Gardening is one of those things I believe everyone can do. It is a great feeling to see a child watch a plant grow, and then see the light in their eyes when they pull their first carrot from the ground. The gardening strategy we are about to examine is truly for everyone. I hear from lots of people that they don’t have the space for a garden, or “good” soil, or the time to tend & weed a garden. Well guess what? It does not take a lot of space, time, or soil to grow a garden.
Square foot gardening is a style of gardening popularized by Mel Bartholomew in a 1981 in his book(s) and PBS television series. Square foot gardening is the practice of planning and creating small but heavily planted gardens utilizing one square foot per plant selection. The practice combines concepts from other organic gardening methods including a strong focus on compost, densely planted raised beds, and soil stewardship. Proponents claim that the method is particularly well-suited for areas with poor soil, beginner gardeners, or those with disabilities.
Basically square foot gardening boils down to a few basic concepts:
- Gardens are designed in raised bed style.
- The soil filling the raised beds is rich and full of biologically active compost and has excellent drainage.
- All plantings are given 1 square foot per plant selection.
When planning your garden either a 3’ x 3’ or a 4’ x 4’ raised bed will be the easiest to maintain because you will have access to all plants without walking in the garden bed. Walking in the raised beds compacts the soil which is detrimental to your plants. If you desire a larger garden, consider several raised beds designed in an appealing pattern or layout that fit your space. I would recommend that you always keep 3’ walkways between garden beds, making weeding and maintenance easier. Also pay attention to the orientation (north-south or east-west) of your garden bed when making plant selections (you don’t want to plant corn where it will shade all of the other plants). A few other tips for making your raised bed garden:
- Plan your garden on paper to maximize your productivity, minimize your work, and make the most attractive use of your space.
- Successive planting is a great strategy to increase your gardening season; after a cool season spring crop like lettuce or radishes is harvested replant the space with beets, beans, or turnips for the summer. Then in the fall replant again with a cool season crop.
- Utilize your vertical space with trellises, fencing, or cages to allow climbing or tall growing plants to occupy space without encroaching on neighboring plantings.
My favorite adaptation of square foot gardening is using the principles for an indoor garden. A grow tent is the perfect place to utilize these concepts. You get to grow a variety of plants in a small space, without any weeding or having to contend with the elements, bugs, or disease. By growing in an indoor climate-controlled space, you can minimize labor and maximize yield. Just buy a tent, a soft fabric pot or raised bed kit, build a liner (to protect the floor from water damage,) add some rich organic soil and some seeds and you are on your way. For the do-it-yourselfers out there, here are instructions on how to build a raised bed garden. Check out the planting guide below for some ideas and recommendations on plantings and density.