Square Foot Gardening by Byron Chitwood
Some good advice for a person who is thinking about starting a vegetable garden is to start small and gradually increase the size until you have reached your tolerance level for taking care of one. There is plenty of tilling, planting, watering and weeding in a small garden that should make you think, can I handle more? One of the best pieces of advice is to consider a square foot garden.
Square foot gardening is an easy way to garden if you don’t have time or space for a larger garden. A square foot garden can be as small as one foot square and can be much larger if you have a place for it. For a larger one, limit the width to no more than four feet. This makes it easy to plant and weed from either side. A four by eight foot garden can be made very simply by cutting the two ends 4ft 3 ½ inches long and using two 8 foot long boards for the side. 2X6 inch boards will give enough depth for almost anything that you wish to plant. Lay down some impregnable material for the bottom in a location that is in the sun most of the time and well drained. Lay the 8 foot planks or boards on their edge and four feet apart. Screw or nail the 4 foot 3 ½ ends to the longer planks. Keep the frame as squared up as possible.
Now fill the bed almost full with a rich soil mixture. A good mix is equal parts of compost, peat moss and pearlite or vermiculite. However, if you have access to rich topsoil, there is nothing wrong with using that instead of a more expensive mixture. If you use six inch wide boards for the sides, the bed will require about 16 cubic feet of soil mixture or eight bags of potting soil mix. Therefore for economy, you can’t beat your own soil mixture for economy, especially if you have access to a compost pile.
There are several ways to divide your square foot garden into individual one foot square foot plots. Divide the entire garden with wooden slats or tie strings at one foot intervals running from each side and each end.
A good rule to follow is plan the garden so that the longest dimension runs north and south. In the spring, plant the tallest crops at the south end and the shorter ones at the north end. In the fall, just reverse the order of planting so that the tallest are at the north end and the smaller ones are at the south end. This will allow plants to receive maximum sunlight.
In order to conserve space, a trellis will need to be built for climbing plants such as cucumbers. These can be made from two rebars with strings tied between them. As the cucumbers begin to climb, tie them to the strings and they will continue to climb in an upward direction. You might want to strengthen the uprights by fastening another rebar across the top.
Suggested spacing for vegetables on a per square foot basis are as follows: Extra large plants such as Broccoli, Cabbage, tomatoes and Peppers should only have one plant per square; Large vegetables such as Leaf Lettuce, Swiss chard and Marigold should be no more than four per square; Medium vegetables such as Bush Beans, Spinach and Beets can be planted nine per square; Smaller plants such as Carrots, Radishes and Onions are recommended at 16 per square.
A square foot garden will not require much weeding. Water frequently but do not over water. If possible, harvest your rain water from roof runoff. Vegetables just love rainwater. If you are using well composted leaves and garden wastes in your square foot garden, not much commercial fertilizer will be required.
You will be amazed at how many vegetables a garden of this size will produce. This is a very good way to teach kids responsibility when caring for a garden as well as it will give them some outdoor exercise.
References are: All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew and Lasagna Gardening by Patricia Lanza; Don’t Waste Your Wastes-Compost ‘em by Bert Whitehead
Square Foot Gardening by Byron Chitwood
Small scale gardening has been around for a long time. In our time, there has been the salad garden, kitchen garden, victory garden and just some small garden plots that didn’t happen to fit under a name. Leave it up to an Engineer, a retired one at that to fully develop the square foot garden concept and publish a book expounding on the subject. Mel Bartholomew, an Engineer who sold his consulting business is the person who really pushed this method of gardening and published his first book “Square Foot Gardening”.
Mel’s early experience was typical gardening with long rows which were spaced wide apart and with three foot wide pathways between some of the rows. When he questioned some expert gardeners as to why there was a need for these wide pathways, the answer was “so we can get in there and chop weeds”. Nobody really likes the weeding process involved in vegetable gardening and Mel noticed that a lot of gardeners were dropping out of the hobby because so much effort was needed just to keep the weeds out. He began to experiment with smaller gardens until he came up with the concept of square foot gardening.
Basically, the square foot garden (SFG) is four feet wide and four feet long. The sides of the SFG are constructed o f 2X6 inch boards that are nailed or screwed together to form a 4X4 foot box. The box should have a bottom of weed cloth to prevent weeds and grass from growing in the garden plot. A lattice work of inch wide strips of wood or some other material should be constructed that is then fastened one foot apart on the tops of the side boards of the completed box. The one foot spacing will form sixteen one foot squares within the box.
Soil to fill the SFG can be either purchased from a gardening center or you can make your own using a mixture of 1/3 vermiculite, 1/3 peat moss and 1/3 well composted material such as leaves or grass clippings or any other organic plant material. The six inch depth as mentioned above is sufficient to grow almost all vegetables except some of the longer ones such as long carrots, leeks or potatoes. If you want to grow some long root vegetables, simply make a much smaller box in length that is approximately one foot deep. In case you purchase the gardening mixture, you will need eight cubic feet of the mixture for each 4X4 foot SFG. Of course, the one foot deep garden will require one cubic foot of potting soil for each foot of length.
Mel’s book recommends the following plant spacing within each one foot square as follows:
- One plant per square for broccoli, cabbage, or pepper plant.
- Four plants per square for leaf lettuce, Swiss chard or marigolds.
- Nine plants per square for bush beans, spinach or beets.
- Sixteen per square for carrots, radishes or onions.
Once you have mastered SFG techniques, you might want to expand your garden capacity by constructing more four foot wide SFG’s. You will be amazed at many vegetables each SFG will produce. If you are interested in pursuing square foot gardening, Mel Bartholomew’s newest book “All New Square Foot Gardening” will be a most valuable addition to your library.
Do you want to garden but have a small space available? Want to grow twice as much food as usual in that space? Come to the Art of Gardening on April 13 and learn about Square Foot Gardening.
Square Foot Gardening by Pat Abramson
Don’t like getting your hands dirty, but love those homegrown veggies? Don’t like bending or kneeling to tend your garden? Don’t like to sweat much? Hate having to be out in the sun longer than you have to? You can order or build a waist-high garden bed put on legs with wheels so your back and knees won’t complain. The “square foot gardening” method allows you to plant 16 different vegetables or annuals in a small plot a little bigger than a card table! The method is billed as “planting 5x as much in 1/5 the space, cutting watering at least in half, and eliminating weeding.
Square foot gardening requires no tilling. No need to even use your own (disappointing!) soil. If you don’t want to build or order the waist-high garden bed, you can create a bed ON TOP OF your own soil in an area no bigger than 4’ x 4’. You only plant what you want to eat (or can, or give away).
An engineer and efficiency expert, Mel Bartholomew’s book “All New Square Foot Gardening” book explains why you may want to rethink planting in long rows that create too many weeds that produce more than you can eat, and where you thin or throw away 90% of what you plant.
Mel’s only tool need is a trowel. “Mel’s (soil) mix” is equal parts of compost, peat moss, and vermiculite. (In our area, NK Lawn & Garden Seeding Mix will work better).
Preferably close to the house, your garden “box” plot will be 4’ x 4’ on each side, 6” deep. Want to plant more than 16 varieties of veggies or annuals? If so, space each additional box 3’ apart from each other. Wet 5 – 6 layers of newspaper on the bottom of your box, then fill it with the modified Mel’s mix described above. (If you’re installing a waist-high box to eliminate bending or kneeling, make sure to drill holes in the bottom of the box for drainage.)
Place on top of each box frame a permanent “grid” that divides the box into one-foot squares. This grid is what makes the whole system work. (Use wood, string, or even Venetian blinds.) Secure your grid to the sides & bolt them where they cross.) You now have 16 squares for up to 16 different vegetables. In each 1-ft. square you can plant: 16 carrots, 9 spinach, 9 beets, 4 lettuce, 1 cabbage, 1 broccoli, 1 pepper, 1 tomato, 2 cucumbers, 8 pole beans. On one side of your box you will trellis plants like tomatoes vertically.
No room for weeds, and your plot is so small, watering is now manageable. Each time you harvest a plant, add a cup of compost and plant something new.
A manageable, square-foot garden is ideal for schools. (Utah approved installing one in every elementary school in the state!)
“Square Foot Gardening” is available at bookstores and at the Harrison Library. The waist-high box as well as other information and products are available at www.squarefootgardening.com.
Square Foot Gardening by Pat Abramson.
I’ve been hearing a lot of reasons why friends think their garden will be more than they can handle. “Without a tiller, I can’t prepare a bed.” “With my arthritis, I don’t think I can do all that bending.” “It’s more than I can take on right now.” These folks need to discover the “Square Foot Gardening” way!
No tilling is necessary, because you don’t use any soil you have! Instead, you create a bed ON TOP OF your own soil! You only plant what you want to eat, or can, or give away. And, if necessary, you can create your garden plot (4’ x 4’, or smaller) on a table, with holes in the bottom, so there’s no bending or kneeling.
Mel Bartholomew’s “Square Foot Gardening” book has sold more copies in the last 25 years than any other garden book. An engineer/efficiency expert, Mel wondered why everyone gardened in long rows that created lots of weeds, why they planted more than they could ever eat, and why they thinned or threw away 90% of what they had planted. Reason: “Because that’s the way we’ve always done it.”
Mel’s only tool need is a trowel. “Mel’s soil mix” is equal parts of compost, peat moss, and vermiculite. In our area, NK Lawn & Garden Seeding Mix will work better.
Locate your garden “box” plot close to the house. Make it 4’ x 4’ on each side. Each box will be 6” deep. Space each box 3’ apart. Wet 5 – 6 layers of newspaper on the bottom of your box, then fill it with the modified Mel’s mix described above
Place on top of each box frame a permanent “grid” that divides the box into one-foot squares. This grid is what makes the whole system work so well. Venetian blinds work great. Secure them to the sides & bolt them where they cross. You now have 16 squares for up to 16 different vegetables. In each 1-ft. square you can plant the following: 16 carrots, 9 spinach, 9 beets, 4 lettuce, 1 cabbage, 1 broccoli, 1 pepper, 1 tomato, 2 cucumbers, 8 pole beans. On one side of your box you will trellis plants like tomatoes vertically.
There won’t be room for weeds. Your plot is so small, watering is now manageable. Each time you harvest a plant, you’ll add a cup of compost and plant something new.
Bartholomew has begun a Foundation to help teachers, gardeners and missionaries carry Square Foot Gardening information to countries where families can learn to grow what they eat. Islands like Bermuda import all their food. The Government is working with Bartholomew to help teach residents how to go back to growing more of their own food. A manageable, square-foot garden seemed so ideal for schools that Utah decided to install one in each elementary school in the state!
“Square Foot Gardening” is available at bookstores. More information and products are available at www.squarefootgardening.com.