Square Foot Gardening

I am a fan of Mel Bartholomew’s approach to gardening — he calls it “square foot gardening.” There are tons of websites and books about it. My previous gardening experience has been mostly with containers, so I’m not speaking from experience — but the square foot gardening approach just feels right to me. It’s intuitive.

The basic idea is that you divide your planting space into a grid of roughly 1×1 foot blocks. Here’s my southwest bed with its grid:
Southwest Garden Bed

I made the grid by attaching some nylon cord we had laying around to the wood sides, using small nails. Other people use yard sticks or horizontal blind blades or bamboo or sticks or all sorts of things. Nylon cord is what I had, so I used it.

Then you intensively plant each square. The grid helps you to space your plants very closely — this cuts down on weeds and makes the most of the space you have. It also helps to visually organize the garden and keep it tidy. The idea is to never have a bare spot in your garden — when you harvest something, you immediately plant something else to replace it.

I live in a fairly moderate climate (USDA zone 7), so I have a long growing season — theoretically it lasts from April to early November, and I could extend it even more by using a cold frame. I could grow a lot of food in those seven months by starting with cool season crops (spinach, broccoli, lettuces, beets, turnips, etc.), moving on to warm season crops (tomatoes, beans, peppers, etc.) then going back to more cool season crops. My garden is only 32 square feet in size, but it has the potential to provide a lot of food for my family — provided I can figure out how to make the most of it!

There are a few more principles that underpin the square foot garden system: a particular mix of components for the dirt (for various reasons, I haven’t used Mel’s Mix), succession planting, automatic crop rotation, and planting only what you will eat and no more. But the heart of the square foot garden system is the grid.

It made me happy to nail my grid in place this weekend, and to push a few seeds in the ground — radishes, beets, kohlrabi and carrots. This upcoming weekend, I will plant my tomato and pepper transplants, and fill a few squares up with flowers (marigolds and nasturtiums — they are pretty and control certain pests).

Posted on May 19th, 2008 by Katxena