For years, I would plant according to the seed packages and inevitably end up with a ton of weeds between my plants. Of course, it didn’t help that I used straw with seed in it, but that is a story unto itself. Last year, I discovered square foot gardening while playing around with my online GrowVeg software. Not only did I double my production, I saved my back from weeding. It’s not too late if you are still planting or will be planting a late season crop.
What is a Square Foot Garden?
The concept of square foot gardening was started by Mel Bartholomew in 1981 when he asked the very same questions I did over the last few years–why do we plant in long rows and why do we weed. In a nutshell, this planting method is intensive planting in 12 by 12 inch squares. For example, I plant, 9 bean plants in a 12 inch square . Before, I planted maybe 2 or 3 when I could get my rows lined up. Realize I never followed the instructions on the seed packages and was planting closer then they proposed anyways.
For more information about square foot gardening, buy his book HERE.
9 bean plants in one 12 inch square? You are crazy Anna.
Before you bulk and tell me I am crazy, not all seeds are planted that closely. Corn is four seeds per square and tomatoes are planted one per square if you prune your plant.
What about the yield, you ask? It is amazing! I doubled my yields and said goodbye to weeding for certain plants.
Not everything, in my opinion, should be planted using the square foot method unless you have endless room. I gave my tomatoes 4 squares since I don’t have the heart to prune them. In order for tomatoes to cooperate via the square foot method, you need to keep them to a single stem. I am just a little nervous about this concept.
Squash, pumpkins, and watermelon sprawl so either you have to plant vertically with heavy duty trellises or let them wander. Everything else in the garden was really happy. Even the weeds that grew under the broccoli and Brussels sprouts.
Note the beans shut down the weeds.
So, are you ready to square foot garden?
Create Your Raised Beds
I plant in raised beds. You can make your own by following my instructions HERE or can buy various beds already made. I use cedar since it is long lasting. The plastic beds that I bought years ago have warped and one fell apart.
You can buy raised beds at the following places:
Consider purchasing or making beds that are tall. If I had to do it all over again, I would make them at least 12 inches high. Mine are currently 6 inches tall.
In my opinion, the best soil for a raised bed in my opinion is 1/2 soil and 1/2 compost.
When I tried making the grids for the square foot gardening method for the first time, it was tedious. I have 32 beds and I made a grid for each one out of leftover plastic utensils and twine. The end of season clean up was a b*tch since the ropes got tangled in the plants and the straw. But like any new adventure you learn.
Now I just use four pieces of wood to measure. It is pretty clumsy. I am looking of a new system.
Some people use fish netting or twine and leave it in place, but I can’t understand how they add soil to the beds the next year with the grid in place. Plus I turn over my beds in the fall to expose that dreaded squash borer bug. How am I going to do that with a permanent grid in place?
If you are really handy, you can make your own wood planting grids. Listed below are two variations.
- Holes drilled into a wood plywood for various configurations.
- Or handy rounded holes created in a wood plywood. Suzy shows two different configurations: 9 and 16 holes. Just keep moving your panels and add sand to mark where you planted your seeds as illustrated HERE.
How to Plant Seeds the Square Foot Method:
I have been using GrowVeg software for over a year. I love it since it helps me figure out where I can plant my crops by moving the crops back and forth in pre-made drawn beds. The software saves my plans year after year so I remember which plants where in last year’s beds.
Honestly, it has been a time saver! (You can try a trial for free.) The software offers both regular planting and the square foot method as well.
Also, Gardener’s Supply offers a free kitchen planner for your use as well. See HERE.
Join the Conversation:
Do you use the the square foot method and if so, what are your tips?
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Photo by Serene Vannov