When you’re short on space, square foot gardening is the answer! I’ve recently started planting my garden using the square foot gardening method instead of traditional rows, and I couldn’t be happier with the results!
But how do you start a square foot garden? And is it complicated?
In this post I’ll go over everything you need to know and what I do to make square foot gardening spacing practically fool-proof.
1. Read Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening
Sure, you can try to piece it together on the Internet, but it’s just better to learn about the method straight from the man who invented it. The book is an easy read, and you’ll be done it in no time. Get your copy here.
2. Build Your Raised Bed and Add Soil.
Square foot gardening is traditionally done in raised beds with a light soil mix. I’ve square foot gardened in both a raised bed and straight in my traditional garden space and the results are almost the same–there’s just a few more weeds to deal with in the traditional garden space.
I actually don’t use Mel’s mix, just regular potting soil mixed with compost and manure, and find that it works just as well. However, I garden in zone three in Saskatchewan, so I’m very far removed from the weather conditions that Mel experienced when he created the method.
The nice thing about starting a raised bed from scratch is that you don’t have to till the ground underneath. Just place your bed on the soil, cover the ground with cardboard to kill the weeds and grass, and add your soil on top. So much less work!!
3. Decide what to Plant
Here’s where things get both fun and interesting. It’s very easy to obsess over what you can and can’t plant in a square foot garden, but the simple answer is this–plant whatever you want to eat!
Vining plants such as peas, tomatoes, and cucumbers are grown on trellises at the back of the grid. Larger vegetables like squash and pumpkins are grown at the corners so they can trail out over the edges.
Any vegetable can be planted in a square foot garden grid, you just have to follow the correct spacing.
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4. Space Vegetables Out Correctly
All vegetables are planted in spacings of 1, 4, 9, or 16, with some vegetables taking up 4 large squares. You can make the little borders with wood, or tie string to map out your perfect squares. However, I like to use the Seeding Square.
The Seeding Square is a plastic guide that’s exactly one foot square and has all the different spacings, plus a handy chart showing which vegetables should be spaced at what distance.
It really takes the guesswork out of planting my garden, and I don’t have to drag the book outdoors with me or try and remember if bush beans are spaced in 4’s or 9’s.
Plus, my kid who has no interest in gardening actually wants to help me plant! That’s a huge win in my books.
5. Water and Weed
The beauty of square foot gardening is that you won’t have to water and weed as often as you do with traditional methods. Sure, you’ll still have the one bigger weeding session 3-4 weeks after you plant your garden. But after that, the weeds are minimal.
The closer spacing of the plants means that weeds are shaded out and more moisture is retained. Win-win!
Everything You Need to Build a Square Foot Garden
Once again, here’s a handy list of all the things I use to square foot garden, and some nice options for raised bed kits:
- Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening Method Book.
- Done-for-you Garden Plans
- Seeding Square (Seeding Square site–Canada)
- Seeding Square (Amazon.com)
- I’m going to assume you have your own places you like to buy seeds. If not, here’s some places that I recommend.
- Wooden raised bed kit
- Vinyl raised bed kit
- Metal raised bed kit
Will you give square foot gardening a try?
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Kristen is a former farm kid turned urban gardener who owns the popular gardening website, Shifting Roots. She is obsessed with growing flowers and pushing the limits of what can be grown in her zone 3b garden. She also loves to grow tomatoes, but oddly enough, dislikes eating them raw.