Square Foot Gardening
Save Money, Time, Water, and Effort
What is square foot gardening?
Mel Bartholomew developed the square foot method as a solution to a whole host of gardening problems including overcoming poor soil and weed explosions.
SFG is what I practice and what I want to share with you. The elements of SFG are:
- a raised bed
- high quality soil mix
- square foot garden layout
How To Get Started
If you clicked on the links above, you know that building a raised bed is well worth the effort. The raised bed or beds should be no wider than you can reach across from any side. That means a maximum of 4 feet.
Mel recommends a soil mix of 1/3 peat, 1/3 vermiculite, and 1/3 compost. I give other suggestions for soil mixes. The bottom line is that the soil should be nutrient rich, full of air, and highly water absorbent.
How to Figure Soil Volume for Raised Beds
Volume is length x width x depth. You can figure this yourself, or you can use the soil calculator at Gardener’s.
Once you figure the total volume, then you can figure the volume needed for each of the components. Multiply the total volume needed by the appropriate decimal for your part.
Your raised bed’s total volume is 12 cu feet. You want to use 1/3 compost. Multiply 12 x .333. You need 3.99 cu feet of compost. Round it to 4.
If you need to convert cubic feet to quarts, use this chart.
Common fractions with decimal equivalents:
1/4 = .25
1/3 = .33
1/2 = .25
2/3 = .66
3/4 = .75
Square Foot Garden Plans
Now you must lay a 1 foot grid on top of your raised bed. This can be accomplished with string or wire nailed in place. Or it can be made of wooden slats. Or you can wing it and just scratch lines onto the top of the soil.
Place taller crops such as corn and trellised vines on the north end, so they don’t shade other crops. Place shorter crops to the south.
How many plants?
Different plants need different space requirements.
Squash and pumpkins – 3 squares per plant
tomatoes, peppers – 1 per square
Mel recommends that if the back of the seed packet says to thin to 12 inches, then plant 1 plant per square.
If the seed pack says to thin to 6 inches, then plant 4 per square.
If the pack says thin to 4 inches, then plant 9 per square.
What’s nice about square foot gardening is that you can really pack the plants in. Even if you overdo it a little, you’ll get away with it, unless something small gets shaded out by something large.
With that in mind, I think it’s best to plant many, smaller raised beds instead of 1 large one. That way, the squash and other aggressive plants that might shade out smaller plants have their own bed to go wild in. And the lettuce have a nice “kiddie pool” all to themselves.
Don’t be afraid to experiment. That’s how you will learn what works and what doesn’t.
What about organic square foot gardening?