How to Build a Square Foot Garden Box

I’ve never been very good at gardening. I’ve pretty much killed every plant I’ve tried to grow, except for the little Christmas Cactus that’s sitting in my window. Still, the frugal part of me has always wanted to grow a vegetable garden.

Vegetable gardening appeals to me, because I can grow my own organic vegetables for less money than it would cost to buy them. At least that would be the result if I could succeed in keeping my vegetable plants alive.

Two years ago I read the book Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. If you’ve never heard of Square Foot Gardening, it’s a space-saving gardening method. Mel makes it sound so easy. But I was still scared to try. Until last week.

Last week I read about how Frugal Dad built a square foot garden, and he made it sound so easy! My competitive nature kicked in, and I decided if he could build a garden bed, surely I could too.

Saturday presented the perfect day to do this project. My husband and daughter were gone for the weekend, it was sunny outside, and I had a whole day to get this project done. I knew my son would be easily entertained. He likes to help build anything.

The Essential Supplies

We headed off to Home Depot to pick up our supplies. We bought

  • some soil
  • some wood screws
  • nylon string
  • weed blocking fabric
  • some boards to make the sides of our garden bed.

All I can say is thank goodness the Home Depot cuts the boards down for you, or we would have been in big trouble.

Building the Square Foot Garden Box

I’m not going to post detailed instructions for building the garden bed, because Frugal Dad explained it so well already. But I thought I’d give you the highlights (or lowlights) of my building project.

1. Lay Down the Weed Blocking Fabric and Stake it Down

Sam and I put the weed blocking fabric down first. Then he hammered in the garden stakes all by himself. So far so good.

2. Assemble the Boards into a Box

Next it was time to assemble our garden box. We lined up the boards at right angles. Sam held one of the boards, while I attempted to screw them together using my electric screwdriver/drill and one of the wood screws. The screw went halfway in, and then the drill started making horrible noises. I’d stripped the screw. That thing wasn’t going to go in or out. I even tried a pliers. Nothing. So off to Walmart we went to buy more screws. Being the frugal person I am, I only bought enough screws for the project at Home Depot.

Once we were back home, I decided it might be beneficial to drill a pilot hole first. I guestimated which size drill bit to use and drilled a hole. Then I tried screw #2.

Halfway in, I got the same weird noise from the drill. I guess the pilot hole was too small. So I drilled a bigger pilot hole. The third screw was the charm, and the rest of the box came together without too many problems. And I’m happy to report Sam didn’t learn any new words from me, as this project unfolded.

3. Move the Box to its Home and Fill with Soil

We moved the garden box to it’s permanent home, filled the box with soil.

4. Mark off the Squares

Marked off the squares with nylon string.

We haven’t planted anything yet, because we are still getting frost in the mornings. Soon though.

Lesson Learned

All in all it was an interesting day. I learned several things.

  • I’m a better computer nerd than I am a contractor.
  • With enough effort you can complete a project that you’re not good at.
  • Pilot holes are important.
  • It’s important that your pilot holes are the right size.
  • It’s not frugal to skimp on supplies. Better to be prepared for mishaps.
  • 5 year old boys are good helpers.
  • 5 year old boys have more energy and enthusiasm than grown women.
  • It’s possible to build something without swearing.
  • It’s very satisfying to complete a difficult project.

We’re looking forward to eating out of our garden this year. We have seeds for lettuce, scallions, squash, green beans, carrots, basil, cilantro, and marigolds (for pest control). I’ll also plant some tomatoes, because I love fresh, home grown tomatoes.

I promise to update on our garden throughout the spring and summer. Hopefully I’ll be able to report a bountiful harvest!

For more information on Square Foot Gardening, visit the official Square Foot Gardening website or read the book.

Do you garden? What do you grow? Have you started preparing your garden yet?

Photo credit: thelazydba



Author

By , on Mar 10, 2008
Lynnae McCoy I'm Lynnae, wife of one and stay-at-home mom of two. I'm committed to getting out of debt by being frugal with my choices in life.

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{33 Comments}

  1. Bruce Eric Anderson:

    Thanks for the great story and insights into raised-bed gardening. My wife, two kids and I will be putting one together soon and will begin planting early next year. In Austin, we’re fortunate to be able to take advantage of a longer growing season, actually two seasons, so I’m eager to have fresh lettuce and tomatoes. My kids are excited to have a plant or two of their own.

    Bruce Eric

  2. Jonathan Thomas:

    What a great idea! My wife and I will definitely do this next spring. We have a large enough yard.

  3. Alice:

    Wow, this was a blast from the past! I used to be an avid veggie gardener and was a huge fan of Square Foot Gardening. I did it for a number of years, and it’s amazing the crop yields you can get with this technique.

    The absolute best use of SFG I think is in growing corn. Getting good ears of corn that are chock full of kernels is hard with old fashioned row gardning unless you’ve got room for a whole cornfield. That’s because of the way corn needs to pollinate.

    Putting your 12 corn plants in the box is perfect. They’re close together so they can have some corn-love goin’ on and get those ears pollinated. But much smaller than a cornfield, and this is a nice size for a family or even a couple without getting into the “zucchini syndrome.

    Thanks for the site!

  4. Ha ha, this looks excellent but it looks more like you were supervising the build :) and Sam was doing the work!!!!

    This is great, I really want to grow veges next year so will try and prep this winter….. it may be a very good idea to be semi self sufficient with the pending food cost rises.

  5. Frugal Mom:

    I wanted to let you know that every year around January and February Walmart has .10 cent seeds. Next year they may be .20 cents due to everything going up in price, but for the last 4 years my mom and I have been getting a variety of vegtable seeds and flower seeds for only .10 cents. They work like a charm every year. Good luck everyone.

  6. Thanks for telling us about your experience. I just finished putting the soil in my first SFG (I mixed it like the book said to do, but my, was it a challenge, especially with my 6 month old!) I have 3 boxes, and am hoping to grow a variety of veggies, including some heirloom tomatoes. I’m kind of nervous about the tomatoes, though – six inches just doesn’t seem that deep.

  7. Up here in Boston I have just started my seeds indoors and will plant the little seedling plants once they sprout and the last frost has come and gone outdoors. If you have some sunny windows, you might want to try getting those seeds going indoors. Particularly the tomato and squash seeds. Also, be sure to plant the squash and greenbeans on the outside and be prepared to add some bamboo stakes to those squares – you may want to train your greenbean vines and squash vines upward since they have a tendancy to want to branch out and spread…

    Good Luck!

  8. Scott:

    For your pilot holes, hold the drill bit behind the screw and look at it between the screw threads. The bit should be the same width as, or a hair smaller than, the shank of the screw (the shank being the body of the screw without the threads).

    Also remember to really lean on that drill when driving the screws – your body weight will help keep the heads from stripping.

    Those horrible noises from your drill might just be the clutch slipping. Most new cordless drills have an adjustable clutch which stops the chuck from turning when the screw gets tight (to protect the screw head and the motor). The adjustment ring or dial is often labeled with pictures of progressively larger screws, and a drill bit for drilling. Learning where to set the clutch is just practice – use a low setting, and gradually turn it up until the screw goes in.

  9. Mrs Pillars:

    Last year we grew cherry tomatoes and they were the tastiest tomatoes we had ever eaten. Our little guy, about a year old at the time, really enjoyed helping harvest them, but we had a hard time persuading him to just pick the red ones.

  10. We built one of our own recently too. I’ve got things planted, but no sprouts yet. I have no idea what I’m doing so am just hoping at this point that thing will grow.

  11. LJ:

    How fun! I saw Frugal Dad’s post too and now you too!

    Oh, I want a garden so badly, but I am sure my green thumb will soon turn black, if my houseplants are any indication!
    Keep us posted on your progress and if you and Frugal Dad can both do well, I will definitely have to give it a whirl.
    I would just hate to buy all the supplies, put in the effort and have nothing grow!

    Take Care

    LJ

  12. Love this idea! Even better, I love the idea of home-grown vegetables! Soooo much better than store bought produce!
    I wish you the best in your gardening endeavors! :)

  13. alice:

    My daughter and her boyfriend built a square foot bed last year, and diligently planted it with a variety of herbs, vegetables, and marigolds…after which it became my responsibility. They also built a 1 by 4 foot box that was twice as deep, for growing carrots and parsnips.

    We had some interesting results…a parsnip that was too big to dig out (I couldn’t get any purchase on it!), several good carrots, a “broccoli” plant that turned out to be brussels sprouts, good tomatoes and basil and some other less successful stuff. It ended up being very expensive (buying all the seeds), but hopefully they will still be viable for a few years. It was fun, anyway!

  14. Wow! I’m impressed. I didn’t realize that Home Depot would cut the boards for you. That is half my problem. I have herbs coming up in my cups and I have been trying to work up my nerve to actually try to build the square foot gardens.

  15. Wow! It looks like a great project. I just plant a few tomatoes and herbs in pots. So far we don’t have a great place for a garden.

  16. I’d like to try that when I have my own house! :) I’ve never had much of a green thumb, either, but one might as well try and have fun. It’s great you had an enthusiastic helper to keep you going.

  17. Awesome! I read about this too and I so want to try it. But we decided to wait until next year, my kids are still so little and into everything, especially the 16 month old. I don’t think I could find the time to go outside and keep the rabbits away.

    We have like a million rabbits in our neighborhood. They multiply like… rabbits!

    I am thinking of putting tomato plants in pots though and seeing what happens. :)

  18. Bellen:

    Even with frost you can probably plant carrots & scallions. Won’t the weed control cloth impede the growth of carrots? Have a bountiful year!!

  19. Ron:

    Wow Lynnae, you and the Frugal Dad are inspiring me to get out there and get started on my garden again.

  20. I’m glad I inspired you to give it a try. We are diligently watering and waiting here as spring temperatures have us wondering if we can expect some sprouts soon. The anticipation alone is exciting to me!

    I’ve done more reading on the subject and it seems tomatoes may do better planted alone in pots (as opposed to the square-foot method). If you do go with the the in-ground method, consider adding a tomato plant wrap to give them something to climb. Great job!

  21. I have never heard of “square foot gardening” though my parents have long utilized raised beds for gardening–I have been considering it but like you I am rather bad at all that. This may well get me going in the right direction.

  22. Good luck with your garden!

    I love to plant cherry tomatoes. Anything else I try to plant gets eaten by critters. There’s still at least a foot of snow on the ground here in Wisconsin, so I definitely haven’t started my garden yet! We don’t usually plant up here until the first week in May or so.

    Reading about everyone’s gardens is making me want to get outside and start gardening. Melt, snow, melt :)

  23. Yes, this does look like a fun idea.

    If prices keep on going up like they are now, it would make economic sense to try this out.

    And have fun while saving money.

    I must also work on this.

  24. What a great idea. It is a really good way to save money, have fun and keep fit all at the same time.

  25. what a fun post and project. I’m going to try my own now.

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