My greatest success with gardening has been the square foot garden method. It’s easy for the beginning gardener, doesn’t take much space, and is amazingly low maintenance! So this year I’m going to put my old 4′ x 4′ square foot garden box back into use! Actually, I’d like to expand my garden to two boxes this year. I’m going to do a gardening unit in our homeschool, and it would be fun if both kids had their own garden box.

Why plant a square foot garden? Let me share some of the benefits!

Square Foot Gardening Takes Little Space

When I first read Mel Bartholomew’s book All New Square Foot Gardening, I was amazed at how much a person could grow in a 4′ x 4′ space! For example, my garden two years ago grew (at one time):

  • 16 carrots
  • 32 scallions
  • 8 heads of leaf lettuce
  • 18 bush bean plants
  • 2 heads of broccoli
  • 4 small basil plants
  • 1 zucchini plant
  • 2 winter squash plants

Now imagine the possibilities for one 4′ x 4′ box if you do some succession planting. Once you harvest your spring lettuce, for instance, you can plant something else in the square. And after your summer harvest, you can plant a fall crop.

According to the book, one 4′ x 4′ box will supply enough produce for one adult to make a salad (and a GOOD salad) every single day of the growing season. An additional 4′ x 4′ garden will supply enough dinner vegetables for one adult, and a third box will give that adult enough produce to preserve for the off season.

If you don’t have a 4×4 foot space, that’s OK, too. Make a 3′ x 3′ garden. Or a 2′ x 1′. The thing I love about square foot gardening is that you can adapt it to fit your space.

Square Foot Gardening is Low Maintenance

I hate weeding. There. I said it. I will do almost anything, rather than pull weeds in the hot August sun.

Fortunately, square foot gardens, if done according to Mel Bartholomew’s instructions, will give you very few weed problems.

Square foot gardens are raised beds. Before filling your garden frame with soil, you cover the ground with weed-blocking fabric. If you have a gopher problem in your area (we do), you’ll also want to put down some chicken wire.

When it’s time to fill your box with soil, Bartholomew recommends 1/3 Peat Moss, 1/3 Vermiculite, and 1/3 mixed compost. Since this isn’t ordinary dirt, dug up from other parts of your yard, there won’t be any stray weed seeds in your soil. Occasionally you’ll get a stray weed in your garden, but stray weeds are easy to pull out, if you watch for them and catch them when they’re small.

No hoeing, no yanking on weeds with garden gloves, no digging in rocky soil. Just plant, water, and pick the produce. That’s my kind of garden!

Square Foot Gardening is Relatively Inexpensive

I think the thing I love most about the book All New Square Foot Gardening is Bartholomew’s bent toward frugality. Throughout the book he sprinkles “Penny Pincher” tips to help you build your square foot garden inexpensively.

Of course, you could go all out and use the best materials for the job, but if your main objective is to have a functional garden, you can find a lot of the materials you need free or for a low cost. The most expensive part of the garden is the soil and the seeds.

However, Bartholomew has a plan for those seeds. In traditional row gardens, you sprinkle your seeds on the row and then thin your plants after they sprout. That wastes a lot of seeds. In square foot gardening, you only plant the seeds you need. Then you save the rest of the seeds for the next year. Stored properly, most seeds will be good for one or two more years.

If you’re interested in gardening, but don’t know where to start, head to the library and pick up a copy of All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. You might just find you’re brave enough to try your own square foot garden this year!

Photos by davef3138.