9 Reasons You Should Try Square Foot Gardening

Want to grow 100% of veggies in 20% of space? That’s just one reason to try square foot gardening, an easy and efficient way to grow your own produce.

This square foot garden packs in lettuce, radishes, onions, beans, kohlrabi, broccoli, tomatoes, peas, and sweet peas, without the time and space a normal garden would take up. Image: Square Foot Gardening Foundation

Square foot gardening provides everything you love about growing your own veggies — including more produce in less space — and eliminates everything you hate: weeds, bugs, and more weeds.

In a nutshell, the square foot gardening method involves:

  • Dividing a 4-by-4-foot box into 16 squares; one type of crop in each square
  • Laying a permanent grid of 1-foot squares over the box to guide planting
  • Filling the box with a special, fresh soil mixture
  • Replanting each square after harvesting

The method was invented in 1981 by Mel Bartholomew, a retired civil engineer and efficiency expert who trained his time-is-money eye on traditional, single-row gardening.

“Traditional gardening was a lot of work and weeds,” Bartholomew says. “And when I asked, ‘Why are we doing it this way?’ I was told, ‘Because we’ve always done it that way.’”

Wrong answer for an efficiency guy. So Bartholomew analyzed everything he hated about gardening — weeding, watering, and long walks to large garden plots — and came up with a method that eliminates vegetable garden minuses and accentuates the positives — lots of organically grown vegetables in a fraction of the space and time.

Bartholomew’s book, Square Foot Gardening, inspired millions of small-space gardening acolytes and led to a foundation to feed the world, one square foot at a time.

Why should you square foot garden?
 
Bartholomew, 81, recently walked HouseLogic through the 9 reasons you should switch to square foot gardening.

1. Saves space: Square foot gardening boxes grow 100% of veggies grown the traditional way in only 20% of the space.

2. Saves water: Instead of shocking young plants with icy hose water, you water square foot garden plants with ladles of sun-warmed water from buckets or rain barrels. In the end, you use about 10% of the water you’d spray on a traditional garden.

3. Saves money on gardening tools: Since you never walk upon and pack down square foot gardening soil, you don’t need hoes, spades, or rakes to break it up. All you need is a hand trowel to mix the soil and a pair of scissors to cut greens.

4. No walking: You can place square foot gardening boxes anywhere there’s sun — outside your back door, on patios, and on decks. The closer the boxes are to your kitchen, the more you’ll tend and harvest produce.

5. No bending and reaching: Square foot gardening boxes typically are 4-by-4-foot square because Bartholomew figured adults can comfortably reach 2 feet. Gardeners can walk around their boxes, tending veggies without ever overreaching. If bending is a problem, build boxes on legs or rest them on a card table.

6. No weeding: Most weeds come from seeds or spores buried in soil. Square foot gardening soil, however, uses a 6-inch-deep mixture of 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 coarse vermiculite, and 1/3 blended compost made with at least five different sources — leaves, manure, food scraps, coffee grinds, and eggshells. If a wayward seed does blow into a planting box, you can easily pluck it from loose soil.

7. Uses fewer seeds: Traditional gardeners sprinkle seeds around, and then thin seedlings. Square foot gardeners plant seeds and seedlings according to a precise plant-spacing formula: 1 tomato seedling per sq. ft, 16 onions, 8 peas, 4 celery, and so on. The formula eliminates guesswork and stretches a pack of seeds much further.

8. Raises little gardeners: Kids love to play in dirt and watch things grow. Square foot gardening lets them do both, without the tedious chore of weeding. As a bonus, kids are more likely to eat vegetables they’ve grown themselves.

9. Raises rolling crops: After you harvest 1 square foot of veggies, throw in a handful of compost and plant a different crop in the bare square. That way, you’ll have a steady supply of greens throughout fall or until the first frost, whichever comes first.