The Basics of Square Foot Gardening

Many people would love to grow vegetables, but don’t have a lot of space to work with. If you are looking to maximize the area you have for the biggest vegetable crop possible, square foot gardening holds the key.

Square foot gardening, as the name suggests, entails carefully planning your garden in 1’x1’ plots. The main tenets of the practice include tight spacing and companion planting, which entails utilizing two or more plants that grow well when planted close together. The method was developed in 1981 by Mel Bartholomew, an engineer and avid gardener who sought a more efficient garden design than the traditional single-row layout.

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The Setup

Square foot gardens are traditionally constructed in a 4×4 raised bed about one foot high. However, you can build it larger or smaller depending on the space you have available. Any material will work for the borders, from wood to plastic to cinderblocks. Line your 4×4 bed with landscape fabric to prevent weeds from entering and competing with your vegetables (and to cut down on the amount of weeding you need to do).

After you’ve constructed your bed and lined it, fill the bed with your choice of potting soil. Potting soil is better than garden topsoil due to its lack of pests and diseases. A mix of vermiculite, compost, and peat works well and offers a good variety of nutrients to feed your densely-packed garden.

Next comes the step which inspired the name. You’ll need create a grid of 1×1’ squares. You can build or purchase a grid made of thin wood slats or fiberglass, or simply measure the grid out and use string and nails to designate the separate squares. As long as you can see and distinguish the individual plots, any method of grid-making will do.

Planting your Garden

Choosing which vegetables should plant will determine how they are planted. Here is a basic guide to some of the more popular choices, and how they can be most effectively arranged.

  • 1 plant per square: For best results, plant seeds for corn, eggplant, kale, okra, peppers, yams, tomatoes in a single hole in the center of the square. Herbs such as oregano, parsley, and rosemary should follow this planting protocol as well.
  • 2 plants per square: Vine-growing plants grow best with two planted per square. These include cucumbers, melons, and squash.
  • 4 plants per square: Vegetables in the garlic family do well along with basil, lettuce, and tomatoes, spaced evenly within. Don’t forget to add a trellis for climbers!
  • 8 plants per square: Green beans, carrots, beets, cilantro, peas, and spinach can be packed densely in a single square. As always, just make sure they are spaced out equally within the square.

Square Foot Gardening – A Few More Details

  • As you plan your square foot garden, take into account the light requirements of each plant. For example, if you have short plants that require ample sunlight, be sure to plant them on the southern edge of your garden so they are not overshadowed by any taller species.
  • Planting alliums such as onion, garlic, and leeks along the edges of your garden deters insect infestations. Alliums naturally repel insects, and thus will stand guard against the pests to protect veggies they find more delectable.
  • Additionally, companion planting will help your garden flourish, as some species exist better together than others. Do your research and plan your garden so that veggies you plant in adjacent squares will be good neighbors, as some tend to compete for nutrients or resources.

Big Earth Landscape Supply can be your one stop shop for potting soil, containers, compost and gardening tools, No matter what you need this spring and summer for the perfect garden, we’ve got you covered.