How to Build and Plant a Square Foot Garden

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square foot gardening

I originally wrote this last spring but wanted to post it again for those of you who might have missed it. 

I know a lot of you are short on space, but still want to have a garden. So I thought it would be cool to plant a square foot garden and show those of you who are new to gardening or who have limited space, that you don’t have to have a huge garden to grow lot’s of tasty produce.  Anyone, anywhere can have a garden.

Square foot gardening basically maximizes space by planting in 1 foot square grids.   It takes a little planning, as far as plant choice and space requirements go, but it is a great way to get the most out of your garden–and really is pretty simple.

For example, the basic principle goes like this:  In a 1′x1′ grid, you can plant 16 carrots or onions, 4 heads of lettuce, 9 beets, or one head of cabbage .  You can get a lot more produce than the traditional row method of gardening.

square foot gardening building a grid

I have 4′x8′ raised beds, so I can get 32 1′x1′ grids out of my beds.  To start, make yourself some sort of grid as a guideline.  The simplest grid would be string or twine, just measure out 1′x1′ and pull the string tight in a squared off pattern. Or if you have scrap wood laying around, you can use that too.

Next, choose your plants {you can check out this spacing chart to get a sense of what each plant needs}.  Plants can be broken up into small, medium, large and extra large categories.  You can plant 16 small plants in each square grid {with 3″ spacing per plant}, 9 medium plants per grid {with 4″ spacing per plant}, 4 large plants per grid {with 6″ spacing per plant}, and 1 extra large plant per grid.

how-to-plant-broccoli-seedlings

Because you are packing your plants in, make sure to use plenty of quality compost.  Companion planting is also beneficial in this type of gardening to keep pests at bay {i.e. a square foot of marigolds {considered a large plant} goes a long way in organically keeping your densely packed square foot garden healthy.

P.S. Have you tried square foot gardening before? If so, what vegetables worked best for you?

~Mavis

All New Square Foot Gardening

For more information, check out All New Square Foot Gardening.  It is an amazon bestseller and the author is basically the king of square foot gardening.

 

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Comments

  1. Oooh! We’re trying this method in our gardens this year. I just read Mel’s book, and after applying his principles, we’ve managed to take what would normally fit in our three huge raised garden beds and put it into two of them with room to spare. Yay for being able to grow more food to share! The third bed will be converted into a berry patch. We can’t wait to see how it works!

  2. This will be my 3rd yesr with a square foot garden. I love love love it! I like to plant lettuce, green onions, beets, carrots, parsnips, radises…all that in a 4 x8 space. I stagger some of the plantings so I have a continual crop all summer and fall. Going to give broccoli another try this year.

  3. Carolyn says:

    I’ve had raised beds in the past couple years but just read this book last month and am so excited to put my beds to optimal use! Can’t believe how much more I can pack in my beds than what I did last year. Will be interesting to see if there will be less weeding & watering and how much more produce we pull out this year. With 20 beds we could be canning lots of veggies this year!

  4. Oh….I think I should try square foot gardening in my community garden plot. I think it’s 10×10 and I think this method would make me much more disciplined….and make it easier to plot out what goes where on paper. Thanks for another great idea Mavis!

  5. Can you share what you’ll be planting, how much you’re planting and where exactly you’ll be planting it in your square foot garden? I’m such a novice that I’d love to just be able to copy what someone else in the area is doing! :)

    • As soon as I start planting you bet I will. :)

      • Thank you!! You have totally inspired me to start growing my own food this year. In fact, my 3-year-old and I just got finished planting some seeds in eggshells (per your previous post!!) and he is so into it. He keeps bringing me seed packets and telling me we need to plant everything right now – love it!!

  6. From New Zealand where we are feeling the early effects of autumn/fall.

    I have used a similar system to this for a couple of years. You do need to keep in mind the size, speed of growth and harvest times of things. Cabbages, kale, cauli etc will over shadow smaller plants. In one bed I have growing now I put the sweet corn in 2sq ft at back, zucchini took 2sq ft hanging over the edge, then Brussel sprouts, dwarf beans and carrots. The corn will come out soon giving the brussel sprouts more room, and winter veges will go in the same garden when last of beans are harvested. Don’t grow too many cabbages close together, plant something like parsnips, beets etc between them as their leaves over shadow each other and can cause mildew. I try to grow smaller plants and those that will drapes down, around the sunny sides of the raised gardens and have the taller, denser plants at the back. I take off a lot of the denser unnecessary foliage to let water down to the soil and prevent powdery mildew. After watering I ‘ruffle’ the plants a bit to let the water drop off.

    I have made bird netting covers to go over the gardens to keep white cabbage butterfly off. They decimate brassicas here lately.

    My gardens are 4 x 4 and I work to the principal of sq ft, but still often plant in rows. ie carrots, 3-4 rows 4ft long in 1 foot wide space.

  7. I am new to gardening, and love the idea of planting marigolds in a square foot garden. Would you put them throughout? Or at the corners? This will be my first raised bed, so I really have no idea what I am doing. I haven’t even built them yet. Speaking of that…any suggestions on how to go about building a raised bed?

    Wish me luck!

    • I would put the marigolds in one square. As for the raised garden bed, all I did was set 4 8x4x8 boards up int he shape of a rectangle and nail the corners together. Easy Peasy. :)

      • Thanks for the advice. I love your blog. It gives me faith that I can make things grow! You have really great recipes, too.

      • Michelle says:

        I want to redo my beds this year. Keeping costs in mind, I’m considering those large cinder blocks instead of wood. I need to build at least 6 beds 4×8. Do you have any posts on your thoughts regarding concrete vs. wood in your archive, Mavis? I think it’s coming down to looks vs cost for me. Decisions. Decisions. lol

        • I would think the concrete blocks might actually cost more unless you can get a really awesome deal on them.

          • According to Lowes.com, cinder blocks 8x8x16 for a 4×8 bed would be $24. The 8x4x16 blocks could save $5. Constructing a bed from 1x8x8 cedar would run $45, and the beefier 2x8x8 lumber would be $56. You can use cedar fence pickets for less, but the thinner wood won’t last as long. Prices are local to north TX.

        • I have 3 cinder block garden beds that are approximately 8′x6′. Each one uses 18 cinder blocks and the total cost comes to about $30 with tax. I really like them so far because they are easy to set up, I can plant in the holes of the blocks, and I also use them for rotating my mobile chicken coop…allowing the chickens to help fertilize the soil.

        • Shannon says:

          I used cement board, with a little 1 x 1 piece of wood in the corner to nail them together. They were cheap, and won’t rot or mildew. We love them. Building more this year!

  8. Kelli B says:

    I’ve used a hybrid of this & intensive planting for several years & I love it! Mostly because I have fewer weeds once the veggies take off.

    I do plant some things slightly fewer than what it calls for so that they get larger though. I’ll also use plant spacing instead of strict grids. This gets me a few more plants per gardening space.

  9. We planted our first square foot garden this year.

    I planned the layout using the free planning software at the smartgardener site. Very easy to lay out, tells you correct number of plants per square foot.

    We went strictly by the book for our soil mix, using 1/3 FLUFFED peat moss, 1/3 vermiculite, and 1/3 mixed compost. Our compost mix went this way: one bag chicken manure, one bag cow manure, one bag mushroom compost, one bag of mixed alfalfa and humate compost. then we got one big bag of worm castings and mixed some into each bed once we had them filled. worm compost is EXPENSIVE.

    Beds are built out of old cypress wood from a house that was being torn down. Little paint remained on the wood, but we made sure to put painted side out.

    For grids, we put a nail in at one foot intervals down the top edge of our beds and ran string to mark off our squares. Then tapped the nail down flat.

  10. I live in a “home owners” community and have all kinds of restrictions on what I can put in my yard. I know it’s late for this year but next spring I would like to plant something on my deck (no restrictions there). Do you have any suggestions, tips or resources for me?

  11. the link goes to a very busy page with a lot links, i dont see a link with any chart.

  12. A “square foot garden” is more than just the measurements and dividers. It is the soil mixture, Mel’s Mix, that makes a lot of difference. I have divided my 4×4 (the standard “square foot garden” size) beds with dividers, but didn’t make Mel’s Mix, so it didn’t produce anywhere near what it should have! I couldn’t afford the mix materials.

    All my vegetables are in raised beds. You can plant a lot more in boxes than in rows.

    Are your “grids” separate pieces of wood?

  13. I used cinder blocks for my raised beds when I lived in Indiana. They were the large ones, and I filled the holes in them with soil, too. The planted herbs, marigolds, portulaca and other flowers in the holes, and they became colorful borders to my vegetable beds. They holes tended to dry out faster than the bed, but everything planted in the holes was drought tolerant, so I didn’t have to water them more often than the bed. I loved them, and if I ever have the opportunity to have another large garden, I will use them again.

  14. Hubby got me the book for Christmas and I’m planning 3 4×4 beds, one 3×3 for the bean tower, and 4 3×3 beds for summer squash and zucchini, which always seem to take over my garden. The book gives great instructions on how to build your beds and get everything started. I found a local guy who, as his retirement hobby, has started a small composting business. It’s very much like homemade compost, but on a larger scale. All kinds of stuff goes into his compost piles and they break down fast. So, we’re going to get a pick-up load of that instead of buying compost by the bag for a better mix and better price. The book also has some great charts about when to plant all kinds of things based off of your last/first frost dates. Hubby drew up our yard on graph paper for me, and I sketched out where I wanted everything: placement of the beds to maximize sun, and where I wanted the vertical frames for melons/squash/pumpkins to go. We’re going to build the beds this week and hopefully fill them this weekend. I can’t wait to get started!

  15. Ellen in Clackamas says:

    I may give this a try this year. I have 2 4×8 spaces for veggies and plant one of them with tomatoes and all the other veggies in the 2nd one. I love the idea of putting the concrete blocks around the boarders. Since I only have a few “spare” ones might just out on the corners and plant with annuals. One question though….how do you reach the middle squares of the bed to weed or harvest? I have vertically challenged (short) and don’t have a very long reach!

    • Ellen, the Square Foot Garden, the “real” ones that Mel Bartholomew “invented,” are 4×4, so you only have 2′ of reach from any of the sides. If that is too wide, just make them any size that is comfortable for you. I have one bed that much longer, but is only 2 cinder blocks wide. The main thing Mel advises is not to change his soil recipe, it’s what makes the entire thing a success.
      I have one large bed made of cinder blocks too. The holes are terrific! The larger blocks have a square hole, and it is perfect for a single bush bean. Annual herbs, and I like to put nasturtiums in them too, so they can hang down.

  16. I’m curious as to how your square foot garden performed last year. Were your your yields higher? Did you have trouble with disease or pests or the opposite? I garden in raised beds too and I use, if not the traditional square foot method, a grid pattern for many of my plants i.e. 24 inches in all directions for tomatoes, four inches in all directions for garlic. This method has worked well for me for the past 20 years.

    • I, too am curious on a yield comparison.

      I have 2′ deep raised beds along the perimeter of two adjoining sides of our small yard. We had a rather dry summer and had mildew something awful!! I am going to plant less intensively with more crop rotation in hopes of thwarting the dreaded mildew this year! We are also planning on adding more compost to the beds and plumbing water lines for more consistent watering than using a hose for two hours every day (whole yard).

      I am also planting only open pollinated heirloom seeds this year so any advice on varieties for the Pacific Northwest would be most welcome!

  17. We are moving back to the USA after being in Indonesia for 3 years and I am excited about starting my garden again, We are moving to Las Vegas though and not sure how things will grow there (I’m a Charleston SC girl). I am deciding between container, raised square foot and straw bale gardening. Any tips would be great.

  18. I can’t get the Space Planner link to work, it just takes me to Mother Nature’s home page. Help Mavis!! This looks pretty great, I am going to try it in my 4×4 bed this spring.

  19. Hi Mavis,

    I was wondering if you’re going to do a square foot garden again this year. And also how it compared to your regular garden plots. Thanks!

    • Mavis Butterfield says:

      Yes. I think it was about the same actually. This year my beds are a little deeper though {more soil} so I will try comparing them again.

  20. Margaret says:

    Hey there, I just discovered your site this evening. I am in the process of converting my beds into the SF method. I am planting beans, corn, and squash together-the three sisters method and I am anxious to see if it works. We are also attempting potatoes in towers too. I will keep you posted.

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