Green Guide to Gardening: Square Foot Gardening

In our latest Green Guide Series,  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.  It’s entirely possible to grow healthier, tastier food without the use of 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:
Day 2: Companion Planting
Day 3: Pinteresting Projects! (with kids)

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 as opposed to 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
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 Day 1.)

Soil and Water
SFG 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 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.

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.

This method allows you to conserve seeds instead of over-planting and then having to thin 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 so they can’t germinate and helping to 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 Day 2.)

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!

Join us tomorrow for our series finale – 
Reduce, Refuse, & UpCycle!  
Plus get a heads up on special local events where you can purchase organic and native plants as well as rain barrels and compost bins.


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About Melissa Haak 843 Articles
Melissa is mom to 4. She used to dream of traveling the world, now she dreams of a clean kitchen. She can be found on most social media sites as @PBinmyHair because with this much hair and four kids, you're bound to find something in it.

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