Square Foot Gardening

Written by Sarah Provost
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Square foot gardening is a concept developed in the 1980s by Mel Bartholomew. Proponents of the system say that you can raise five times as many crops in the same space as a traditional garden. Traditionally, seeds are planted in rows, which makes sense for commercial agriculture, but wastes space and resources in the home garden.

Basic Principles of Square Foot Gardening

The square foot method is a refinement of raised bed gardening. Begin with a box frame no wider than four feet, and six to eight inches deep. Any material is suitable except for treated lumber, which may contain toxins. If you have more than one box, separate them by walkways, so you never have to walk on the garden itself.

One of the major labor-saving aspects of square foot gardening is that you don't have to dig up and amend your existing soil. Instead, fill the frame with a mixture of 1/3 compost, 1/3 peat moss, and 1/3 coarse vermiculite. If you are placing your bed over a lawn, put down cardboard or plastic to keep the grass from growing up into the bed.

Each frame is then divided into one-foot squares by use of a permanent grid laid over the soil. Grids can be made from wood lathe, plastic strips, even old Venetian blinds. The grid is what helps you manage your garden without overplanting, and allows you to plant a different crop in each space.

Here's where square-foot gardening really differs from more conventional techniques. In each square, you will plant one, four, nine, or 16 equally spaced plants. If the seed packet recommends spacing plants 12 inches apart, plant one plant per square foot. If six-inch spacing is recommended, plant four per square foot. For four-inch spacing, plant nine per square foot, and for three-inch spacing, plant 16 per square foot. This allows you to grow much more in less space. When a crop in one square is gone, add some new compost and plant a different crop in that square.

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