulch, and shade out many weed seeds before they have a chance to germinate.
  • Pesticide / Herbicide Free. Natural insect repellent methods like companion planting (i.e. planting marigolds or other naturally pest-repelling plants) become very efficient in a close space and thus, pesticides are not necessary. The large variety of crops in a small space also prevents plant diseases from spreading easily.
  • Accessibility. The size of each square foot garden allows for easy access.

How to Start a Square Foot Garden:

The easiest and fastest method to start square foot gardening is with a raised bed planter.  As a starter-guide, we found the cheapest raised bed planters on the web and the ones best fit for square foot gardening.

4ft X 4ft Raised Bed Planter

4ft X 4ft Raised Bed Planter
 This cedar 4x4 is the perfect start for a square foot garden.  A typical 4x4 can yield over 50 pounds of produce a year.  More than paying for itself. Usually priced around $150.

Raised Planter Bed/Sandbox 4ft x 8ft x 11in

Raised Planter Bed/Sandbox 4ft x 8ft x 11in
 This 4x8 is a very durable PVC raised bed garden that can accommodate two square foot gardens with yields of up to 50 pound of produce per year.  We choose this garden as our pick because it comes with a 20 year warranty.  Priced below $200.

Rectangular Raised Bed w/Ball Finials 8 Foot

Rectangular Raised Bed w/Ball Finials 6 Foot
 This raised bed garden is for the gardener that wants to incorporate style into their garden.  Coming in 3 different sizes (6ft, 8ft and 10ft) this raised bed is constructed of Port Oxford Cedar, one of the strongest and rot-proof lumber.  Priced over $350.

How to Build your Own Square Foot Garden:

If you are more adventurous and want to build one yourself follow the 6 simple steps below:

1. Location. When figuring out where to build your garden, look out for an area that receives about 6-8 hours of sunlight, that is clear of trees or shrubs that might interfere, and is not prone to puddles or excess moisture. Each garden will take up 4 square foot of space and you should plan for additional future gardens.  Square foot gardening is addictive. You should try to position the garden close to your home for convenience.

Find the right location for your square foot garden.

2. Planning.  When planning your garden, you must also consider layout. Always think in squares, and specifically, 4 foot by 4 foot squares. If you’re planning on building more than one square foot garden, be sure to plan for aisles so that you can access and tend to your garden without disrupting or destroying the other boxes.

3. Building.  If you purchased a square foot garden kit, you can follow the instruction that came with your kit. To build your own box frame, you can use just about any material except treated wood, which contains chemicals that can seep into the soil. The best wood to use is cedar as it is naturally rot resistant.  We recommend taking a trip to your local lumber yard or Home Depot to scope out some 1ft by 6ft or 2ft by 6ft lumber. The lumber yard will be able to cut the wood for you at little to no cost. You'll need each piece of lumber cut to 4 feet.  Once home, layout the lumber to form boxes and secure corners with deck screws.

Line up the boards of  your square foot garden.
Drill pilot holes and screw your boards together.
Make sure the garden is level.  Adjust as needed.

4. Filling.  Now that you have created the box frame, it’s time to fill it with something that will nourish and fortify your garden. We recommend filling the box with a mixture of 1/3 compost, 1/3 peat moss and 1/3 course grade vermiculite. You will need 16 cubic feet of material if your walls are 1 feet high or 32 cubic feet of material if your walls are 2ft high.  When purchasing these items, be sure to look for organic varieties that contain no fertilizers or chemicals. Alternatively, if you already make your own compost, feel free to use it to fill the boxes.  You’ll still need the peat moss and vermiculite to help retain moisture and keep the soil aerated.  You do not have to keep the ratios perfect if material is hard to come by but the formula we recommend will produce amazing results.

Gather Compost, Peat Moss and Vermiculite
Add growing medium to garden and mix well.

Even out and level the material inside your garden.

5. Grid.  Now it’s time to create the grid that will form the one-foot squares within the box frame. This grid, which can be made shorter to fit inside the box or be secured on top of the box, will keep your garden organized and improve manageability. Much like the box frame, the grid can be made from just about any chemical-free material, including wood, nylon rope or plastic strips. Use screws or rivets to secure the grid at each place where the strips intersect and to attach the grid to the box. The grid should be left in place all season.

Square foot garden with grid.  You can also use string for the dividers.

6. Grow your own vegetables! The final step is to fill your garden with delicious vegetables.  Depending on the mature size of the plant, you’ll want to grow either 1, 4, 9 or 16 plants per square foot. For example, if the seed packet recommends that the plants be spaced 12 inches apart, you’ll plant 1 per grid box. If it recommends a 6 inch spacing, you can plant 4, if it asks for 4 inch spacing, you can plant 9, and if it recommends 3 inch spacing, you can plant 16 per square foot grid.

We highly recommend you read the following book by Mel Bartholomew, creator of square foot gardening, for more information on the square foot gardening technique.