Square Foot Gardening Is Thinking Inside the Box

Grow big in small spaces with this innovative gardening method.
Maximize yield in minimum space using the techniques of square foot gardening.

Maximize yield in minimum space using the techniques of square foot gardening.

Photo by: Image courtesy of Victoria Boudman, Square Foot Gardening Foundation

Image courtesy of Victoria Boudman, Square Foot Gardening Foundation

Maximize yield in minimum space using the techniques of square foot gardening.

Based on the garden practices of raised beds, composting and economy of space, the concept of square foot gardening was first popularized with the publication of founder Mel Bartholomew’s 1981 book of the same name. A retired efficiency expert and engineer, Bartholomew shared his vision for a new method of gardening in which plants could be grown in raised beds divided into 1' grids. A typical box measures 4’ x 4’, but can be adjusted to your available space. Using carefully balanced soil mix and calculating the minimum amount of space needed to grow different varieties of plants, his goal was to allow people of all skill levels and physical ability to grow crops in just a fraction of the space required using conventional row gardening regardless of geography.

Square Foot Gardening was quickly embraced and the revised All New Square Foot Gardening has gone on to become the largest selling gardening book of all time. The system, known internationally as “square meter gardening,” is practiced throughout the world.

This innovative style of gardening relies on conservation; conservation of space, of resources, of time and of effort.  Raised beds are assembled from inexpensive materials and spaced at intervals such that they may be accessed from all sides. Beds are just 6 to 8 inches deep and may be built over bare ground, on patios or decks or even assembled on outdoor table tops for ease of reach.

According to Bartholomew, using the square foot method will produce crops in just 20% of the space typically needed. Water and weeding requirements are also greatly reduced. Key to the success of square foot gardening is the use of a soil blend known as “Mel’s Mix,” consisting of 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 blended compost and 1/3 coarse vermiculite, a blend designed to maximize moisture retention while providing nutrition to plants without the need for additional fertilizers.

Once boxes have been assembled and the soil mix is in place, plants may be committed to the soil using schedules found in Bartholomew’s book with additional information found on the Square Foot Gardening Foundation's website. Depending on the crop, as many as 16 plants may occupy a square foot grid or as few as a single plant for large or bushy plants. Hand watering is recommended and grids may be harvested and replanted throughout the season.

For those with soil challenges, limited gardening space or difficulty managing a conventional garden plot, square foot gardening is a proven alternative that is easy to implement without a major impact on landscape or pocketbook. 

For more information on starting your own square foot garden, check out the book that started it all or visit one of the many websites devoted to the system and the innovations implemented by home gardeners everywhere.

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