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Square Foot Gardening for Beginners

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Are you busy but still want to garden? There’s hope! While it might seem that in our “keep busy” culture there would be no time for gardening, there is actually an easy way to garden! And it will bring the joy back to gardening!

square foot garden

What is Square Foot Gardening?

For the first eight years of marriage, I maintained a traditional row garden. This wasn’t always ideal, especially once we moved into a house in a neighborhood with a 1/3 acre yard. If you’re an apartment or city dweller, this may seem like tons of yard for a garden, but it was super shady and not ideal for the traditional garden space.

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Thankfully, I stumbled upon Mel Bartholemew’s book The New Square Foot Gardening while in the library. And my mind was blown by what he claimed could be grown in a minimal amount of space.

The premise of square foot gardening, as the title implies, is growing fruits and vegetables in square feet. Usually this means a raised bed garden that is divided into square feet. In each foot, you’re able to grow different types of herbs and vegetables. He even tells you how many plants to have in each square foot. Simple!

square foot garden

The Benefits of Square Foot Gardening

  1. Minimal Weeding– This really is one of the most important things for me. Since most square foot gardening is done in raised beds, the amount of weeds able to creep in is significantly less than that of a traditional row garden. SFG has all but eliminated the time I spend weeding. I pull a few here and there while I’m tending the garden (or pour boiling water on the weeds in the garden path to avoid using chemical weed killers). You can also mulch your SFG to cut down even more on weeds and to help keep moisture in the soil.
better than drip irrigation
Square foot gardening with Garden Grids watering system
  1. Small Space Friendly– Square foot gardens make great use of small spaces. If you only have a tiny corner of yard, or even just a back patio, then SFG is still manageable. A standard bed is 4ft by 4ft, but this is not a hard and fast rule. If you only have room for a 4ft by 2ft bed, then go for it! That gives you 8 square feet to plant, and that’s perfect for someone with limited space.
  2. No Guesswork– How much should I plant and how far apart? Having only a single square foot to work with eliminates a lot of the guess work that comes with planting. You’re given specific guidelines (there are several sources on Pinterest or in the SFG book) about how many seeds or plants to use in each foot, depending on what you’re planting. For example, you’d only need one zucchini plant in a square foot, but you could plant 16 carrots. Brilliant!
  1. Easy Rotation– Once a plant has finished producing, it can be pulled up or harvested and something else can go in its spot. The soil is nice and loose from the previous plant, so planting your new seeds or plant is a breeze. (And because the soil hasn’t been stepped on since it’s in a raised bed, then there’s no packing in of the soil.) For example, in my SFG, I harvest radishes early and then go on to plant more radishes (double crop!) or peppers.
  2. No Intimidation– Sometimes people can get intimidated about growing a garden. What if I kill everything? Have I dug up half of my yard only to have the garden fail? SFG allows new gardeners to try (and succeed) at gardening and gain confidence.

If you try SFG and absolutely hate it, I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to find someone to take the raised bed off of your hands, or you can convert it into a sandbox (or dirt box) for the kids to play in. And if you forget the tend your square foot garden and everything dies, you can always pick back up again the next season and try again.

How to Get Started Square Foot Gardening

  1. Pick a spot: Begin by creating an easy Sun Map of your yard (here are my instructions for how to do this) to see what spot gets the best light. Then decide how big of a garden bed you’ll want to start with.
  2. Put in a Raised Bed: This doesn’t have to be a custom built bed, but you do want something to contain your square foot garden. I have instructions for how to build a simple raised bed, as well as a tutorial for a bed with extra trimmings and a top edge. You could also try a raised bed kit, like the cypress bed below from Garden in Minutes, or simply throw one together from materials you have on hand.
garden in minutes cypress garden bed
Cypress raised bed kit from Garden in Minutes
  1. Set up Irrigation: Whether you’ll be using a watering can, soaker hoses, or a Garden Grid by Garden in Minutes, which is a system that waters and divides your raised bed into square feet, you’ll want to make sure some water access is close to the spot you’ve chosen for your square foot garden.
  2. Fill with Soil: Choose a good quality soil to fill your beds or make your own mix. See my full post about how to fill your raised bed cheaply. Cheaply doesn’t mean poor quality soil; it simply means without buying bagged soil that claims to be… miraculous.
  3. Plan what you’ll Grow: Check the season and your growing zone and plan according to the Square Foot Garden guidelines. My free garden planner has an entire planning guide for square foot gardening. So be sure to grab yours here.

Honestly, one of the biggest bonuses to SFG is it is so much CHEAPER than traditional row gardens. You only end up using portions of seed packages or trays of plants instead of wasting money on rows worth of seeds and plants. Remember the rule: every seed is a plant.

If stored properly, those extra seeds could be used again next year. And as for plants, if you have more than you need, go in with another gardener friend and split a tray of plants. Everyone wins!

So if you’re worn out by a traditional row garden, have limited space or time, or just want to try something simple, then give Square Foot Gardening a try. It has revolutionized my gardening, and I am so thankful. I’d love to know if you use a square foot garden and if so, what size? Have a great week and Happy Gardening!

Dee Sund

Sunday 18th of August 2019

Wonderful! so many excellent ideas. I live in Panama and every month is growing season.


Sunday 18th of August 2019

Thank you so much. You truly do have a year round growing season!

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