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We switched over to square foot gardening a couple of years ago and have never looked back. Honestly, it made our gardening experience so much simpler by using less space, being quicker to weed, and much easier to harvest that we love it.
Does square foot gardening really work? In a word, yes.
We have found that square foot gardening makes planning our garden a lot easier. It saves us a ton of space. And it generally keeps your back and knees in a whole lot better shape because you don’t have to work as hard to get your plants to produce like you want them to.
What is Square Foot Gardening?
Square foot gardening is a method designed originally by Mel Bartholomew. He wrote a book called Square Foot Gardening. The intention behind square foot gardening is to use less space, less water, and require less work. In our experience, we can confirm that to be true.
To follow Mel Bartholomew’s method, he requires three key components; raised beds, a specific soil blend that he calls Mel’s mix, and a 4 x 4 foot grid.
In our experience, found success using only one of the three. Can you do square foot gardening without raised beds? We were able to have pretty positive results without raised beds and without using Mel’s mix.
Why you should give it a try
We really can’t recommend square foot gardening enough. If you don’t have a lot of land or you just have a small area in which you can garden, square foot gardening will help you maximize your space so that you can get the most gardening bang for your gardening buck.
Since you will be spending less time waiting and more time being able to tend to your plants, you will almost always experience a bigger yield. Typically, you can expect to feed one person for an entire season on 100 square feet.
Our favorite part of square foot gardening? The ease in which you can harvest. Since each planting box is only 4 x 4 feet, you will never have to reach further than two feet from any point of the box to reach your crops. Trust us, if you have a stool from our gardening supplies list your knees and back will thank you for not having to dig further into a garden just to harvest.
So if you read around online for reviews on square foot gardening, the one consistent negative is that it can be a bit pricey to get started. This is true if you are building your own raised beds and using a very specific soil mix.
However, we have found that if you want to just get started cheaply and see if you enjoy square foot gardening you don’t need raised beds. And you can use your own soil and compost pile.
Need some help getting your garden crops planned? Check out the Ultimate Gardening Calculators for a system that will auto-calculate for you.
How to start a Square Foot Garden
The first thing you want to do is get a gardening planner and figure out what exactly you want to grow this season. With a planner you can plot what plants are going to go where, what you’re going to grow next to each other, and if you’re into it, you can even plan out further seasons on how you will rotate your crops.
If you’re not sure when to start your plants, this Ultimate Gardening for Beginners will help you out!
Next, you’ll want to set up your garden area. If you are following Mel Bartholomew’s method and building raised beds, you will plot out where everything is going to go. You will also want to start building your raised beds. Remember, you do not want to use treated wood as those chemicals can leach into your soil and your plants will then absorb those chemicals.
You can use bricks, cinder blocks, galvanized steel, or food grade plastic to build your raised beds. However, as we mentioned, you can also use this method directly on the ground in your existing garden area.
When preparing the soil for your garden, you can use Mel’s mix. This soil mixture is just peat Moss, vermiculite and compost. It’s a really easy ratio. You just use equal amounts of each.
If you’re using raised beds, you will need to figure out how deep you want your soil to be. We used a wheelbarrow to make our mixture and then just dump the right amount and depth into each of our garden squares.
Next, you’ll need a grid. You can purchase a grid that you can just assemble from a local hardware store, gardening center, or online. Some people will purchase a grid for each of their raised beds or gardening squares.
We used the same DIY grid for each of our boxes and just moved it after planting. More details below for making your own grid.
Finally, just plant your plants. You follow the same spacing directions as you would follow in normal row gardening. You just plot them in your single square foot blocks.
How to make a square foot gardening grid
As we said above, you can make your very own Square foot gardening grid. You can make your grid out of a couple of stakes and some string. You can also use PVC pipe to make a pretty sturdy grid.
We made our grid out of wood. Go to your local hardware store into their lumber department and find their 1 x 2 strips of wood. If you can find the ones that are 8 feet long, grab three of them and cut them in half.
Next, arrange the six pieces into a grid. You can use 1 ½ inch wood nails or screws and secure them at each cross section. Viola! You have your own Square foot gardening grid.
What can you grow using this method?
Anything! Seriously though, you can grow pretty much anything using this method. We’ve grown tomatoes in cages. We’ve trellised vining cucumbers. We’ve grown Bush beans. We’ve even grown zucchini and squash.
Best plants for square foot gardening
Growing tomatoes in a square foot gardening box is really easy. How many tomatoes can you plant in a square foot? We will usually plant one plant per square foot.
You can easily grow cucumbers in a trellis in a square foot panting box. How many cucumbers can you plant in a square foot? We are able to plant 4 to 6 in each box.
You can grow a lot of strawberries. In a full 4 x 4 planting box you can grow as many as 32 plants!
Spinach is pretty prolific. You can grow up to 9 in each square!
Let us know about your square foot gardening experiences in the comments below.
If you need help getting your garden crops planned right check out The Ultimate Gardening Calculators so that you have just the amount you need, set aside the right amount of space and know exactly when to plant them.