Its finally the best time of year, gardens are in, flowers are blooming… life just seems brighter!! This year, we almost tripled our garden square footage by building more raised garden beds! I started laying out the garden plans and thought to myself, jeez I am going to need so many more to plant the garden in rows like I would in the ground. I did some research and found the square foot gardening method book at the library and so here we are, I am giving it a go! This is a super quick run down of this method and some pros and cons and tips I have learned now from planting this year (and just general garden maintenance tips). Hoping that it may help you to either start your garden or look further into why this might be the right way for you to plant in the future!
This is Mel’s book, the guy who originally presented this method of gardening. Lots of good info! This blog post is a SUPER breif introduction to what this is, if this peaks your interest in some way I would highly recommend reading this book and/or doing further research!
What is Square Foot Gardening?
Essentially, it is building a 4×4 garden box or sectioning off your garden boxes into 1×1 square foot sections. I used a string line in mine, they also make grids you can buy. Doing this allows you to plant an small but intensive vegetable garden. Obviously, very helpful for super small spaces but also GREAT for getting the most out of your raised beds, rather than trying to do rows with spacing like an in ground garden. Seeds go into each square in varying numbers, bigger plants may take the whole square foot while other plants may range from 4-16 seeds per square, this is where the book comes in handy as it lays out plant size/sqft. Bigger plants that may vine out CAN be done with this method by giving them netting to climb vertically rather that horizontally, I however, kept my big vining plants in the ground but if that is not an option for you this will still work. With SFG the intensive amount of planting helps to reduce bare soil, therefore covers and protects the soil below. An important part to note in this method is the soil mix, there is a 3 part mixture (compost, peat moss & vermiculite), this mixture helps keeps the soil loose & therefore more space for roots.
Some quick plant spacing examples for you, plants you would add only one of would be Tomatoes or broccoli. Four plants would be something like lettuce or basil (*may need to harvest them to keep them growing). Eight plants would be things like your beans. Lastly, sixteen plans would be your carrots and garlic. You can find the extensive list elsewhere online just make sure you are getting from a reliable source! These numbers come from the amount of inches you would normally have in row gardens (see book for further explanation!)
Pros of this method
Obviously the number one pro is that you can get more garden out of smaller spaces. Second, weeding and watering are typically easier because of the intensity of the plants you have added. Its common that the amount of weeding you need to do it a lot less than normal rows. The beds soil stays nice and lose because you are not stepping or leaning on it water or weed! Truthfully, I wish I started with this method because it makes gardening as a beginner almost dummy proof!
Cons of this method
The cons of this method, to me, did not = not doing it, most were things I could fix or work with! One thing mentioned often was that its cramped for bigger plants or vining plants. My thought was to put them elsewhere or not include them with your crop. In the original book method, the garden boxes were not deep enough for some root system, keep that in mind while building and/or planting! Lastly, raised beds do dry out quicker, you MAY need to water more often! Again, not a deal breaker for me I am already out there most nights doing something anyways!
A couple of general garden tips…
- You should avoid growing vegetables from the same family in the same bed year after year to reduce the risk of certain pests and diseases. Also, crop yields decrease when plants are repeatedly sown in the same garden beds. Rotate your families each season of growing.
- PRE PLAN. Draw the grid on paper and plan your veggies & number of plants
- Some people use a seeding square that you can find on amazon (NOT Required though).
- Research companion plants and use that in your planning, its really really beneficial
- When planning, keep heights in mind. you dont want a tomato plant shading your lettuce!
- At the end of the season, give that soil some love… compost and manure are gold people, GOLD.
To wrap up, I am really excited and I think this might be the right method for us to use for a couple of reasons. To start, we are quite new to gardening still so this makes it quite easy to follow and plan what we are planting. Second, it gets to MOST use out of raised garden space, there would be a lot of unused space in these beds if we did traditional rows. Lastly, it has taught me so much about companion planting, I think its a great way to learn some more while growing your garden!
Do you use this method in your garden? Share your photos and tips with me.
Happy growing my sweet friends!