What is Square Foot Gardening?

Coordinating Community Service at Columbia College last year, The Square Foot Gardening Foundation was our main nonprofit partner. The Foundation needed extra staff in San Diego for the Fall, so I’m here working on a few local projects and doing a bit of writing.

So what is Square Foot Gardening? The Square Foot Gardening (SFG) method was developed by Mel Bartholomew back in the eighties. Mel’s sold more gardening books than any other gardening author ever, had his own PBS show, has worked to bring SFGs to over 3,000 schools throughout the United States, brought the gardening method to other countries through Square Meter Gardening, and started The Square Foot Gardening Foundation to teach schools, families, neighborhoods, churches, and anyone who will listen about growing more food in less space.

Square Foot Gardening is 50% cheaper, takes 80% less space, requires only 10% of the water, 5% of the seeds, and 98% less work when compared to traditional row gardening. People severely over-complicate gardening. I think it’s because a lot of people who garden in the U.S. do it as a hobby.  If your hobby only takes five minutes a day, that’s not much of a hobby now is it?  SFG makes gardening super simple so that anyone can do it anywhere. If you’re a kid in an apartment, you can still grow your own food with the SFG method. Roughly 31 planting squares (that’s two 4ftx4ft boxes) will supply one person with enough veggies and one leafy salad a day for an entire growing season.

Here’s How to Square Foot Garden:

1. Build a Box by nailing together four 4ft 6″x 2″ boards.

2. Cut and Place Weed Fabric under your Box.  Either staple the fabric to the bottom of your frame or just lay your frame on top of it. Weed fabric keeps the weeds from coming up from the ground into your box, but it also makes it easy to move your box if you ever choose to do so. (Your garden box can be atop grass, cement,  a table, a rooftop, dirt, wherever!)

3. Add your Mel’s Mix!  Mel’s Mix is 1/3 Peat Moss, 1/3 Vermiculite, 1/3 Compost.

These three components can be bought pre-mixed as “Mel’s Mix” at your local gardening store:

Or the three components can be Mixed together by Hand before adding to your box:  Or you can Mix the three components Directly in your SFG Box: 4. Add Your Grid! It’s not a Square Foot Garden without your Grid.  SFG is all about growing more in less space.  The grid allows for appropriate and tight plant spacing and helps you stay organized with crop rotation.

5. Plant! SFG spacing is 1 seed per square for larger plants like broccoli or basil, 4 plants per square for crops like lettuce, 9 per square for smaller plants, and 16 per square for things like onions. Plants like squash, cucumbers, and sometimes tomatoes can be grown “vertically” using a metal frame on one side of your box that has netting (like soccer net netting) for the crops to climb up and cling to.

6. Water! Generally…use 5 gallons of water per 4x4ft SFG box daily. <-And that might actually be too much depending on where you live, what you’ve planted, etc.

7. Harvest!

8. Eat it! 9. Repeat steps 5-9! At the end of every season, put a trowel scoop or two of fresh compost into each square and plant the new season’s seeds and transplants.  Simple as that. Your peat moss, vermiculite, box, and weed mat are good to go for years!

Happy Gardening!

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