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What Is Square Foot Gardening?

Square foot gardening is a method of grow vegetables and herbs that make the most of small spaces.

Growing a vegetable garden is rewarding mentally, and doubly so with fresh, nutrient-dense produce.

what is square foot gardening

However, gardening often requires a lot of dedicated space to cultivate plants and vegetables and intensive work.

Square foot gardening is a new approach to smart, versatile, efficient, and flexible gardening.

It is especially popular among growers living in metropolitan and urbanized areas who struggle with not much space at home.

With just a little space, you can now have a home garden that produces the same harvest as traditional gardening.

History of Square Foot Gardening

The method of Square Foot Gardening started in 1976 by Mel Bartholomew.

Mel was a retired civil engineer and efficiency expert who wanted to take up gardening as a hobby.

Though he loved gardening, he found it laborious and time-consuming.

He wanted an efficient and better approach to gardening that both advanced and novice gardeners can benefit and enjoy.

Mel wanted to do away with the laborious, inefficient approach of growing crops by developing a gardening method focusing on spacing, planting, soil, and weed control.

That is why he invented square foot gardening. Today, it remains a practical approach to gardening that is beneficial for both experienced and novice growers.

seedlings ready to plant in a square foot garden

Why square foot gardening?

The basic concept of the square foot method is to control the soil you plant in and making access to your plants easier.

This better way of gardening requires less time, energy, and maintenance. About only 20% of space can is needed to grow the same amount of fresh produce with fewer seeds and lesser water supply.

Some of the problems with traditional gardening are weeds, soil compression, and accidental trampling on plants in a row garden.

With square foot garden beds, you will have full control and access around your planting. As the gardener, you will have full control of the quality of soil you will use.

Containing the different crop within the wooden board is also a great way to keep weeds away.

For novice gardeners, starting small gives you benefits over a traditional garden.

You can begin by growing fruits, herbs, and vegetables that you and your family love to eat.

You can plant different crops, but make sure to avoid overcrowding as this may cause less productivity and plant diseases.

If you want a versatile, user-friendly approach to gardening while using less space, square foot gardening may be right for you.

Also check out lasagna gardening and it’s many benefits.

It allows you to create a variety of structures and layouts according to your needs.

You may even install a vertical frame or netting structure to accommodate vining crops or add protective measures, such as a removal chicken wire mesh placed over the box, to fight against pests and extend your growing season.

The square-foot gardening method (sfg method) allows you to modify your garden according to your needs and preferences.

swiss chard in a square foot garden

Easy Steps to Start Your Square Foot Gardening

To make a square foot garden is easy. Just follow these four simple steps, and you can have a home garden.

If this is your first year, you will need to create a raised bed out of wooden boards or pre-purposed boxes, then divide it equally into squares.

You can plant different crops on each pot and modify your garden to increase protection from pests and weeds.

1. Choosing a good location

The location of your square foot garden is the first factor to consider. You will have to make sure that it is close to your house to keep watch of pests.

Moreover, having your planting area close to your home makes it easier to manage, care for, maintain, and harvest the crops.

Being close to the house also provides easy access to a reliable water source, especially that you will need to water your plants every day in the morning.

Besides daily watering of plants, crops planted in a square foot garden must also need direct sunlight for about 6 to 8 hours per day.

Therefore, a sunny area is preferred. They should also be in a clearing without shade and tree roots and that has good drainage.

2. Plot, Soil & Grid

Square foot beds are a 4×4 raised box using a wooden board. If you’re starting a new garden, either a weed blocking fabric or cardboard and place it inside the wooden bed.

I prefer using cardboard as it deteriorates over time without leaving that horrible blank fabric that must be cleared out if you ever move locations.

Fill the bed with about 6 inches depth of mix composted soil.

Good soil is the best way to grow healthy plants.

Mix one-third carbonized rice hull (CRH), one-third garden soil, and one-third compost. This has been nick-named Mel’s mix as it was invented by Mel.

Check out my post on how to start a compost pile if you don’t already have one.

An alternative to carbonized rice hull is peat moss.

Fill the garden bed with this mixture until it’s about 6 to 8 inches thick.

Plant spacing will depend on the size of the plants you want to grow. Each sfg bed has 4 square feet.

While you’re planning your beds, also consider companion planting. Check out my post on the complete list of companion plants for more info!

An easy way to identify the number of plants to sow in each plot is to make grids using a string. Grids make it easy for you to plant together different plant combinations.

One square has one large plant, four with medium plants, nine with smaller plants, and 16 for extra small plants.

Each plant should be researched thoroughly before planting so you can have ample harvest in the coming months.

And always plan for a crop rotation to discourage pests and nutrient deficiencies.

Large plants in the center include squash, broccoli, tomatoes, cabbage, cucumbers, potatoes, peppers, pumpkins.

Medium plants include cilantro, soybeans, parsley, green beans, chard.

For the nine smaller plants, these are beets, spinach, garlic, peas, large onions.

Lastly, you can choose small or green onions, carrots, and radishes for the sixteen extra small plants.

trellis supporting beans in a square foot garden

3. Care and Maintenance

Square foot gardening doesn’t require high maintenance. Your soil should be able to last for years before you can change it.

If necessary, fill more compost soil or fresh organic soil into the bed. You will also need to water the plants every day, preferably in the morning.

Watering the plants at night may cause fungal growth.

Lastly, the soil and plants are very delicate, so they must be protected from accidental stepping.

Square foot gardening is suitable for both first-time gardeners and small-scale gardeners who struggle with limited space in their house.

If you are looking for an undemanding, versatile, user-friendly approach to home gardening that produces more harvests in just a small area, then this is for you!

Mel’s dream of having a versatile, easy, and efficient home garden has become a successful reality.

In 1996, because of his desire to end hunger, he founded the Square Foot Gardening Foundation.

A project that teaches people with limited resources to grow their nutritious produce. Today, that legacy continues to live on with humanitarian projects across the globe.