A Square Foot Gardening Guide

Square foot gardening is a method of condensed garden planting that divides your garden into square foot sections. Each of these sections is planted with different crops resulting in a diverse garden that maximizes productivity. We’ve used different square foot gardening techniques over the years and this year are trying a new 8×8 square foot garden.

In this article: A Square Foot Gardening Guide, we’ll explore how to create a square foot garden in your own backyard and what some of the benefits are of this method. We love using this method and find it is an easy gardening method for beginners.

Looking for more about starting a garden or other garden methods?


Background of the Square Foot Gardening Method

Square Foot Gardening is a method of intensive gardening that was developed by Mel Bartholomew in the late 1970s. This gardening technique emphasizes efficiency and simplicity, making it accessible for both novice and experienced gardeners. The simplicity of the square foot garden has led to it’s popularity.

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Key Principles of Square Foot Gardening

  1. Raised Beds: Gardens are divided into raised beds, typically 4 feet by 4 feet, which are subdivided into one-foot squares. We are currently using an 8×8 foot bed (not recommended).
  2. Soil Mix: Bartholomew promoted a specific soil mix of one-third blended compost, one-third peat moss, and one-third coarse vermiculite, which provides a nutrient-rich, well-draining growing medium. We’ve found that with the intensive gardening with the square foot method, it’s important to create strong and healthy soil. You can learn more about healthy soil in our soil Ebook.
  3. Plant Spacing: Each square foot section is planted with a different crop according to its spacing requirements. This maximizes yield and reduces wasted space.
  4. Crop Rotation and Companion Planting: The system encourages crop rotation and companion planting, which helps manage pests and maintain soil health. This is a huge benefit and helps to avoid monoculture
  5. Low Maintenance: The method requires less weeding, watering, and overall maintenance compared to traditional gardening techniques.

Step by Step Square Foot Gardening Guide

Below you can see a step by step guide to creating your square foot garden.

Step 1: Planning Your Garden

  1. Choose a Location: Select a sunny spot in your yard that receives at least 6-8 hours of sunlight per day.
  2. Determine Size: Decide on the size of your garden bed. A common size is 4 feet by 4 feet, which provides 16 square feet of planting space. If you want more space you can consider a 8×4 foot bed.
  3. Sketch Your Layout: Draw a grid to plan what you will plant in each square foot. Use a chart to help with plant spacing. You will want to consider what plants are next to each other (see companion planting in the garden). Below you can see our square foot gardening chart with some of the more common crops.

Step 2: Build the Garden Bed

  1. Materials: Gather materials for the raised bed frame. Common options include untreated wood, bricks, or concrete blocks.
  2. Build the Frame: Assemble the frame to the desired dimensions. A 4×4 foot bed is ideal for beginners.
  3. Create the Grid: Divide the bed into a grid of 1-foot squares using string, wooden slats, or other markers. You can see in the photo below I used string and simply put small nails in the edge of my raised bed.

Step 3: Prepare the Soil

  1. Soil: Since this is an intensive method for gardening, having good soil is very important. You want to make sure you have enough organic matter. While the original method suggests using peat moss, I prefer to simply amend my garden soil with fresh compost and then check for nutrients. You want to make sure the garden is well draining. I prefer to use this method in raised beds.
  2. Fill the Bed: Fill the raised bed with the soil mix, leveling it off at the top.
square foot gardening guide
square foot gardening guide

Step 4: Plant Your Garden

  1. Choose Your Plants: Select a variety of plants based on your grid layout and spacing requirements.
  2. Planting: Sow seeds or transplant seedlings according to the number of plants that can fit in each square foot. Refer to the spacing chart for guidance.
  3. Label Each Square: Mark each square with the name of the plant for easy identification.

Step 5: Care and Maintenance

  1. Watering: Water the garden regularly.
  2. Weeding: Minimal weeding is required due to the dense planting and quality soil mix, although you will likely need to weed a bit at the beginning.
  3. Mulching: Apply a light layer of mulch to help retain moisture and reduce weeds.

Step 6: Harvesting

  1. Monitor Growth: Regularly check your plants for maturity and readiness for harvest. This can be the most challenging part of the square foot method and often the crops are hidden and you need to look around carefully.
  2. Harvesting: Harvest plants as they become ripe. Some plants, like leaf lettuce and herbs, can be harvested multiple times.
square foot gardening guide
square foot gardening guide

Step 7: Crop Rotation and Replanting

  1. Rotate Crops: After harvesting, replant the square with a different type of crop to maintain soil health and reduce pest issues. You want to make sure you are replanting with a crop that will have time to grow before the cold weather. Things like lettuce, spinach and beets are all fast growers.
  2. Continuous Planting: In regions with long growing seasons, you can continuously plant and harvest throughout the year.

Tips for Success

  • Start Small: Begin with a manageable size and gradually expand as you gain experience.
  • Use Quality Seeds: Invest in high-quality seeds or seedlings for better results.
  • Pest Control: Implement organic pest control methods such as companion planting and natural repellents and keep an eye on the pests in the garden.

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Square Foot Gardening Guide
Square Foot Gardening Guide

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