Square foot gardening is the practice of planning and creating small but intensively planted gardens.
The practice combines concepts from other organic gardening methods, including a strong focus on compost, densely planted raised beds, and biointensive attention to a small, clearly defined area. This method is particularly well suited for beginner gardeners, adaptive recreation for those with disabilities, or as a family activity.
You can get started with a kit, or make your own 4 sided box in 1 foot increments (4’ x 4’ box is a good starting dimension). The key is to divide your bed into 1’ x 1’ increments. This can be done by overlaying a grid of wire, string, or wood. By creating smaller square beds, the gardener can easily reach the entire planting area without stepping on and compacting the soil. Boxes can be built with plywood bottoms, which can then be placed on a tabletop or a raised platform for those who wish to garden without bending or squatting, or to make gardening easily accessible for wheelchair, cane or walker users. Most plants need 8-12 hours of direct sunlight every day, so don’t put your garden on the shady side of the yard. Proximity to irrigation or a water tap should also be considered for ease of watering.
The soil is typically not walked on and thus not compacted, and it remains loose and more easily workable due to the composition of the recommended soil mixture. Using specific soil mixtures within the beds can help to increase water-holding capacities, so that the garden needs less additional water than in systems reliant on generic soil. The following soil mixture is a good recommendation: one-third compost, one-third peat moss, and one-third vermiculite. Soil levels vary depending on the size of the container, and type of crops grown, but generally crops can grow in s little as 4”-6” of soil mix.
Different seeds are planted in each square, to ensure a rational amount of each type of crop is grown, and to conserve seeds instead of over-planting, crowding and thinning plants. Common spacing is one plant per square for larger plants (broccoli, basil, tomato, etc.), four plants per square for medium large plants like lettuce, nine plants per square for medium-small plants like spinach, and sixteen per square for small plants such as onions and carrots. Here is a nice resource list for number of plants per SQF: http://www.mysquarefootgarden.net/plant-spacing/
As a general rule, look at the seed packet for the recommended plant spacing (ignore the row spacing). If the spacing is:
- 3” apart (or smaller), plant 16 per square foot
- 4” apart, plant 9 per square foot
- 6” apart, plant 4 per square foot
- 12” apart, plant 1 per square foot
Natural pest control
Choosing what to plant together for the happiest, healthiest garden is called “companion planting.” Companion planting is the practice of growing plants next to each other for mutual benefit.
Example: Planting dill attracts lady bugs, who then feed on aphids. The lady bugs act as a natural pest control by eliminating aphids that would otherwise munch on the rest of your veggies.
Different seeds are planted in each square, to ensure a rational amount of each type of crop is grown, and to conserve seeds instead of overplanting, crowding and thinning plants.
This method maximizes the amount of crop yield for the space available when compared to traditional row planting methods. This means that resources are maximized and overall gardening costs go down.
Because of the water retention properties of the soil, and the easy access to the base/roots of the plants, overall water consumption is decreased.
Weeds may be easier to remove due to the light soil, and accessing them can be easier as raised beds bring the soil level closer to the gardener. Densely planted crops can form a living mulch, and also prevent weeds from establishing or even germinating in the first place.
Activity and produce
The scale and access of square foot gardening allows all types of people the opportunity to garden in their own backyards. It also allows families or individuals to grow fresh produce and herbs inexpensively and conveniently.
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