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