Square Foot Gardening

by Stephanie Suesan Smith on August 13, 2010

Square foot gardening has become popular as people who do not have a lot of space want to grow more of their own food.  The concept was developed by Mel Bartholomew but has been adapted by many others since then.  You can grow an incredible amount of food through a combination of succession planting and closely spacing the plants in the garden area.

At the most basic, square foot gardening is a form of raised bed gardening.  A frame that is no more than four feet wide and preferably four foot (or some increment such as eight or sixteen) long is built.  That is placed over some opaque material such as newspaper to retard weed growth and filled with a rich mixture of soil and compost.

A grid of one foot squares is made with string tied to nails driven vertically into the tops of the garden sides.  Two uprights are placed at the southern corners of the garden and a board run across the top of these.  String is run from the bottom board up to the top board at the proper intervals for the plants (more on that later).

A similar arrangement is made on the northern side of the garden.  In the spring, tall plants and ones needing trellising are planted in the south while the short crops are planted in the north.  In the fall, reverse the procedure.  This way the tall plants do not shade the short ones.

In order to conserve space, vining plants such as cucumbers are planted by the vertical strings.  As they grow, the vines are tied to the string and will twine around it.  Even relatively heavy squash and small pumpkins can be grown this way if the uprights are sturdy.

Now that you have your garden set up, you are ready to plant.  Plants are planted at the following spacing:

  • Extra large plants, such as tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers, one per square
  • Large plants, such as leaf lettuce, four per square
  • Medium plants, such as bush beans, nine per square
  • Small plants, such as carrots, sixteen per square

This garden can grow a lot by planting early crops, then intermediate crops, then harvesting the early crops and replacing them with late crops.  The plants are so close together weeding is kept to a minimum.  Water is necessary, but if compost is added each season, the soil is kept fertile.  Remember that most vegetables require at least six hours of sun so the location you chose must get that.  Otherwise, you can place a square foot garden practically anywhere.  Happy growing.

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Available in print or ebook from or other retailers, this book walks you from choosing the site of your garden all the way through what to do after the harvest. Buy a copy for yourself or a friend today! 

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

DazzlinDonna from eBusiness Consultant August 13, 2010 at 9:49 pm

This kind of gardening has always intrigued me, but I haven’t yet tried it. I have tons of space, so it’s not like I need to conserve space, but I just love the concept. Actually, I have kind of a love of small things anyway. If I had my way, I’d live in a 200 sf house, own a tiny 1-seater car, and surround myself with tiny things. No idea why, I just like it. Anyway, I think the concept of square foot gardening is especially interesting because it involves really paying attention to the best use of space, as well as really understanding the entire growing process of each plant. What works best when, and in combination with what else… I’m not sure I could actually pull it off very well, but one of these days I might try it. Thanks for helping me indulge in my little dream. 🙂
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Stephanie Suesan Smith August 14, 2010 at 6:24 am

It works well when the soil is poor in your area, since you add the soil to the frame and can add good stuff. It also works well for those of us who cannot bend over on our knees any more. You just build the bed higher so it is far enough off the ground that you can sit in a chair and work on it, or stand and work comfortably. Because of this, a lot of rehab centers have these types of gardens. Then people in wheelchairs or who cannot get on the ground — or back up — can garden.


Tom Patterson August 18, 2010 at 7:54 pm

My best gardens have been the ones that were carefully planned well before any planting took place.


Stephanie Suesan Smith August 19, 2010 at 6:03 am

Planning is always good. Otherwise plants don’t have enough time to mature before the heat or frost, are planted near plants they cross pollinate, or other things go wrong.


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