Green Guide to Gardening: Square Foot Gardening

Green Living

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Our novice gardener, Loralie, will share some of the “green” techniques her family will be attempting in their own (and first!) garden patch this year in our latest Green Guide Series.  It’s entirely possible to grow healthier, tastier food without expensive, synthetic, and often toxic pesticides and fertilizers. So put on a big floppy hat, hand your kids a trowel, and join us in her journey!

Here’s what you may have missed:

square-foot gardening

Square Foot Gardening

Life with two small children can be hard, so I need gardening to be easy. Square Foot Gardening (SFG) makes that promise.  SFG entails using smaller, accessible, raised garden beds that are planted intensively within a square grid layout instead of planting in traditional rows.  Gardening Guru Mel Bartholomew popularized this method in his book All New Square Foot Gardening.

Advocates make the claim that compared to single row gardening, you get 100% of the harvest with:

  • 50% of the cost
  • 20% of the space
  • 10% of the water
  • 5% of the seeds
  • 2% of the work

How’s that for sustainable?

Raised Bed Gardening

Generally, a 4’x4′ initial raised garden bed is recommended for first-time gardeners, but we’re overachievers and went with 4’x10′.  The rationale is you want to make sure you can easily reach across the bed without having to trample over the soil, which will compact it.  You want to avoid disrupting the soil in any way (see Green Guide to Gardening No-Dig Gardening ).

square foot gardening
© L. Thomas | Little Lake | 2012

Soil and Water with Square-Foot Gardening

Square Foot Gardening also recommends filling your beds with what is popularly known as “Mel’s Mix”: 1/3 Blended Compost, 1/3 Peat Moss, and 1/3 Coarse Vermiculite.  Since you are hauling in new nutrient-rich soil, your own backyard soil conditions are irrelevant.  By starting with light, loamy soil from the start and never trampling it, what little weeding is needed will only require a quick pull, and you’ll never need to till.  You’ll save water because this blend holds water well.  Hand water directly at the roots so as not to waste water and reduce evaporation.  For even less work, look into drip irrigation.

square-foot gardening
© L. Thomas | Little Lake | 2012

The Square Foot Grid

Create a grid using one square foot units. We just wound twine across the bed in 1-foot intervals and nailed it down.  Plant a different plant in each square.  Larger plants like broccoli receive one full square, whereas smaller plants like spinach can be planted nine to a square.  This wonderful post from My Square Foot Garden shows you how to calculate plant spacing, as well as provides a cheat sheet for common vegetables.  I used some grid paper and crayons to design my garden space but you can use this free online tool from Gardener’s Supply Company to print your own.

square foot gardening
© L. Thomas | Little Lake | 2012

This method allows you to conserve seeds instead of over-planting and then to have to thin them out later.  It also allows you to grow more plants in a small space.  Close planting creates a living mulch by shading out weeds seeds to germinate and help retain water in the soil.  It also gives your garden greater diversity.  Rows and rows of a single vegetable become targets for pests and spread disease.  To up your garden’s health, even more, chose companion plants that complement each other (See Green Guide to Gardening Companion Gardening.)

Square Foot Gardening does require you to do a little more planning initially, but for a sustainable garden, I think it is worth it.  More planning for less work, in the long run, is an easy trade-off for me!

Find more of our Green Gardening Series:

By Loralie

When Loralie isn’t out exploring with her two pint-sized adventurers you’ll often find her in front of her computer plotting to take over the world (or at least Lake County.) She appreciates good friends, good food, expensive shoes and parents who make two lanes in the drop-off/pick-up line at school. Her spirit animal is The Hobbit. She invites you to join her on her quest for unique distractions, diversions and deliciousness in this county we call home.

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Green Guide to Gardening: Square Foot Gardening

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