Square Foot Gardening 101

What is Square Foot Gardening?

Years ago, people used to have expansive stretches of land around their houses where planting fruits and vegetables were common. Fresh produce at home has been cherished by many. The walls of the houses adorned with wines, apples hanging from trees ready to be plucked under the August sun, in the backyard, the carrots are sprouting – all ring a bell to the joy of growing plants in your own home. And when it’s time, people come and collect the vegetables and fruits, and make delicious food – full of nutrition and energy. 

It’s the simple act of plantation that does wonder to humans! As we will discuss later on in this article, having plants in one’s home can be beneficial.

Basics

Over the years, the landscape of housing societies has changed. With the increase in population and economic factors, people have started to live in apartments and condominiums, living spaces where a building is divided into multiple units. These units can be owned or rented. Nevertheless, these living spaces require a solution to the problem of the plantation. How can someone who loves gardening can pursue their hobby (or dream) in an area high above the ground or that the place is small and won’t entertain a garden? 

In this era, smart living is encouraged. This is a living where the aim is to achieve a productive, sustainable, economical, and integrated living. You are making your life easy and simple by focusing on original and innovative ideas. For instance, introducing square foot gardening to your home is close to nature and new.  

If you’re looking for a planned vegetable garden, you should go for a square feet garden. These are the cutest and most incredible things I’ve come across recently! So what exactly is this adorableness? Well, square foot gardening is a new practice of gardening where a raised bed is used. This raised bed is divided into rows and columns such that equal areas of one square foot are achieved. This technique helps form a small, organized, and carefully crafted garden where various plants are grown.

Plants are beneficial for the mental and physical health of humans. Plants, like humans, breathe. But unlike us, plants inhale CO2 and exhale 02. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas which means that it absorbs and then emits infrared waves which are known to be high in temperature. When carbon dioxide is present in an area, it tends to raise the temperature of that area. This effect is notoriously known as global warming. One can have this effect in their homes if not properly ventilated. Plants serve to counter this effect and bring about coolness in the atmosphere.  

Days can get monotonous with a dull routine and one can get tiresome as well. Plantation can serve as a wonderful remedy to this ordeal. Or after exposing your eyes to computer screens for a long time gives you a headache or eye ache, then looking at plants can soothe the ache. Even taking care of plants is relaxing and calming to the human mind.

I’ve listed for you some amazing benefits that can come from planting plants in your own house. For those of you who have limited space or have no access to a garden, don’t worry. This article is for you. I’ve put together information regarding square foot gardening that you will hopefully benefit from.

Below I will discuss with you the requirements for having a square foot garden in your house. Covering the domains will be from spacing to layout to soil mix.  

Square foot gardening spacing

Square foot gardening spacing

Spacing in square foot gardening requires the use of threads to demarcate a square from the adjacent square. The significance of this technique is that plants are separated from each other, and a single box can contain a variety of vegetables. 

Now the measurement of the spacing can vary. It depends on the number of parts the box is divided and what type of vegetables you want to grow. Few examples can best explain this. 

Let’s say I want to plant lettuce or corn in my square foot garden. The corns or the lettuce will be planted at a distance of six inches apart from its adjacent vegetable. This means that corns or lettuce will take more space to grow, and therefore your square foot gardening will be divided into four parts. This is square foot gardening spacing.

Consider another example. If I want to plant carrots in my square foot garden, then I would require a spacing of three inches. This will give me 16 plants per square foot.  

Square foot gardening planner

Planners are pretty helpful when it comes to any task. It’s important to put into perspective what you plan to do, your resources, and the desired outcome of this plan. When it comes to square foot gardening, you might want to plan your whole idea. 

First off, you should do a little research on the plant you’re going to plant. For example, look for the parameters such as the pH of the soil required, the amount of water needed, the nutrients essential for the growth, the temperature of the surrounding, the humidity in the atmosphere, the duration of sunlight and heat required, the need of a grid or lattice framework for support.

Instead of going for rows which is a traditional way of planting vegetables, square foot gardening requires a 4×4 foot box where vegetables are grown. It’s important to note that what you plan to plant in your square foot garden integrates with the feasibility of the idea. 

Your raised bed garden should be divided with the help of a grid into equal parts in relation to the plants you’re going to plant. So if you’re planning to plant radishes or carrots, you’ll be able to plant 16 of these in a square foot garden, whereas only one cabbage can be cultivated in a square foot garden that is of the same size (i.e. 4×4 foot). Likewise, if you plan to cultivate peas in your square foot garden, then you can plant one pea plant. 

Square foot gardening soil

Soil is essential for growing plants. Organic and inorganic compounds, minerals, water, and air are all present in the soil that nurtures the plant you’re going to cultivate. Just like humans, plants can also face mineral deficiencies. Make sure that whatever thing you’re going to plant, see their mineral requirements and ensure it’s present in the soil in adequate amounts. Also, living organisms such as microbes can enhance the plant’s growth by feeding on decaying matter. 

In short, your soil should have ample amounts of minerals and nutrients for the better growth of your plants. You might wonder if there is any way that soil can be full of nutrients and minerals needed for the healthy growth of the plant? Further in this article, I’ll discuss the soil mix required to achieve better growth of plants.  

Square foot gardening spacing chart

I discussed above briefly the concept of spacing in square foot gardening. Here I’ll elaborate the concept a little further. 

If you plan on planting carrots, green onions, parsnips, or radishes in your square foot garden, then you would require a spacing of three inches with the adjacent vegetable. This means that each plant is placed three inches apart from the adjacent plant such that you can plant up to 16 vegetables in your raised bed garden.

If you plan on planting cabbage, pepper, rosemary, wasabi, tomatoes, mint, eggplant, kale, oregano, or broccoli, then a spacing of 12 inches is required. This will enable you to plant only one vegetable in your raised bed garden.  

In case you want to plant spinach, beans, garlic, peas, beet, or turnips, then a spacing of four inches is required. This will give space to nine plants to be grown in your raised bed garden.  

Furthermore, plants such as parsley, fennel, endive, Swiss Chard, yams, potatoes, or Leaf Lettuce, or flowers like Marigold will require a spacing of six inches. Each Swiss Chard or lettuce, or marigold will be planted six inches apart. This will give space to four plants to grow and thrive. 

In addition to this, melons, cantaloupes, and watermelons demand special treatment for raised bed gardens. If you want to plant these watery and delicious plants, then an area of 2 square feet is required per one plant.

36 of Spring onions or scallions can be grown on a raised bed garden, whereas 1-9 cilantro or coriander can be cultivated.  

Below is a table showing the plants in relation to the spacing required for them to be grown to their adequate needs and requirements. 

Square foot gardening Layout Guide

Square foot gardening spacing

Square foot gardening requires time and money. You need to know what plants you are going to plant, and you’re good to go. Here is a step-by-step guide for you about how to get started with your very own square foot gardening at your own house.

Step 1: Get yourself a 4×4 bed garden that is raised. Beds can be either 6 inches or 12 inches deep, so make sure to let your salesman know what you want. Such depth in a raised garden bed aids in proper drainage and provides ample nutrients to the plants.

Step 2: Add soil. The soil should be a mixture of vermiculite, compost, and peat moss.

  • Vermiculite helps promote growth effectively. It is a hydrous mineral that expands on heating. It’s obtained through mining, and just like peat moss, it is a non-renewable resource.
  • Compost is a mixture of matter that is decomposing. Compost provides the growing plant with organic and inorganic compounds for growth. Dead leaves, manure, and other decaying matter form the components of compost.
  • Peat moss is a type of moss that takes years to grow but is useful for plant growth. It helps to drain a sufficient amount of water and retains the rest needed for the proper growth of the plant.

Step 3: With the help of wood or threads, form a grid over the box such that your box is divided into equal parts measuring one square foot. 

Now, remember, dividing your box depends upon the plant you plan to cultivate. As mentioned above about how much a specific plant will take up space, demarcate the boundaries accordingly. 

For instance, if you want to plant carrots, then divide your raised garden bed into 16 equal parts.

Step 4: Next, plant your desired vegetables or flowers. Since you have formed a lattice over the box, it will help you to sow the seeds or plants with ease.

Square foot gardening calculator

According to some estimates, square foot gardening has been proven to be cost-effective and utilizes less space and water than conventional gardening techniques. In a raised bed garden of 4×4 feet, the vegetables you plan to grow require a specific amount of spacing. This spacing technique has been discussed early on in the article – about how much every plant requires a spacing from the adjacent plants. Secondly, it is important to calculate the amount of soil that the plant needs, i.e., not too much or scanty enough for stunted growth.   

You can calculate the amount of soil required by the plant at squarefootgardening.org/method 

This website offers a convenient way to measure the amount of soil needed in your raised bed garden. One-third of vermiculite, one-third of compost, and one-third of peat moss are ideal for plant growth in square foot gardening. 

Square foot gardening templates

Here I will discuss some examples of how to get started with square foot gardening.

So if I want to plant carrots in my square foot garden, I would get a raised bed garden, add soil to it and divide the box into 16 equal parts with a spacing of three inches between the adjacent carrots. Carrots harvest in about 70 to 80 days. Make sure to loosen the soil around the carrots so that you don’t break them when you try to pull them. 

Cabbages take about 80 to 180 days to grow. If I want to grow cabbages, then I would be able to grow only one cabbage per square foot garden. How will you know that the cabbage is ready? Inspect the head of the cabbage and assess whether it’s firm or not. The head of the cabbage should be at least 4 inches wide and maximally 10 inches (that would 10-25cm wide respectively). You should harvest your cabbage before the warmer seasons.

Spring onions or scallions take about 90 days or 3 months to grow. These vegetables are the easiest to grow. Leaving behind the roots will allow new spring onions to grow. 

Peas take about 10 – 14 weeks (roughly 3 months) to grow. To grow pea plants in your square foot garden, you will need a lattice frame to support their growth. Before becoming a pod, the pea seeds form flowers that can beautify your living space. 

Marigolds can be planted in warmer seasons. They take about 8 weeks to blossom. Sow the seeds of Marigold flower half an inch into the soil of your raised bed garden, and in square feet, four seeds of Marigold can be planted. Similarly, you can plant the delightful and lovely zinnias the same way as the Marigolds. But here’s the fun fact: Zinnias take just 4 to 7 days to grow!

Square foot gardening planting chart

The planting chart is a diagrammatic representation of how you will plant your plants depending on the kind of plant.

Below is the table that shows the vegetables against the number of the same vegetable that can be grown per square foot.  

Square foot gardening planting guide

These days with climate change on the rise and economic factors, people want to grow fruits and vegetables in their homes. But the problem arises in the living spaces that are above ground level or spaces that are too small to have a garden. But there is also another factor that makes square foot gardening all the more popular, and that is that the technique requires you to have scaled grids to have a maximum number of plants in a limited space. 

Square foot gardening was introduced to the Americans in the early eighties by a civil engineer known as Mel Bartholomew, and in the years that followed, more books got credit to his name. These books and through his example inspired and encouraged the American people to cultivate and harvest plants in their backyard or raised garden beds. 

There have been various guides available for planting your square foot gardens. You can find a lot of online as well as in-store guide manuals. Recently I came across ‘The square gardening’ by Phipps. For any beginner looking forward to planning their own garden, this is a wonderful, simplified, and easily understanding guide. It gives a step-by-step procedure to plant and raise your square foot garden. I will definitely recommend this guide for beginners.

I came across to various blogs online, where one can find about square foot gardening. As I mentioned before, Mel Bartholomew has contributed extensively to the world of gardening. His guides and books have provided great knowledge to people who are new to gardening or a gardener. ‘Why You Will Absolutely Love Square Foot Gardening. LESS WEEDING – NO TILLING – NO HEAVY DIGGING – LESS WORK’ by Mel Bartholomew and Suzy Valentine is a great simplified guide that explains the benefits of square foot gardening. 

How to plan and take care of your square foot garden?

The technique of square foot gardening involves using a 4×4 foot raised garden bed that contains a soil mix and is divided into equal parts with the help of a lattice framework or grids. The soil mix will help drive out the weed. Square foot gardening is deemed cost-effective and also helps in managing time effectively. Sow the seeds or cloves or whatever is available into the soil, and you’re good to go. 

Celery, peanuts, broccoli, cabbage, tarragon, rosemary, eggplant, garden rhubarb, pumpkins, cauliflower, oregano, large onions, kale, tomatoes, zucchini, wasabi, watercress, sage, squash, hot pepper, bell pepper, and collards all take a square foot to grow, meaning that only one seed can be planted from any of the above-mentioned plants per square foot. 

Some of the plants can be planted so that two plants can be planted per square foot, including cucumbers, lettuce, sorrel, basil, and radicchio.

Some plants require two square feet of area for their proper growth, including watermelons, melons, and canteloupe. 

Some plants can be planted so that four of these plants can be grown in a square foot. These include parsley, celery, chives, mints, corn, yams, fennel, shallots, arugula, endive, Swiss Chard, and potatoes.

Garlic, leeks, peas, beans, beet, bunching onions, turnips, parsnips, and spinach take 9 plants per square foot. 

Carrots, radishes, and green onions take 16 plants per square foot.

It is important to note that the number of plants per square foot is determined by the kind of plant and the spacing between the adjacent plants. So form a grid or lattice framework that suits the vegetables you plan to plant. 

Each plant has its own set of requirements such as the temperature it requires to grow, the number of days from sowing the seed to the time of harvest, in which season should the seed be sown, the amount of water required by the plant, the correct way od planting a seed, the number of nutrients required by a plant, the pH of the soil that is best for the optimal growth of the plant, the environment surrounding the plant, the right amount of exposure to the sunlight and heat and so on. These parameters are important to assess. After doing a bit of research about the vegetable, you plan on cultivating, ensure the requirements of that particular vegetable, and you’re on your way.  

Square foot gardening tomatoes

Tomato is a berry that has been used extensively in the culinary world. From salads to sauces to drinks, it enjoys an important role in a wide range of dishes. Tomatoes can be high-yielding, meaning that a single tomato seed sowed into the soil of a square foot garden will give you around 20 pounds of tomatoes (roughly 9kgs). For tomatoes, along with a raised bed garden, you will require a lattice frame or a grid that will support the growing tomatoes. One tomato plant can be planted per square foot garden since a spacing of 12 inches is required between adjacent plants. 

Tomatoes require 50 – 80 days to grow depending upon the temperature of the surrounding environment. Warmer environments favor tomato growth, whereas the temperatures going below 50 Fahrenheit (~12 degree Celsius) tend to halt tomato growth. Tomatoes can be grown throughout the year.

Square foot gardening trellis

Trellis is a frame that supports climbing plants. Climbing plants such as flowers like morning glory, star jasmine, moonflower, clematis, and Chinese wisteria among others can be planted with the help of a trellis. Trellis was originally made to support vines, and also to separate different vegetables in a garden. Over time, its use in the growth and support of climbing plants came into being. 

But why do climbing plants need to have a frame lattice or a wall for their growth? The answer lies in the fact that certain plants tend to climb because they do not grow stems or tough and rigid trunks to support themselves. The lattice frame or walls tend to support the climbing plants. Also, some climbers grow upwards to reach better sunlight while other climbers will prefer to grow in shadows. Since the climbers are grown with the help of a lattice frame or simply on a wall, this can help the climbers that benefit from shadows. 

When it comes to square food gardening, a trellis is a technique that is helpful for cultivating peas, tomatoes, beans, and cucumbers. These plants require a support to grow longitudinally. 

How can you grow on grid or a trellis? 

Step 1: Get a raised bed garden and fill it with soil mix. Make divisions.

Step 2: Select a climbing plant of your choice and sow the seeds.

Step 3: Insert a trellis at one side of the raised bed garden. 

Step 4: When your plants starts to grow, tie the plant to the framework/trellis by strings or threads. 

Eight pea plants can be planted per square foot, whereas nine bean seeds can be planted per square foot with 4 inches of spacing. Similarly to the pea plant, eight tomatoes can be planted per square foot.  Cucumbers are sowed differently in that two seeds are planted per square foot with spacing of six inches.

Square foot gardening soil mix

Soil mix is deemed important when it comes to the growth of the plant. Every plant species has a specific set of nutritional demands. Some plants require more magnesium, or cobalt, or any other element, or it could be some compound that drains or holds the water in the raised garden bed so well. Three important materials have been identified as essential to have in the soil to promote better and healthier growth of plants. These are compost, vermiculite, and peat moss. 

  • Vermiculite has been known to promote growth in plants in an effective manner. Vermiculite tends to absorb ample amounts of water, and in addition to this, attracts vital elements such as Potassium, Calcium, and Magnesium. Essentially, vermiculite is a hydrous mineral that, when heated, expands. Mines are the source of vermiculite and hence are a non-renewable resource.
  • Compost is consists of decaying matter in our environment. The growing plants need organic and inorganic compounds for healthy growth. Compost is formed by dead and decaying leaves, manure, and other decaying microbe or animal carcasses present in the surrounding.

Moss can take years to grow. The importance of moss in plantation lies due to its water draining and retaining potentials. The roots of the plants will get access to adequate amounts of water, and with water, nutrients will be attracted as well. 

Square foot gardening garlic

Not only does garlic make food delicious, but it also holds certain important and beneficial health benefits. Just like onions, garlic takes about 90 days to grow. Plant garlic in Autumn, and the plant will be ready to harvest in Spring.

To get garlic in your square foot garden, first, separate the cloves of the garlic. Then sow 4 – 9 cloves in the soil per square foot. The rule is simple. If there is a spacing of six inches in a row, then you can plant 4 cloves per square foot. But if there is a spacing of three to four inches, then a maximum of 9 cloves can be planted. Remember to ensure that the pointed part of the clove is facing upwards and the blunt end in sowed in the soil.

Companion Planting

When it comes to agriculture and gardening, the act of planting various crops near to one another is known as companion planting. The aim of companion planting is to control the pests, improve pollination, augment the space available, allows the beneficial insects to thrive by giving them a habitat, and also maximize the productivity of the crop that is being planted.

It is important to note that every plant has a friend and a foe. In the company of a friend, your vegetables will thrive and grow, whereas if your plant is growing next to an enemy then it will affect your plant’s growth. 

When you decide on a plant you want to grow in your square foot garden, then make sure to check the list below to know the friends and foes of your plant. 

Here I will list the friends and enemies of various vegetables and fruits to guide you through it. 

  •  If you want to plant cucumbers, then beans, lettuce, peas, cabbage, tomatoes, and radish are cucumber’s friends, meaning that cucumbers will grow better in the presence of these plants – providing cucumbers with beneficial insects, pest control, pollination, and causes the cucumbers to grow healthy.
  • The enemy of cucumbers includes aromatic herbs. Aromatic herbs will negatively influence the growth of cucumbers if both of these plants are planted side by side.
  • If you plan to plant kale then, it would be good to plant them next to onions, but not tomatoes, peppers, and squash.
  • The friends of onions include broccoli, cabbage, carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, and kale.
  • The enemies of onions include beans and peas, so don’t grow onions next to these two plants.
  • Beans grow better with eggplant, potatoes, radishes, and cucumbers. But they won’t grow alongside peppers, garlic, and onions in a healthy way.
  • Eggplants grow better with beans and peppers, but not with fennels.
  • Broccoli’s friends include onions and spinach while the foes of broccoli include tomatoes, squash, and peppers.
  • Cabbage thrives alongside potatoes, lettuce, onions, and cucumbers. The growth of cabbage will be affected when it is grown next to tomatoes.
  • Peas grow better next to radish, cucumber, tomatoes, and carrots. Whereas planting onions next to peas is not a good option.
  • Lettuce makes good friends with carrots, cucumber, onions, radish, beets, and squash, and has no enemies that halt its growth.
  • Squash thrives alongside lettuce, but not broccoli and kale.
  • Tomatoes grow better next to onions, peppers, and cucumbers, but not alongside kale, corn, potatoes, cabbage, and broccoli.
  • Turnips’ friends include peas, whereas eggplant is a big no-no.
  • Potatoes sustain a healthy relationship with beans and cabbage, but not with tomatoes.
  • Peppers form good relations with tomatoes, eggplant, and onions. Whereas beans, kale, and broccoli are enemies of the pepper plant.
  • Cabbage thrives in the company of onions, cucumbers, potatoes, and lettuce. Tomatoes are the enemies of cabbage.
  • The carrot plant forms good ties with lettuce, onions, peas, and beans but not with dill.
  • Radishes grow better alongside lettuce, cucumber, peas, and beans, but not kohlrabi

Square foot gardening book

There was a time that a lot of people owned large areas of land where they grew vegetables and fruits, and flowers. When the time to harvest came, they would pluck whatever mother earth gave and either used it for themselves or sold it through markets. These days almost everyone buys vegetables from a supermarket or a street vendor. 

With smart living came smart ways, and one of these includes the introduction of square foot gardening. Mel Bartholomew has written about square foot gardening extensively. Is it the influence of some documentaries about food or just for the sake of a hobby that people have started to focus on square foot gardening in the years is left to debate.

Mel Bartholomew published his first book on square foot gardening in 1981. The book was titled “All New Square Foot Gardening”. This book is pretty old, and it is where Mel discusses the importance of having a square foot gardening technique.

In the March of 2013 came another book from author Mel Bartholomew titled “Square Metre Gardening”, which was aimed at the European markets. In it, the author took help from the British editors so that the techniques can be explained to the people living in the European countries. 

If you are unsure about when fruit gets ripe or when a vegetable is ready to harvest, I would recommend Mel Bartholomew’s book “Square Foot Gardening: Growing Perfect Vegetables,” published in 2017. This is a helpful guide for beginners who are not confident in assessing and harvesting a plant. 

For the little ones who are enthusiastic about gardening, Mel Bartholomew wrote a book in 2014 called, “Square Metre Gardening with Kids”. Mel Bartholomew shares his experience with gardening and how kids can take part in it. It is also a guide for the parents on how to keep their kids indulged in the activity of square foot gardening. 

Conclusion:

Over the years, square foot gardening has become popular due to small living spaces and the joy that comes from planting your food. Plantation has several benefits for the human mind and body. Not only does it keep one active and healthy, but it also provides calmness and helps the brain stay attentive, and encourages us to stay creative. 

In today’s time, small living spaces demand a reasonable area for plantation, especially when the area where you’re living is above the ground and the space you have is limited. With climate change and economic collapse, square foot gardening is ideal for fresh and healthy produce that nourishes your body. It has been known that looking at plants can uplift a person’s mood and bring about feelings of vitality. 

Square foot gardening is cost-effective and uses less water and nutrients as compared to conventional gardening. There is no chance of weeding in square foot gardening. These raised bed gardens offer wonderful produce in a limited space. Time and money both are saved. The overall activity of square foot gardening keeps a person active and happy. 

There are books written and articles present on the internet at your disposal that explore the idea of having a square foot garden at your home. Most famously, the author Mel Bartholomew has written books to his credit on the art of square foot gardening. He encourages everyone to get a square foot garden at their homes and enjoy the delightful fruits and vegetables that can be cultivated at home. 

Square foot gardening is a beneficial technique to have in your house when it comes to gardening. Apart from giving vegetables, fruits, and flowers, square foot gardening can make your house look good and attractive. All you have to do is to get yourselves a raised bed garden of 4×4 feet, add soil to it and form divisions keeping in my the plant you’re going to plant, and you’re all set. It will take days, but the wait is worth it. The whole journey from planting the seed to the time of harvesting is amazing and exciting.

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