What Is a Square Foot Garden?
The formal square foot garden (SFG) method was introduced back in the 1970s as an alternative to traditional, in-the-ground gardening. This method is great for gardeners who don’t have a ton of space and want to start small. There’s a good chance you’ve seen something very like a square foot garden, even if you didn’t know it at the time. Square foot gardens have some particular advantages over traditional gardens.
● SFG beds are small, raised beds, usually four feet by four feet, with walkways between beds if you have multiple. Because the beds are small, you can reach everything inside without having to walk in the bed itself, so your soil stays loose and allows plant roots to grow better. Because the beds are raised, they require less bending over and have better soil drainage.
● Instead of planting in rows, beds are laid out in a one-foot by one-foot grid system, with each square foot assigned a particular plant. Usually, you’ll install a physical grid over the top of your beds. This eliminates rows and ensures that every inch of your garden is devoted to growing vegetables. It also makes it easy to keep yourself organized and plan what goes where in your garden.
● The original method requires a specific mix of soil; today, many gardeners choose to use different blends of soil. But either way, you can line the bottom of your bed with weed-blocking cloth and fill it with your chosen mix to almost completely prevent the growth of weeds.
How to Plan Your Square Foot Garden
When planning your square foot garden, you do need to keep some limitations in mind.
● They work best for small and medium-sized plants, like lettuce, peas, cucumbers, herbs, tomatoes, peppers, etc. Large plants, like squash or watermelon, or plants that produce runners, like strawberries, aren’t ideal for the square foot layout (although they can still benefit from the raised bed system).
● They can get expensive. If you’re installing a number of beds, the cost of lumber and soil fill can get expensive. If you’re setting up your SFG for the first time, make sure you know how many beds you can afford before you start planning.
Some other tips for planning:
● Remember that some crops grow best in cool weather, while others grow best in the heat of summer, and plan accordingly. Peas, spinach, lettuce, and broccoli are some examples of crops that can be started outside in early to mid-spring, then planted again at the end of summer for a fall harvest.
Tomatoes, peppers, basil, and beans can be started early indoors but should not be planted outside until all threat of frost has passed. You may choose to have a cool-weather bed, and once your lettuce and spinach start to wilt in the heat of the summer, you can pull them out and replace them with tomato starters and other summer vegetables. Some vegetables, like onions, can be planted in early spring but will be harvested all throughout the summer, so don’t plan to reuse their space for another plant.
● Keep sun exposure and plant height in mind. Make sure you put your beds somewhere that they’ll get plenty of sunshine. As you lay out what will go in each square, plant taller crops facing south and shorter crops facing north to maximize sun exposure.
Once you start planning your square foot garden, you won’t want to stop! You can take advantage of some free online websites, like SFG Planner or Kitchen Garden Planner, to help you know when and how many of your chosen crops to plant.
Also, look into local gardening groups that meet in person or are on Facebook to ask for advice and get tips for your specific geographical area. When you’re just starting out, getting advice from others who have been doing it for years can be invaluable!
We’d love to hear from you. Do you use a square foot garden? What are you planting this year?