What is Square Foot Gardening?

gwtamaraJanuary 1, 2013

Square Foot Gardening is a specific gardening system developed by an engineer named Mel Bartholemew after his early retirement. His method was popularized by a PBS TV series and his book (which, according to his website, is now the all-time best-selling gardening book), Square Foot Gardening. Today, he has "un-retired" and uses his time and resources to share Square Foot methods around the world-- particularly in third-world and other needy communities, churches and missionary schools, community gardens, and anywhere else people request him! We like the guy. Square foot gardeners plant in blocks rather than rows, usually in raised beds, and reach in to tend the plants (often using raised beds with prepared soil) rather than walking on the soil they're trying to plant. We plant each seed individually, rather than scattering seeds in long rows, and give them exactly the space they need (and no more) to make every inch of space in our gardens productive. As soon as one crop is harvested, we pull out the plants, add a trowelful of compost to replenish the soil, and replant with something new (appropriate to our climate and time of year). In this way, our gardens use less space, water, and time than many more traditional gardens. We like that. Many of us on the Square Foot Forum follow Mel's methods to the letter, or did when we began gardening; others have learned and share ideas from other intensive gardening methods (and our own experience!). Mel's website shares his ten basic concepts of sqft gardening (any material in parentheses is ours):

  1. Layout: Arrange your garden in squares, not rows (2 feet wide if you can only reach in from one side; up to four feet wide if you can reach in from both sides); 3 feet wide works better if your bed is 5 feet or longer and has a trellis along the long side i.e. 10x3 - also, leave room to walk behind the trellis side)
  2. Boxes: Build boxes to hold a new soil mix above ground. (6 inches deep minimum; aka raised beds)
  3. Aisles: Space boxes 3' apart to form walking aisles
  4. Soil: Fill boxes with Mel's special soil mix (forum members have contributed their variations below)
  5. Grid: Make a square foot grid for the top of each box (to mark your planting areas)
  6. Care: Never walk on your growing soil. Tend your garden from the aisles.
  7. Select: Plant a different flower, vegetable, or herb crop in each square foot (according to the plant's spacing needs - see below)
  8. Plant: Plant only 2 or 3 seeds per hole. Place transplants in a slight saucer-shaped depression.
  9. Water: Water by hand from a bucket of sun-warmed water (again, forum members have contributed their variations below)
  10. Harvest: When you finish harvesting a square foot, add compost and replant it with a new and different crop.

That's the brief version!

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