Square Foot Garden Fever

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.



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By , on Jan 25, 2010
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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{18 Comments}

  1. Jennifer:

    This will be my 2nd attempt at a garden. My first was a couple of years ago, as I attempted pumpkins and green peppers. Things looked good, until the transplant. Being inexperienced, I think it was the location (not enough sun and one yard controlling young English Setter) did not help. This year, I got the bug again. So looking in the gardening section of my library, I found SFG. I was blown away. I learned so much and feel confident. This year will be a big challenge though. I have a family of 5 who love veggies and fruit, with the need for movable bed gardens as this home is not a permanent location. But that does not stop my excitement.

  2. Mark @ Gardeners Heaven:

    I’m personally just about to move into a new house. Gardening was a pain at my last place, as it was a flat.

    I want to start off with something simple and easy to maintain. I think this form of box gardening will be of great use to me.

    Thanks for the clearly written post!

  3. It’s beautiful!

    What kind of grass do you have? We have bermudagrass here, known as devil grass in some parts of the country and as crabgrass in others.

    My son built three raised gardens that looked exactly like these. He also lined each thoroughly with weed cloth. Didn’t work: within a month, the bermudagrass actually sawed its way through the multilayer weed-cloth underlayment and then took over the minigardens. This means it was growing up through about eight or ten inches of dirt! You can’t pull it out, and obviously dumping Roundup on it all through the summer would be counterproductive, since one would like to eat the produce grown in such a garden.

    I think the only way you could pull this off in an area where people cultivate aggressive weeds as turf would be to lay down a concrete slab and then drill holes for drainage along the base of the boards used to construct the garden’s sides. Even then, you’d have to watch constantly to be sure no bermudagrass made its way in through the drainage holes.

  4. I have the garden fever, but it has been cold in the northeast, so I am just itching to get outside.

    I have a small garden, but want to expand. I’m going to give the square foot gdning a try b/c we really don’t have a lot of land to expand.

  5. Does the stuff grow better this way than just in a garden plot? I’ve managed lettuce, kale and tomatoes but can’t get much else to grow. This looks like a good idea. I have a large family and a very hungry pet bunny.

    • Lynnae:

      My experience is that it does grow better, but I’m not a very good gardener yet, so take my advice for what it’s worth.

      I think the big difference between a regular garden plot and a square foot raised bed garden is that you have total control of your dirt in a square foot garden. You don’t have to worry about ph and weeds, because you control what goes into the garden box.

  6. marci357:

    Ditto on Four Season Harvest…. this really encouraged me, on the NW Oregon Coast, to experiment with winter gardening. While all was not successful, enough was that I am continuing each year to experiment a little more and continue to add more veggies that do ok here in the winter.

    Mostly, I have to worry about the plants drowning…as well as the cold and freezing and the wind storms blowing the plants apart :)

    At the moment I have kales, kohlrabi, swiss chards, cabbages, celery, beet greens, walking onions, and brussel sprouts growing thru the winter.

    And I have carrots, beets and potatoes still underground to be harvested as needed…. yes, some potatoes did get harvested earlier.

    In my permanent beds are rhubarb, strawberries, 6 other kinds of berries, asparagus, walking onions, and some edible flowers.

    • Lynnae:

      I’ll look into Four Season Harvest. Hopefully the library has it. I don’t worry about the rain so much here. We don’t get nearly as much as you do. But some years we get enough snow that I have to worry.

  7. Penny Copperwyre:

    I do the square-foot gardening, but without the boxes. I just apply the concepts to my garden plan. Another great resource for frualites is The Four Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman. He details how to get food from the garden all year long, and he lives in Maine!

  8. We have done square foot gardening very successfully in the past. This year, once again we’ll be building as big a garden as we can on our city lot — though in a new location! We’ve gotten rid of our shed and hopefully will get some seeds into flats this week. We’re looking for some materials we can reuse to make our raised beds, hunting on Craigslist. It’s pretty exciting!

  9. We had a square foot garden at the old house and loved it. Unfortunately our new home is surrounded by gorgeous cascade pines but only has one spot that gets enough sun for a garden and it’s paved over. We’re building our own earthboxes and are going to try that method in our sunny spot this year.

  10. Kristoffer:

    This article was perfect timing! While shopping on Amazon for Christmas gifts I ran across this book and decided to get it for myself after reading so many great reviews. I haven’t started reading it yet but I think I will go ahead and start so I can be ready as soon as the weather starts to warm up.

    Nothing says summer like fresh veggies right out of the garden especially ones you have grown yourself! This year will be my first attempt (other than doing some tomatoes in containers, which didn’t do well) so wish me luck! And again, thanks for the article and pictures.

  11. Nicole:

    I have a square foot garden currently and getting ready to set up for our summer crops. I love square foot gardening, I saw some last year at the county fair and thought it was amazing! I was going to talk about square foot gardening this week on my blog as well… how great minds think a like!

  12. Thank you so much for this article its well written but best of all you have photos which help very much with DIY projects. My wife introduced me to square foot gardening a couple of years ago and it really is the best approach. Paul

  13. GardenMad1:

    I am going to start a square foot garden because my current veggie plot has become shaded by nearby trees. I am going to set up a test area in a sunnier patch and if that doesn’t work I can shift it again next year. I think that is a plan eh? Am I missing anything?

  14. marci357:

    Highly recommend this also – worked great for me.
    My raised beds are 3 foot wide, and run on 3 sides of an 8 x 30 ft
    patio.
    Putting in MORE this spring to run along the fence line – these will be Permanent edible landscaping… Rhubarb, strawberries, asparagus, walking onions, celery, swiss chard, kales. Plant once and you’re done with the planting part.

  15. Gina:

    Last year I tried this method and it worked wonderfully! I have always gardened, but this was the first time I tried a raised bed. I would highly recommend it to both beginners and experienced gardeners!

  16. Joni:

    I am definitely doing the square foot gardening this year. I have been dreaming of it for years. My hubs didn’t want to. Would ruin the landscaping, deer & rabbits would eat it. But now…He is in Ga. and I am in La. I WILL have my garden and a greenhouse.

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