One Small Box For One Giant Harvest of Good Eats!

Large square foot garden

Kirsten Badertscher planted this SFG with the help of her 2- and 4-year-old children.
Image credit: Kirsten Badertscher.

Building your own square foot garden (SFG) can be a rewarding experience for anyone, especially people and families looking to have a little more control over the foods they eat. Selecting your crops can be fun and exciting. It’s also a great way to try some new foods you are curious about. Plants grown in a SFG don’t require the use of pesticides and herbicides either, so there’s no worry about potentially harmful effects of added chemicals.

While putting together your SFG might seem laborious at first, it’s something you will only need to do once, and it can be a very rewarding experience for all involved. No one ever said gardening was easy, but you will be pleasantly surprised by how effortless square foot gardening is and how fun it is.

May is a great time to begin constructing your SFG. In Michigan, you’ll be able to plant almost any weather crop. From lettuce to radishes, and tomatoes to eggplant, your possibilities are endless.

Getting Started

First you need to decide on the size and style of your raised bed. Your SFG can be placed directly on top of existing soils, built to sit on top of concrete, or can be elevated on legs.

SFG made from cinder blocks

Kathrine L. Jarvis used cinder blocks for her SFG.
Image source: Katherine L. Jarvis.

If you’re interested in a more complex design, there are numerous resources available online and on Pinterest. Today we will focus on the most simple of designs: the basic SFG.

To start, we will begin with the list of materials needed for this project.



Cedar is one of the best options for building your SFG box. Cedar wood is naturally disease- and rot-resistant. This means that the wood isn’t chemically treated. The only downside is price.

Mel Bartholomew, the founder of the Square Foot Gardening Foundation, believes that when building a SFG, you should use whatever materials you have available, and to use resources that are affordable. Personally, I’ve seen boxes made of cinder blocks, composite decking, leftover lumber from construction companies, etc. Use whatever materials work for you, and try to save money where you can.


SFGs use a special type of soil called Mel’s Mix. This soil mix is essential and one of the reasons why SFG is so simple. You only need three ingredients for the mix: peat moss, coarse vermiculite, and a variety of compost.

You mix these three components in equal parts (++) and the amount you need (in cubic feet) depends on the dimensions of your box. For example, if you have a 4-by-4-foot box, you need a total of 8 cubic feet of all three components. If you round up to 9 cubic feet, the math is a little easier and you can split each component up. This means you will need 3 cubic feet each of peat moss, vermiculite, and compost.

To calculate the required amount of soil, you simply take the dimensions of your box and multiply them together. So for a 4-by-4-foot box, you will multiple 4 feet by 4 feet by .5 foot. (since your box is only 6 inches deep, you will multiply by ½ a foot).

You need to be careful, however! Peat moss is usually sold in a compacted form, so if you purchase a 3-ft3 brick, you will actually have 6-ft3 once it is fluffed out. Be sure to take that conversion into consideration when purchasing your supplies. You also need to be sure to buy the ‘’coarse’’ grade vermiculite, which will keep the soil loose, and help hold more water than the finer grades.

Lastly, be sure to buy a variety of composts, such as chicken, cow, mushroom, etc. Having different sources makes a more nutrient-rich blend that will do a better job of fertilizing your plants. I suggest five different sources, but that can be hard, so do the best you can at finding a variety.


With SFGing you’ll also use vertical space to maximize any available space you have. Plants such as tomatoes, peas, beans, melons, cucumbers and pumpkins can all be grown vertically!

Example of square foot garden

SFG made of composite deck material. Trellis made from ½’’ PVC.
Image credit: Lauren River.

I prefer a 6 feet tall trellis that is around 4 feet wide. This allows my plants to grow high, without being too high for me to reach.

If you are handy, you may use any available materials to design and build your own trellis. Our family uses electrical conduit that you can pick up from any home improvement store (ours measures ½-inch in diameter). The conduit comes in a 10 foot length, so it works out great if you need to cut in those dimensions!

Next, add two elbow connectors at the ends and you have a trellis frame. You can secure the bottom by placing the frame over metal rebar that is fixed into the ground, or you can secure the conduit with clamps that are screwed into the sides of the SFG box.

Once you have your trellis assembled, you can ziptie on trellis netting that can also be purchased at many garden or home improvement stores.


This is one of the most important components of your SFG. Grids need to be permanent and prominent. This is where the term ‟square foot’’ in ‟square foot gardening’’ comes from. Each square will be 1 square foot, and will be your guide for determining not only what you plant, but how much to plant in each square.

SFG with a nice grid and chicken wire "roof"

This SFG has a nicely laid-out grid, along with chicken wire on top to deter hungry critters.
Image source: Dave Werth, Sr.

A traditional SFG grid is made up of wood lath that is placed both horizontally and vertically across the frame of your SFG. The ends should secure directly into the frame using small screws or nails. If you have trouble finding wood lathe, you may also use twine. In our beds, I placed nails so that they stick up like pegs, to which I then wrap twine around and make into a grid. Again, find something that works for you, but the best grid will be something sturdy!


You may need additional tools once you start your SFG. Luckily, many of you will already have these items on hand!

  • Trowel. A small trowel will come in handy when you need to add a scoop of compost into your square after you’ve harvested a crop
  • Pencil. When planting your seeds a pencil comes in handy for poking holes into the soil. A finger or two always works great too!
  • Small scissors. The kind used by elementary students work well. When planting seeds, you’ll want to be sure to cut back any extra seedlings that emerge.

Examples and Final Notes

Thanks to my amazing friends over at the Square Foot Gardening Facebook page, I was able to provide everyone with some amazing examples of SFGs done in a number of ways. Feel free to join the group if you decide to embark on this amazing gardening adventure, or just want more information.

Next Up!

My next post will focus on planting seeds and transplants. If you decide that you don’t want to wait, go ahead and grab a copy of the All New Square Foot Gardening book, which is the best source of information on building, planting and more. I’m also available for any additional questions!

Good luck and happy gardening!

– Joohi Schrader is a nutrition and food science major at Wayne State University, a mother of three amazing children, and a certified Square Foot Gardening instructor. She’s also a Parenting Program volunteer.

Lil’ Sprouts: A Parent/Child Educational Program

Offered by the Beaumont Children’s Hospital Center for Childhood Speech and Language Disorders, Lil’ Sprouts is a 10-week course designed for parents/caregivers with their children. The goal of this program is to teach parents/caregivers how to increase speech and language within their home environment. Children enrolled may be developing at a normal/average rate or may be delayed in speech and language development. Children are between the ages of 18 months and 2½ years. Due to limited space, we request that siblings do not attend the Lil’ Sprout sessions.

Session Format

  • We meet for 10 consecutive Tuesdays from 5:00 – 5:50 p.m.
  • The first 25 minutes of each session: We discuss our topic and teach you and your child how to complete a task related to our topic.
  • The next 10 minutes are spent at a table for a snack. During snack time, the clinician will help the children use word approximations, sign language, or simple words to request for food.
  • The final 10 minutes: We do a circle time activity and sing a song related to our weekly topic.

Each week your family is given a handout with home program ideas and ways for you to increase your child’s speech and language development at home. Please feel free to interact with other families in the group. This is a time to find out what works for other families and try ideas out on your own!

Summer Term Schedule

  • Week 1: First Day! Speech and Sound Development and Sign Language
  • Week 2: The Development of Receptive Language Skills (Part 1 of 2)
  • Week 3: The Development of Receptive Language Skills (Part 2 of 2)
  • Week 4: The Development of Expressive Language Skills (Part 1 of 2)
  • Week 5: The Development of Expressive Language Skills (Part 2 of 2)
  • Week 6: The Interaction of Play Skills and Communication
  • Week 7: The Interaction of Sensory Skills and Communication
  • Week 8: The Interaction of Oral Motor Skills and Communication
  • Week 9: Idea and Toy Exchange
  • Week 10: Last Day! Wrap Up and Review and Recommendations

Enrollment Information

  • The summer term runs June 16 – Aug. 18, 2015.
  • Sessions will be held at the Beaumont Health Center in Royal Oak and the Beaumont Medical Office Building in West Bloomfield. Please contact one of the locations if youare interested in enrolling for the summer term.
    • Royal Oak: (248) 655-5975
    • West Bloomfield: (248) 855-4480
  • We will be taking payments during the first class. If you need to set up a payment plan, we will do so during the first visit. There are no refunds for this group program.

5 Tips for Planning a Successful Summer

Little girl petting a goat


  1. Have a Plan.
    I am not suggesting a “signing your children up for every camp under the sun” kind of plan. I like sharing this story I once read with other parents.

Children don’t have to experience every sport or activity you want them to be exposed to in an organized activity in order to become good at it. If your child wants to try horseback riding, you can plan an outing with some friends to go with instead of signing him or her up for a 8-week lesson. If they want to learn to play soccer, try this in your own backyard for a few weekends before signing them up for a 10-week session. Some of the world’s greatest Olympians didn’t begin practicing their sport until they were teenagers!

I learned this wonderful advice in a book I highly recommend called The Power of a Positive Mom by Karol Ladd.

To start this plan, print out a calendar for the summer months and start filling it in with pre-planned events. Ask your child three things they want to learn over the summer and start this list next to the calendar or on a separate “summer bucket list”

  1. Plan to Read!
    For children of all ages, reading needs to happen everyday. There are some really great reading challenges you can participate in over the summer to help your school-age children strengthen their literacy skills instead of lose them.
  1. Find Free Fun at Local Parks.
    Our plan this summer is to visit a different park each week. A friend of mine posted this on Facebook and she asked people who live near her to suggest parks they really liked. I have a list of 15 parks near my home that we can try out. Put the names of these parks on the Sunday of each week on your calendar. You won’t be able to plan the specific day of the week you plan to go because of weather, but you will know which park you will visit at some point.
  1. Purchase a Summer Learning Workbook.
    As a teacher, I frowned upon all the workbooks the district would supply us with for our students. I wanted to give my students hands-on-learning opportunities every chance I could. However, as a parent, I think it is wise to grab a Summer Bridge Book (workbook). They are well thought out and organized according to skills children need to know according to standards. I like to get our workbooks from Costco. We set aside 15 minutes every morning, Monday – Friday for learning time. We sit at the kitchen table and I help my girls on their books.Some of you may be thinking, “Kids need a break in the summer!” This is true, but there is also research that points out that children have a “slide” backwards in skills when they are not consistently working on academics over the summer.
  1. Activities for “The Plan”.
    Number one was to have a plan, but what do you put on that plan? Brainstorm all the fun things you can do over the summer that take you away from the house and all the things you can do in the house.

Out of the house:

  • Visit a petting farm
  • The zoo
  • Have a picnic
  • Go on a bike ride
  • Visit a splash park
  • Go on a nature walk
  • More ideas

 In the home:

  • Art activities
  • Random acts of kindness for others
  • Write a letter to your teacher
  • Bake something
  • Make homemade bubbles
  • More ideas

Summer is short, I hope this helps you make the most of it!

– Maria Dismondy, is a mother of three, reading specialist, fitness instructor and bestselling children’s author living in Southeast Michigan.

Batter Up …

Young boy at bat

When I was growing up, I wanted to play first base for the Detroit Tigers! I would dream about coming up to the plate in the ninth inning at Tiger Stadium down by two runs, with two runners on, and I hit the first pitch into the overhang in right field.

Growing up on the east side of Detroit in the mid- to late-1980s, there was never a shortage of games. I went from field to field to play in any pickup game I could find. My friends and I would meet up near my house, get on our bikes, and not be home until we either had Little League practice or the streetlights came on. It truly was a simpler, gentler time.

Everyone was welcome; everyone had his or her own special skills. Rick could pitch, Jim was the all-around player and I was the power hitter. We were a traveling band of misfits, and I can still remember some of the crazy catches and tape measure shots.

We didn’t have matching uniforms. We didn’t have thousands of dollars of equipment. All we had was fun. Eventually we all ended up playing on travel teams. But the thing that we didn’t have on travel teams was that love of the game — that fun when all you’re playing for was that high-five at the end of an inning or after you rounded third and headed home after the ball cleared the fence.

Don’t get me wrong. Travel baseball was good for all of us, but it wasn’t the same because the spirit of the game was lost. It went from a game to a job. Extra practices, matching practice gear (practice, not just game uniforms), and overzealous parents who thought their son was destined for Cooperstown, all erased the love of playing the game for me.

As parents, we have to realize that every event our children get involved in starts with them showing interest in and it’s up to us to make it flourish. But that doesn’t mean refinancing your house to buy a new mitt or recital costume (hey, I’m the father of two girls). It’s about being there, with your full attention. Don’t get me wrong, good equipment is important, but so is understanding how being treated like a college or pro athlete can burn your child out, and maybe even extinguish their love for their sport.

As for my band of misfits? Jim got scholarship offers, Rick’s playing career was cut short by health issues, and after I found football my baseball career ended with two separated shoulders.

– Jim Pesta, Parenting Program participant and father of two girls

Meet the Parenting Program Staff: Kelly Ryan

Mom, dad, son and daughter

Kelly Ryan, husband Chris and their two kids, Connor and Cassie

Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Brighton, Mich.

Tell us something about your family.
My husband, Chris, and I met at Western Michigan University where we both did our undergrad. We will be married for 12 years in September and have two amazing children. Cassie is 9 and Connor is 7. We are all pretty silly and do a lot of laughing at our house. My favorite moments are when the four of us are just sitting around the dinner table talking.

Why did you choose to be part of the Parenting Program?
I had experienced the amazing support of the Parenting Program both personally and professionally, so when a position became available, I jumped at the opportunity. I received wonderfully supportive phone calls from the program after I delivered my first baby six weeks early, and then I was able to work closely with the Parenting Program while I was the social worker on the mother-baby floor.

It was easy to see that this program was something that is unique and special and I just wanted to be a part of it!

Who or what inspires you?
People inspire me big time. I am totally inspired by people who overcome obstacles against all odds.

What are your hobbies or special interests?
My most favorite thing to do is to watch my children doing things they love. I love nothing more than watching my daughter cheerleading or acting up on stage, and nothing compares to watching my son play football or basketball…even early on Saturday mornings ;)

What’s your favorite family-friendly destination?
Our family’s favorite place to getaway is South Haven, Mich. It’s our annual road trip adventure.

What’s your favorite movie?
My all-time favorite movie is “Good Will Hunting”. See, I told you people who overcome great obstacles inspire me ;)

What’s your favorite meal?
My Mom makes great pot roast and beef stew, can’t choose between those two. This Michigan girl likes meat and potatoes. ;)

What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream?
Graeter'sMy husband and I lived in Cincinnati for three years while he was in graduate school at Xavier University. We love that city, and one of our best discoveries during our time there was Graeter’s Ice Cream.
When we moved home we even ordered it to be delivered on dry ice … seriously, that good. A few years ago they started selling it here in Michigan (Kroger and Meijer have it); we were so happy! My favorite flavors of Graeter’s are Black Raspberry Chip and Double Chocolate Chip. You must try it!

Share something about you that might surprise us.
You may be surprised to know that I have made it my mission to perfect and make the best grilled cheese sandwiches and chocolate chip cookies in all the land. My kids and my husband think I’ve done it, and that’s all that matters to me

– Kelly Ryan, Postpartum Adjustment Coordinator with the Beaumont Parenting Program.

Spring Checklist for a Healthy Yard

 Sign stating the lawn is pesticide-free

It’s time to take a deep breath of fresh air, shift some of our daily activities outside, and enjoy the beauty that surrounds us! Simple steps can help keep our grass green and our flowers blooming without the use of chemicals that may be harmful to our children and pets.

  • Soil test to determine which nutrients are present and which ones are lacking. Go to your local hardware store or contact MSU Extension [call (517) 355-0218 or visit] a for soil test kit. The kit includes individualized suggestions to mediate your soil. Results can take 4 – 6 weeks.
  • Aerate the soil if it is compacted or if low in organic matter. Weeds, such as plantain, dandelion, and thistle, love compacted soil. Be sure to aerate when turf is actively growing, not when dormant and not when moist. Use a pitchfork, a walk-behind aerator, or core aeration.
  • Spread grass seed over bare or thin patches in the lawn. Opt for ryegrass or fescue seeds. Tall fescue, in particular, is drought tolerant. Avoid bluegrass, which requires more maintenance, does not tolerate shade, and will need watering in the dry season. Cover with compost.
  • Mow low (2 inches) for the first cut of the year to remove snow mold.
  • Mow high. After the first cut, raise the blade as high as it will go (3 to 3.5 inches). Keep blades sharp. Mowing high will create a stronger turf grass and discourage weed seed germination.
  • Top dress with compost (1/2 inch thick) and/or an organic slow-release fertilizer that meets your lawn’s needs (refer to your soil test results).
  • Avoid weed-and-feed products as they are pesticides. Most of these products contain 2,4-D, a dangerous herbicide linked to various cancers in humans and canine lymphoma.
  • Replace Preen or other pre-emergent herbicides with corn-gluten meal. Spread it on established turf as a natural way to prevent weeds. (Be sure to keep it away from areas where you are trying to grow plants from seed).
  • Check for grubs. If you find more than five to seven per square foot, treat your lawn with beneficial nematodes or milky spore. For more information refer to Pest Patrol: Grubs.
  • Plant native perennials, shrubs and trees to attract beneficial insects and birds. They will eat aphids, mosquitoes and other pesky pests. (Go to for a list of native plants and where to buy them locally). Also welcome some feathered friends with houses, baths and feeders. Remember: Using pesticides will poison all the bugs (including the beneficial ones) and the birds that eat them.
  • Water without worry. Choose rubber garden hoses rather than plastic or vinyl, which can leach harmful chemicals. found high levels of toxics in garden hose water two years in row. See the results.
  • Go “neonic-free”. Ask garden centers if their flowering plants are free of neonicotinoids, a class of pesticides which are particularly lethal to bees and other beneficial insects. Fifty-one percent of garden plants tested positive for one or more neonic. Lowe’s is phasing out neonics. Ask Ace Hardware and True Value to do the same. Read more bee-safe gardening tips.
  • Don’t want to do it yourself? Visit LocalMotionGreen at the Ecology Center’s list of lawn care companies offering organic services.

– Melissa Cooper Sargent, Environmental Health Educator with LocalMotionGreen at Ecology Center. For more information, you can email her at  or visit


To All Moms Everywhere: Thank You

Grandma and teen girl hugging

Cropped image. Trocaire, Flickr. CC License.

Mother’s Day, or as I like to call it, Get-All-the-Chores/Errands-Done-on-Saturday-so-I-Can-Try-to-Sit-Down-on-Sunday Day, is upon us. And as I’m writing this, I keep hitting a road block: There are so many kinds of mothers out there, is there anything relevant that I can say to all of them?

The answer is this: Thank you.

Thank you for worrying about your babies, no matter how old they are. For holding them through the night. For being sleep deprived and for forgetting what it’s like to eat a hot meal or finish a cup of coffee the same day you made it.

Thank you for being nervous for your star during school plays and for being so proud you nearly burst when they nail their line, even if it is only, “Moo!”

Thank you for sometimes looking the other way when a life lesson is needed and for having tissues ready when it’s a lesson hard learned. By the way, the tissues are for you, too.

Thank you for being a mother, a father, a doctor, a therapist, Santa Claus, a psychic (“You’re going to hurt yourself!”), a chef, a race car driver, and the only person in the house who can find anything.

Hug your kids today. Send good vibes to the person who made them possible for you. And don’t forget to give yourself a pat on the back. You are amazing.

– Rebecca Calappi, Publications Coordinator at Beaumont Health and adoptive parent of multiples


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