Build a Square Foot Garden This Year!

Last Year’s Square Foot Garden

A few years ago I asked to pick the brain of my husband’s co-worker, who is good at gardening. Because I am not. She pointed me to square foot gardening. I soon set one up in our yard just outside the back door. It is so easy and so fun! Today I’m going to share with you how to build one for yourself.

{{{This is a lot of information, and most of it is from the book All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew, but it is by no means exhaustive. I highly recommend buying it or at least checking it out from the library! I wish I’d taken more pictures of the building process, but I didn’t. So I’m relying on Pinterest! Click on the pictures to find the sources. Thanks! }}}

Features of Square Foot Gardening
  • Build 4×4 raised beds
    • every plant easy to access
    • no stepping on soil
    • close to house
    • with experience, add more beds to meet needs
  • Square foot grid and efficient spacing (no thinning)
    • no wasted seeds
    • no wasted garden space
    • a large amount of food in a very small space
    • easier to stagger crops 
  • New soil (not garden soil)
    • minimal weeds
    • little or no need for fertilizing
    • high quality, aerated soil makes plants happy
Start with one garden, then add more with experience. You can have gardens designated for salads, daily veggies, canning produce, trading, etc. You can also “square off” other size gardens if necessary. 
 
Keep it close to the house so you can see it and remember to be IN it, which is the easiest way to prevent pests. 
 
Instead of planting according to the sowing directions on the packet, space your seeds according to the thinning instructions. You will do no thinning! 

 

Source: square-footgardening.blogspot.com via Tauna M on Pinterest


1. Build It: Frame, Grid, and Vertical Support
 
Frame: Cedar and Pine are the most commonly used. You can use other types of materials as well. 
 
Basic Frame for 4×4 Box: 
  • 4 pieces of lumber, 1” x 6” long
  • Wood screws
  • Weed cloth
Fasten lumber together into square shape, place weed cloth on your garden location, and place the frame over it. Done!
 
Save Money: We used concrete blocks (about 17 needed). They are inexpensive and you can grow nasturtiums and marigolds in the holes for beauty and natural pest control. The sizing may be a bit off, but easy to fake the grid and make it work. 🙂
 
Grid
  • 6 pieces of 1” wide wood or vinyl, 4” long 
Fasten pieces into a grid, fitting into the frame and dividing the garden into square feet. You could also make a grid with nails and string. For concrete frames, you can still have a grid, but it will sit inside the frame instead of on it. It seems to be ok that way as long as it sets inside the concrete and not over it.
 
Save Money: Use available cardboard or several layers of newspaper instead of weed cloth to cut cost and prevent weeds. You can also use old horizontal mini blinds for the grid.

 
 



Vertical Support

  • Two 5-foot electrical conduit pipes, 1/2” diameter 
  • One 4-foot conduit pipe, 1/2” diameter
  • Two 18-inch rebar supports, 1/2” diameter
  • Two elbow connectors
  • Trellis netting 
The vertical frame will be at the back of your garden for climbing plants like tomatoes, peas, pole beans, melons, squash, etc. Go to your local home supply warehouses and ask them to cut conduit pipe to the needed lengths. I use Dalen Gardeneer 5×15 trellis netting sold on Amazon.  


2. Fill It

 

The book recommends using Mel’s Mix (measured by volume): 1/3 blended compost, 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 coarse vermiculite. No need for tilling or fertilizing later. 

 
Save Money, maybe: Use a gardening mix from the nursery with some matured horse manure mixed in. It’s cheaper, but you may have to “feed” the soil a little more later. It’s debatable whether it’s really cheaper or whether your plants will grow as well this way vs. Mel’s Mix. This is what I did, but I’m wishing I would have done the Mel’s Mix.  

 
 


3. Plan It

Make a list of the produce you eat, starting with the ones you eat most often. Here’s mine. 

What we eat the most: 
broccoli
kale
parsley
spinach
asparagus
lettuce
bell pepper
cucumber
carrots
celery

Other things I’d like to grow
tomatoes
leeks
swiss chard
onions
snap peas
winter squash
watermelon
pumpkins
green beans

 


Print out this handy planning grid and write out what you want to plant in each square. Then indicate where you think you’ll swap in other crops based on the planting schedule in the book. Here’s my planning grid for this year. 

 
Spinach (Cucumber)
Lettuce (Cucumber)
Spinach (butternut squash)
Snap peas (bush beans)
Lettuce (Red bell pepper)
swiss chard (lettuce)
Lettuce (swiss chard)
Swiss chard (Red bell pepper)
Kale
Parsley
Kale
Parsley
Spinach (carrots)
Carrots (spinach)
Spinach (carrots)
Carrots (spinach)
 
We grow berries, apples, strawberries, herbs, and grapes (and maybe blueberries and asparagus this year!) elsewhere, so this is primarily for fun veggies and green smoothies. 🙂 

Extending the Season: 
We use fabric row covers on all our beds in the early spring to help warm up the soil and protect early plants. They also work well as the weather cools down in the fall. Here are some other ideas for extending the season. 
  • Cover with dark plastic
  • Water with warm water, turn, water again, then cover with plastic. 
  • Use PVC hoop houses to protect early or late plants from excessive rain and cold
  • Sow seeds indoors a few weeks before transplanting. 
 

 


4. Plant It

  • Figure out how many plants can go in each square (based on thinned spacing)
  • Draw boxes in the square with your fingers
  • Use your finger or a pencil eraser to make a planting hole (depth according to seed package) in each box 
  • Fill in holes and pat down soil
  • Water
Seeds or Starts? Some things are better to buy as plant starts, especially if you are a beginner: broccoli, red peppers, herbs like parsley, cauliflower, onion sets, tomatoes, eggplant, cabbage, and sometimes cucumber. 
 
Label your squares! Use plastic or copper labels found in packages at nurseries or on Amazon, like the Luster Leaf Rapiclip 4-inch Garden Plant Labels I use. 
 
5. Maintain It
  • Plant something new when a square is harvested. Consult your planting schedule (from the book, or link below).
  • Before planting new seeds in a square, use a trowel to work in some compost
  • Use natural pest repellents like vinegar water, water with a bit of dish soap in it, or just the pick-and toss method. If it causes you big problems, build a protective structure for next year.  
  • Water at the base of the plants instead of all over the leaves to avoid problems like fungal disease
Additional Resources
I’m always finding new resources, but here’s some that I’ve been using so far this year.  

 

 

 



Do you have any great gardening resources to share? Please do! Have you tried square foot gardening? What has been your experience?

 

 

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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. THANK YOU!!!!!!!!! OH thank you, thank you, thank you for posting this!!! This makes it all sound so easy. Totally doing this…I’m going to do the concrete block thing. So awesome…thank you!!!

    Sarah

  2. Hi Tauna,
    What a good idea! I’d love to do this but we don’t have the right sun exposure for a vegie garden. We’ve lived here for 45 years and have tried to grow every vegetable we eat …..to no success,unfortunately. EXCEPT for choko (chayote).
    God Bless
    Barb from Australia

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