We all know that organic produce is much healthier because they don’t contain any chemicals and additives. But let’s face it: organic fruits and vegetables are costly. With the way the economy is going, it’s doubtful that things will get better. One economical way more and more people are doing to get around this is through square foot gardening.
What is square foot gardening?
Simply put, square foot gardening is a method of growing a full vegetable garden in a 4×4-foot box. It’s the brainchild of Mel Bartholomew. Back in the 1980s, he came up with an idea how people can grow their own fruits and vegetables even if they have a tiny backyard.
Why grow square foot gardens?
Simple and easy
One of the reasons why square foot gardening remains so popular is because anyone can do it. That’s because square foot gardens are practically maintenance-free. The only thing you need to do is to water your fruits and veggies regularly after planting them and check for weeds. There’s no need for you to worry about tilling the soil regularly or rotating your crops.
Ideal for small spaces
Square foot gardens can yield enough fruits and vegetables to feed a family of four. Yet, it only requires 20% of the same space you need in a traditional row garden, making them perfect even if you have a small backyard.
Save money, live healthily
Square foot gardening can help you shave off a few dollars off your grocery bills because you don’t need to buy vegetables, fruits, and herbs anymore. You can just walk over to your garden and harvest just what you need. This means that you can now use the money for your other expenses or add to your savings.
And because you’re the one who grew them, you’re 100% sure that they’re fresh and organic.
How to start square foot gardening?
Choose the location
The first step in square foot gardening is to choose where you’ll set it up. You’d want to find a place that gets between 6-8 hours of sunlight, and away from trees and other obstacles. If you can, choose a location that’s close to your house. That way, it’s not only easy for you to water your crops, but also convenient when you need to do a bit of harvesting for lunch or dinner.
Get your bed ready
You can find ready-made square foot garden beds in your local nursery, hardware or landscaping store. If you’re kind of handy, you can construct one yourself using 6-inch wide wood. Make sure that you use untreated wood when building your square foot garden box. Treated wood contains chemicals that can seep into the soil, which, in turn, will make its way to your crops.
Prepare your square foot gardening soil
For a standard 4×4 foot garden box, you’ll need to make 8 cubic feet of soil mix.
The ideal mix for square foot gardening soil is made of 1/3 part compost, 1/3 part vermiculite, and 1/3 part peat moss. You can find them at your local home improvement or landscaping store. Be sure to check the label to make sure that the compost you get is organic, and doesn’t contain any fertilizers and chemicals.
This is the soil mixture Mel Bartholomew uses as well as by so many other square foot gardeners after. That’s because this soil mix is best to help you cut down on using fertilizers and pesticides. This type of soil mixture also does a much better job of keeping air and moisture in, so we recommend to stick with this. The only exception is if you can’t find any vermiculite. If this happens, you can replace this with sand or more compost.
Plot out your square foot gardening grid
The next step is to create the grid across your square foot garden box. This will help you organize what you will plant, and maximize the space.
You can use any material to make the grids: leftover untreated wood, wire, nylon rope, or plastic strips. Old Venetians blinds will also work. Again, make sure that these are free from any chemicals that can seep into the soil.
Choose your plants
Now comes the fun part: choosing which plants to grow in your square foot garden.
For this, think about which fruits, vegetables, and herbs do you frequently use. Are you fond of making pesto and fresh salsa? What veggies do you usually have in your salads? Perhaps your children love jams, and you want to make homemade ones for them to enjoy?
Once you’ve picked out the plants you want to grow in your square foot garden, the next thing is to plot them out across your square foot gardening box. That way, they have enough space to grow, and your garden won’t look too crowded.
An easy way to do this is by thinking about your plants in terms of sizes. For small plants like radishes and beets, you can plant 16 of these per square foot. For carrots, onions, and other medium-size veggies, plant 9 per square while four large vegetables like lettuces can fit into one square foot.
Plant your seeds
When you’re happy with your selection and arrangement of plants in your square foot garden, it’s time to do some planting.
First things first. Make sure that your square foot gardening soil is moist before planting your seeds. If you plant the seeds while the soil is dry, it can become too compact and crusty when you water it, killing the seeds. On the other hand, don’t make the soil too wet because this can cause the seeds to rot.
The best way to check your soil’s moisture is to get a fistful of it and squeeze it in your hands. There should be no water dripping from it as you squeeze it. It should also be able to hold its shape.
After loosening up the soil, make a shallow hole using your fingers and drop one or two seeds in it. Cover this with soil and give it a light watering.
Don’t pack or press the soil too much down on the seed when you cover it. This is a common mistake people make when planting seeds. Packing or pushing the soil keeps it from holding water and oxygen.
Maintain and check your plants
After you plant all the seeds, the only thing left for you to do is to make sure that you keep the soil moist and free from weeds. In a couple of weeks, your seeds would have grown into mature plants that are ripe for the picking.
As you can see, square foot gardening is an effortless way to grow your own fruits and vegetables. So why not give it a try?