How to Start Square Foot Gardening

Want a neat, productive garden that’ll fit in the tiniest space? Forget long rows and try square foot gardening instead! The SFG system involves building 4-x-4 raised beds, packing them with rich soil and dividing each bed into one-foot square grids. This genius idea was dreamed up back in 1981 by Mel Bartholomew, a retired engineer who wanted to grow more food in less space. The small footprint means you can get all the harvest of a traditional garden in 80 per cent less space. Plus, there’s less work, less watering and best of all, practically no weeding once the plants start to grow.

Choose the right spot that will provide between six to eight hours of sun per day. Just one 4-x-4-foot SFG bed can produce enough food for a family of four. You can buy a SFG box or make your own with untreated wood.

When it’s time to plant, get the family involved: Do they love salads? Do you enjoy cooking with herbs? Into each square foot grid, you can fit either 16 small plants such as beets and radish, nine medium plants like onions or carrots, four large lettuce plants or one cabbage or broccoli plant. Bartholomew’s site can help you figure out the best way to space your plants.

We asked Nebraska-based homesteader Amy Bowman to share some of her SFG tips.

When and why did you decide to plant a square foot garden?

I’ve had it since 2010. I had limited sunny space in yard and liked the idea of no weeding and little watering due to the raised beds and the amazing soil mixture (made up of 1/3 compost, 1/3 coarse vermiculite and 1/3 peat moss) that holds moisture.

What were some of the challenges you faced?

My only challenge is plants that are so healthy that they thrive and grow out of the garden! A trellis comes in handy.

What do you grow there now?

Tomatoes, herbs, pumpkins and peppers.

Are your kids involved in this gardening project?

My kids helped mix up the soil when we built the boxes. They also loved helping to harvest when they were little.

What tips can you give us about starting and maintaining a square foot garden?

The soil mix that you begin with is so important. Use several types of compost, vermiculite and peat moss. It is some work the first year to mix the initial soil blend, but the following years are so easy! Just add one bag of compost per bed per year and that is it!

Amy built two, 4×2 feet garden beds along the side of her home, which gets great sun.  

She grows a variety of organic food for her family; in past years, she’s grown squash, Swiss chard, lettuce and herbs including basil, rosemary, parsley and dill.

Have you tried SFG? Share your success stories and photos with us!


Amy’s Spring Garden: Courtesy of New Nostalgia

Amy’s tomato, pepper and squash plants: Courtesy of New Nostalgia

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