Would you like to start a garden but don’t think you have enough space? No problem! “Square-Foot Gardening” is a great way to make the most out of your small space in order to produce some serious produce. Gardener extraordinaire Mel Bartholomew coined the phrase and introduced this concept in 1981.
What is Square-Foot Gardening?
Square-Foot Gardening is a unique approach to gardening that allows you to produce the largest possible harvest in the least amount of space and with the least amount of work.
The underlying idea is to divide your garden (whether it’s a backyard, patio… wherever) into beds that are 4 feet by 4 feet. The beds are then subdivided into 1-foot squares where plants are grown very close together.
Benefits of Square-Foot Gardening:
- Much less work, water and space
- Very little weeding
- Pesticide and herbicide free.
- Accessibility – a plywood bottom can be attached to each box so it can be raised higher or moved to another location.
Location. Location. Location.
Gardens need sun to grow, so make sure your Square-Foot Garden gets a good amount of sunlight throughout the day (6-8 hours depending on time of year is ideal). One of the great things about Square-Foot Gardens is that they can have raised beds, so they can be built on a patio if you don’t have to have yard space.
The 10 Basic Steps
LAYOUT. While most Square-Foot Gardens are arranged in 4′x4′ beds, I also have a few 2′x2s and even a 6′x6′. Keep in mind that if you can’t walk all the way around your bed, smaller is always better. What’s nice about going smaller is that you can reach around the entire box, making less impact on the soil by not having to step around.
BOXES. This is probably the only time in gardening where it’s actually advisable to cheat. There are pre-built raised beds available at most local gardening centers and online.
AISLES. If you are growing more than one Square-Foot Garden, space your boxes about 3 feet apart to form walking aisles. You’ll need this space to walk, work and weed.
SOIL. Mel believes in a special soil mix consisting of 1/3 blended compost, 1/3 peat moss and 1/3 coarse vermiculite (organic worm poo). I, however, have used premixed organic potting soils, which seem to work just fine.
GRID. Make a permanent square foot grid for the top of each box. This can be done with wood trim, metal posts or simple string.
CARE. Try to not walk on your garden. Compacting the soil is damaging to roots and cuts off essential oxygen your plants need to grow.
SELECT. Plant a different flower, vegetable or herb crop in each square foot, using 1, 4, 9, or 16 plants per square foot. A mong the most efficient crops are carrots, which need just 3 inches between each plant. This means that you can easily fit 12-16 carrots in 1 square foot. However, tomatoes need much more space to thrive and room for their roots to go deep, so don’t plant more then one per square foot.
PLANT. Add only 1-2 seeds per hole. Try to not over-plant your squares because it may cause the plants to choke one another, leaving you with stringy tasteless vegetables.
WATER. Raised beds demand more water than conventional gardens, so water regularly.
HARVEST. After you harvest your finished plants, you will notice that the soil ‘shrank’ in the given space. This is because the plants removed a large amount of nutrients. So before you plant the next round, you’ll need to turn in some fresh compost or soil.
While there is much more to cover on the subject, the above info should be more then enough to get you started. So if you’ve been putting off creating a garden, you can no longer say that it’s because you just don’t have enough space. .
Inspired? Why not give Square-Foot Gardening a try?
PHOTO CREDIT: C. Wood of Minnesota http://dustbathladies.blogspot.com