Square Foot Gardening

DCF 1.0

Food gardens have always been popular but they seem to be even more so lately with concerns over pesticides and chemicals used in commercially produced crops.   There is no better way to control what lands on your family’s dinner plate than to grow it yourself.  Not much room for the traditional veggie garden?  Try square foot gardening!

Square foot gardening is a term used for a 4ft by 4ft box that is divided into a grid of 16 squares.  In each square the idea is to grow one type of vegetable or herb.  This maximizes the space and is much more efficient and easily managed than longs rows of plants.  There is less water evaporation, less weeds and less work.

If you think of the conventional method of vegetable garden, it probably originated from farming with machinery.  Long single rows of plants, easy for machine harvesting but really not efficient, and leaving lots of room for weeds.  Remember, if you leave soil bare Mother Nature will cover it with something!

Square foot gardening is more like intensive gardening and I don’t mean that you need to be intensively gardening, that just sounds like work; I just mean that more plants are packed into a smaller space.  It’s a simple, condensed way of gardening.

To start you need to build a 4ft by 4ft box using 2×6 untreated cedar.  For shallow rooted crops or crops that produce the food above the soil you can keep it to one tier, 6” deep.  For root crops then you may want to build it higher.  Reinforce the corners so that it won’t pull apart over the season.

Find a spot in the yard that receives 6-8 hours of sun. Put down layers of newspaper, cardboard or other barrier that will inhibit weeds from sneaking up but still allow for water to drain or place the box on a solid surface.  You can also build a bottom to the box if you wish to move it later.

Fill the box with a good, light soil.  I would recommend Sea Soil Potting Mix with Coconut Coir.  You can mix in your own compost if you wish. With string and push pins or nails make a grid of 16 equal squares.  You can also use small strips of wood.

In each square you plant one type of veg or herb, keeping the taller plants on the north side so that they won’t shade the smaller ones as they grow.  You can fit 1-16 plants in each square depending on the mature size of the plant.  For example, you could plant 16 baby carrots, radishes or scallions (small plants) in one square, 9 spinach plants (medium plants)  in another square, 4 romaine lettuce plants or bush beans (considered large plants) in one and for the biggest plants like broccoli, cauliflowers, cabbage or peppers you’d only plant one per square. As crops finish you can replant with a 2nd sowing or replace with cool season plants that will extend your harvest into fall and winter.

Don’t forget to go vertical by attaching a trellis or a frame with netting affixed if you want to grow vining peas or beans.  If you wish to add a larger root crop plant or two such as long carrots, potatoes or turnips then you can add a tier to some of the squares to give you more depth.

This method of gardening is easy to tend to from all sides, cuts back on water usage and weeds since the plant layers cover the soil better and is easy for any level of gardener, even kids!   Give it a go!

Shirley Eppler

April 2013