Square Foot Gardening for Beginners
Square Foot Gardening (SFG) is a simple, efficient, inexpensive, and rewarding method of gardening that has been gaining in popularity in recent years. As two-income families struggle to find room in their busy lives for this enjoyable hobby, and as apartment-dwellers seek new ways of creating green space, it is no wonder that this gardening technique – one that takes less time, less money, creates less waste and yet a higher yield of vegetables than traditional gardening methods – has piqued the curiosity of many avid gardeners.
What is Square Foot Gardening?
Although professionals have suggested varying techniques, a basic square foot garden would typically be a raised bed of standard size – often 4′ x 4′ – with a permanent grid set on top of the bed, dividing it visually into 12″x12″ compartments. Different ‘crops’ can be planted in each of these sections of the grid, and because you don’t need to leave room for walking between rows, each square foot is utilized to the fullest for growing plants. The number of seeds you plant per section depends on the package directions – generally, between 1 and 16 plants will fit in a square foot.
Benefits of Square Foot Gardening
Because the garden boxes are built UP, the plants grow in a special mix that you place there intentionally, and the ground underneath remains undisturbed: this ensures that the soil is extremely rich and beneficial for the plants, and prevents weeds from being stirred up during the typical tilling process. Because you do not need to over-plant and then weed out extras later, you save seeds, money, and time. Because there are no walkways to weed, you save even more time! Because you only have to water the plants themselves, water and energy are both utilized more efficiently.
What Supplies Will I Need?
In order to build your SFG boxes, you will need four 4′-long boards of lumber (1×6 or 2×6 inch), weed cloth, soil mix (1/3 peat moss, 1/3 vermiculite, 1/3 compost), 6 four-foot wood lath boards (for the grid), wood screws, a power drill, and seeds. Each box will be 4′x4′ and 6″ deep (if you plan to grow longer-root vegetables such as potatoes and carrots, make one box 12″ deep). Situate your boxes no closer than 3 feet apart, to allow room for passage (of you and potentially for your lawn mower!). Place them close to your home, for ease of maintenance, away from tree and shrub roots, and in a well-drained area that receives at least 6 hours of sun each day. You may want to consider painting or staining your wooden boxes, and/or covering the paths between boxes with crushed stone, paving bricks, or mulch, to increase the overall attractiveness of your garden.
How Many Boxes Should I Build?
The biggest challenge is to not over-estimate the amount of boxes you need. Square foot gardening requires only 20 percent of the space taken up by a traditional garden in order to grow the same quantity of food. Determine how many and what kind of vegetables you would like to incorporate into your diet, and decide whether or not you want enough extras to can or freeze, and plan your boxes accordingly. A good rule of thumb is to plan for between one and three boxes per member of the family: one 4′x4′ box per adult, or one 3′x3′ box per child, for salad vegetables; an additional box for each person for cooked/supper vegetables; and a third box for each person for preserving.
I Don’t Have a Yard. Can I Still SFG?
One of the benefits of Square Foot Gardening is that the boxes can be placed virtually anywhere, and can be made in any dimension. Place a square box in a sunny place on your deck, patio, or roof; a narrow rectangular box (8′x2′, perhaps) on a wall or ledge; or a smaller square box (2′x2′) on your outdoor table, and you will be ready to garden in no time!