Article and photo by Donna Iverson
Last weekend, I headed out to my community garden veggie bed. Even though it was chilly for April, I carried seed packets of a variety of lettuces and wooden stakes to set up for square foot gardening.
Square foot gardening is where you divide your garden beds into squares, measuring approximately 12" by 12." That is what is recommended by Mel Bartholomew, the man who invented square foot gardening back in 1981 when his book of the same name was published. As the years have gone by, I have drifted a bit from that specification, making squares and rectangles that approximate that size.
Gardening can be a daunting undertaking. By dividing the bed into squares, it breaks down the task into manageable sized spaces. I take it one square at a time. Every few days, I plant another square. As spring and summer progresses, if one square isn't doing well, I replant. But most squares sprout and produce veggies just fine giving me a feeling of success. Troublesome squares get extra attention and are coaxed along.
So if you are a gardener who fears she doesn't have a green thumb, or a new gardener, or a gardener who wants to try a new approach, square foot gardening may fit the bill.
The advantages of a raised bed are many. A raised bed warms up earlier in the spring helping with the sprouting process and stays warmer in late fall, extending your harvest. Because the veggies are packed close together in the squares, it deters weeds and pests. It also spares your back, if that is an issue.
Among the plants that thrive in a square foot garden are onions, lettuce, radishes, carrots, and tomatoes. Twelve radishes fit in one square while a tomato plant requires a square of its own.
While square foot gardening is usually done in a raised bed, it can also be done with in-ground beds. There are a number of ways to mark out the squares, including using string anchored at the edges of the bed. Or use stones or even small tree branches to create the squares.
On the down side, raised beds often need extra watering especially in mid-summer when they tend to dry out. And while a large variety of vegetables can be grown in a raised bed, it is not ideal for crops that take up a lot of room, like squash or sweet corn. However, you could easily put a trellis at the north end of the bed, and grow vining plants like beans and peas.
Square foot gardening is a way to create a small but intensity planted vegetable bed, and is ideal for gardeners without a lot of space. It's great for gardeners who just want a small veggie bed that is easy to start and can be placed outside your back door.
You can learn many garden techniques with a square foot garden, like crop rotation, soil regeneration, composting, and companion planting. Subjects for future gardening articles. For more information, check out Bartholomew's books at your public library or visit the Square Foot Gardening Foundation: https://squarefootgardening.org