Square foot gardening is exactly what it sounds like – growing plants in raised bed divided into perfect squares. For each square, you can plant different plant varieties or multiple of the same thing. It’s a gardening method that reduces the work of growing vegetables and the resources needed, such as water and fertilizer. It allows you to grow bountiful gardens with less space, time, and effort as compared to traditional backyard garden rows.
What is Square Foot Gardening?
Square foot gardening (SFG) is a simple method of creating small, organized, and highly productive kitchen gardens. The concept of square foot gardening came from Mel Bartholomew, a retired engineer, backyard gardener, and efficiency expert. He realized that gardening in rows was a farming model that didn’t translate well to home gardening, so he created a better way. Square foot gardening became a huge hit when he introduced the idea to the public in 1981 in his book “Square Foot Gardening.”
The basic concept of square foot gardening is to create a small garden bed, divide it into a grid of 1-foot squares, and manage them individually. Seeds or seedlings of each vegetable kind are planted in one or more squares at a density based on each plant size. It means the size of the mature plant determines how many plants should go in each square foot. For instance, smaller plants like carrots and onions may be planted 16 or more per square, while larger plants like tomatoes and broccoli have only one plant per square. Read the guide to square foot gardening to know more.
It’s a beneficial technique that allows you to maximize the space you’re using to grow plants and makes it easier for you to get the most out of each area of growth. Using square foot gardening containers, you can maximize your garden’s space. Make sure you avoid common square foot gardening mistakes to increase your chances of success!
Benefits of Square Foot Gardening
Several benefits to using square foot gardening make it a great gardening option for both beginners and seasoned gardeners.
1. Easy to set up
This method of gardening offers a quick way to start a new garden, so it’s great for first-time gardeners and those who want to save time. Those with basic woodworking skills can easily build their own frames. If you don’t have the skill or tools, you can buy frames in different places. Once you have your material, you can fill it up and start planting the same day.
There’s no need for arduous soil prep work with square foot gardening! You don’t have to worry about digging and tilling a garden because the raised beds are placed on top of the ground. The grass naturally decomposes beneath the bed.
You can put your raised bed anywhere, even over pavement or grass, so you can start planting and growing your own garden in just a few hours. Even if you work in your existing soil, you need to prepare your planting areas and not the paths, so it takes less time and effort.
2. No need for soil improvements
Those who have already worked to make the soil just right for gardening know how much work it often needs to make soil fertile and viable for planting vegetables. Also, it usually requires the use of special equipment like a rototiller.
With square foot gardening, raised beds are placed above the ground, right on top of your existing soil, and a unique soil mix is used for the garden.
While many facets of square foot gardening are adaptable to your preferences and space, the soil mix must be followed exactly. In square foot gardening, you don’t need ordinary soil – it’s much better to use Mel’s Mix (named after the inventor of SFG), which is a combination of 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 compost, and 1/3 vermiculite. This soil mix absorbs and holds moisture, so you don’t have to water as often or as much as typical soils, saving water costs. It’s also naturally loose, so weeding is a lot easier. Planting and harvesting are also made simple because the soil mix is loose.
3. Low maintenance
Since the garden is small, you only need a few specific tasks to do on a given day. With square foot gardening, you only need to invest a few minutes planting, maintaining, and harvesting at a time. Watering and harvesting tasks get more focused on one easy-to-access space, which can save your time. Simply adding organic matter every year will help retain the texture of the soil and replenish nutrients. And when you co-plant your square foot garden grid with great companion plants, your plants themselves will do a lot of the work of feeding, repelling pests, and shading.
In addition, Mel’s Mix remains loose and crumbly, so it’s an easy soil to work with, whether you’re planting, weeding, or harvesting.
4. Less weeding
Another reason why square foot gardens are low-maintenance is that you are far less likely to get weeds in the first place because you’re not using soil that has existing weed seeds in it. And when you do get weeds, they will be easy to pull out. The number of weeds that may grow will depend on the compost you use. However, weed seeds do blow in overtime, making it more common in the long run, but they will still be easy to manage.
5. High yield
It may seem counter-intuitive that a small garden would produce a high yield, but it’s true. It can even be more fruitful than a traditional soil bed. Without requiring walking space to reach each plant, you’ll be able to plant in each and every inch, enabling you to maximize the space you have.
There would be no wasted space since there’s no path between rows. This method of intensive planting results in a greater yield than a regular garden space.
6. No soil compaction
Square foot gardening makes use of beds that are small enough so you can reach each plant from the sides without needing to walk through them. Since you won’t walk on the garden beds, the soil stays loose and is able to hold water. Because of that, it can offer better oxygen flow to the plant roots, maintaining a flourishing environment that’s important for plant growth.
7. Better drainage
Square foot gardening offers better drainage than typical gardens because they are up off the ground. When excess moisture is drained, the soil remains light, and your plants will “breathe” better than in a typical garden.
8. Easy to water
Since the beds are small, it’s easy to provide moisture to the crops and not wastewater by watering the rows or paths in between. The soil mix holds and absorbs water. The close spacing can also help shade the soil to prevent moisture loss.
A square foot garden can be made to almost any dimension according to what works best in your yard and in your available space. Although, it’s recommended that you keep your garden at a maximum of 4 ft. deep so you can have easy access and can reach each square.
You can also raise your square foot garden to waist level to make a tabletop garden, which is excellent if you don’t like bending over to work in the garden. It will also be helpful for those with little kids, animals, or pets that may be tempted to disturb your plants, as well as those with mobility issues.