Square foot gardening is an efficient garden design that allows more produce to be grown in a smaller area. It is considered a “raised bed” gardening method, where the garden is grown in dirt built up above the ground level, rather than planting directly into the native soil.
The square foot gardening layout was pioneered by Mel Bartholomew, who designed it to grow more vegetables in less space with far less effort. Rather than growing in long rows, as in traditional farming or gardening methods, square foot gardening grows in squares. A square foot garden is just as it sounds. Each square measures 12 inches by 12 inches or one square foot.
Each garden bed should be designed so that you never have to reach more than 2 feet into the garden bed to reach any part of your garden. This allows you to easily reach all the produce, without trampling your garden and compressing the soil, which means the soils stays fluffy and aerated, allowing plenty of oxygen and water to get to the roots.
The typical garden bed depth is about 6 inches deep. Climbing plants should be trellised, allowing you to grow more in a smaller area. The soil mix used by Mel Bartholomew is a blend of one-third vermiculite, one-third compost, and one-third peat moss, mixed well.
Bartholomew also emphasizes the need for the right mix of compost, with at least five different types blended together, such as grass clippings, vegetable scraps, decaying leaves, and farmyard manure.
Once the garden is built and filled with the soil blend and compost, you need to create some type of permanent grid that will delineate the squares for your garden. Lathe wood or doweling strips from the lumber yard should suffice, criss-crossed over each other to create a grid of 12 inch by 12 inch squares. For a 4 foot by 4 foot garden bed, you’ll end up with 16 squares.
Your garden should be planned out depending on the spacing recommended for each variety of seed. For lettuce seeds, you can plant 4 seeds per square. Plant the amount you want to grow. Thinning is only necessary for the wasteful row style of planting. Don’t plant more than what you can reasonably consume at harvest time. If you want more lettuce over a longer period of time, plant in succession, spacing out the sowing times of your lettuce seeds so that you always have fresh lettuce ready to pick.
Onions, radish and carrot seeds can be planted 16 seeds per square, while bush beans and spinach can have 9 plants per square.
One example of a garden layout for a 4 by 4 garden would be:
First row – 16 radishes, 16 onions, 16 carrots, 9 bush beans
Second row – 4 lettuce, 4 parsley, 4 Swiss chard, 4 thyme
Third row – 9 spinach, 9 garlic, 9 beets, 8 peas
Fourth row – 1 broccoli, 1 cabbage, 1 eggplant, 1 red pepper
By using a square foot gardening layout like this, you can multiply your yields using less space and with less work, and enjoy a delicious harvest for weeks to come.