Square Foot Gardening: How to Grow More in Less

Mel Bartholomew radically changed the gardening world when he developed and demonstrated the concept of square foot gardening.

In the 1970s a man by the name of Mel Bartholomew radically changed the thought processes of gardeners all across the country when he developed and demonstrated the concept of square foot gardening.

The principle behind square foot gardening in its simplest definition is growing as much as possible in a very small space while maintaining quality and efficiency. As space and time is at more of a premium than ever it has become the most advantageous method to use in today’s society.

The Concept

The concept is really very simple. The garden is made up of small plots that are in the form of a raised bed. They are typically four feet wide and can be as long as the gardener wants them. It can be made out of a variety of materials and the design is limited only by the imagination.

They are then filled with a soil mix composed of good quality soil and organic matter mixed together. After the raised beds are made, they are divided into grids of 1ftX1ft squares.

Square Foot Gardening
Image by Kyrion

It can then be planted with either seeds or plants depending on the growing zone, time of year, preference, and what type of garden it is. For plants that vine trellises, stakes, or cages are used to allow them to climb or remain vertical keeping them under control and easier to work with.

Watering is done with either soaker hoses or drip irrigation. Once the plants are bigger a layer of mulch is then placed in the bed at a depth of three to five inches.

Using mulch in the beds is important for several reasons. It helps regulate the soil temperature, reduces water loss, and helps reduce the amount of time spent weeding the bed.

The Benefits

Square Foot Gardening
Image by actressteacher

The benefits of using this method far outweigh the detractors to it. The garden can be planted a little bit earlier as the soil in a raised bed warms up faster in the spring.

Plants can be planted closer together which allows for more plants being planted. This is all possible by using trellises and cages and keeping the plants vertical instead of allowing them to sprawl all over the garden.

Going vertical allows the rows to be planted closer together which results in less wasted space as compared to the old traditional way of gardening. Because the plants are planted closer together than in the traditional way there is a dramatic reduction in weeding as the weeds are choked out by the other plants which should appeal to the busy gardeners of today.

The use of a raised bed allows for greater control of the nutrients that the plants need as it is contained in one area. Competition for these nutrients is also reduced to only the plants that are in the bed.

Square Foot Gardening
Image by hughroper

Through the use of drip irrigation and soaker hoses, the water is kept down at the soil level where the roots are. This also helps with water conservation as less water is evaporated into the air as with a typical sprinkler.

The Detractors

The main detractor of using a raised bed is also related to water. Even though the bed warms up faster in the springtime, it dries out a lot faster during the summer months.

This creates a need for more watering. Mulch is very critical in helping to control this issue as the watering can take place underneath it, and keep the soil from drying out faster than a bed without mulch.

Planning the Bed

Planning what is going to go into the bed is critical to the success of the garden. Plants that mature at the same time should be placed together. This allows for an easy transition when it comes time for crop rotation.

For example, plants that mature early in the season can be replaced after harvesting with plants that mature later in the season. Planting in between the rows is also a good way to utilize unused space. A well thought out and planned strategy will result in the greatest utilization of the gardens’ potential.

Through the use of the square foot garden concept, any individual with limited space and time can enjoy the benefits of having a garden. Not only can it be relaxing, but it can also help ease the pain of buying produce at the supermarket.

Square Foot Gardening: How to Grow More in Less
Square Foot Gardening: How to Grow More in Less