Square Foot Gardening – An easy and fun way to grow your own food

 Closeup of a square foot garden


Are you a gardener? If not, have you considered starting your own garden but aren’t sure how? If you do garden, what do you like most about it?

However many of us may feel intimidated by starting our own vegetable or flower garden for various reasons. If you’re like my family, you may live in a subdivision where you don’t have a lot of room to plant. Some people experience a lot of shade on their property, or may live in an apartment with only a small outdoor deck space. Gardening seems like a lot of work too. Trying to balance soil pH, nutrients, as well as using big equipment to turn up soil every year sounds daunting. But I’m here to tell you that no matter where you live you can start your own garden and it’s easy!

Last summer I wrote a blog post about how parents can use gardening to encourage their children to try new, healthy foods. In that post I mentioned a technique called “square foot gardening” (SFG). Our family has used this method for four successful years now. With the weather beginning to warm up, now is a great time to learn a little more about this method, and possibly build your own bed.

Reasons to Consider SFG

  1. You can plant almost anything, anywhere.
    These beds are “raised”, which means you plant above the existing soil. Ninety percent of the plants grown only require 6 inches of soil, so you can add a bottom to your SFG and place it on a deck or concrete patio. There’s also the option to add legs to the bed, making it more accessible to those who may have a disability, or to simply make gardening easy on the back.

    If your yard is mostly in the shade, you can still garden and grow plants that require very little sun. A SFG can be any size — a 2×3, 2×8, 4×4, 4×8, etc. —and made to fit where ever you’d like to place them. They also look nice so you can put them anywhere, even the front yard. If they have a bottom and/or legs, you can move them around if need be.

  1. You don’t need to use any chemicals.
    There’s no need to add chemical fertilizers, pesticides or soil amendments because with SAG, you make a special soil called “Mel’s Mix”, which is equal parts compost, peat moss, and coarse vermiculite. Your compost should come from various sources (chicken, mushroom, cow, your own, etc.) and provides the nutrients that your plants need to grow and thrive. Peat moss and coarse vermiculite help keep the soil moist and loose.

    You won’t need to rototill your SFG either; even after the winter the soil is still loose. The only tools you will need are a small trowel, small scissors and a pencil. Once you harvest a square, you simply add one scoop of compost and plant another set of seeds, or transplant. Yes, it’s that easy!

    This method also reduces the need for any chemical pesticides. The types of plants you put in each square are staggered, so you aren’t planting too many of the same type of vegetable. Insect pests don’t like to work for their food, so if you only have one broccoli next to some lettuce, you don’t have to worry about an entire crop of broccoli being overtaken by caterpillars. If you do notice some insects, there are organic methods to rid your garden of them. I always keep some neem oil and diatomaceous earth on hand in case I have a rare issue with bugs.

  1. Grow more in less space.
    SFG uses 1×1 foot squares for planting. For example, in one square you can plant 16 carrots, radishes, or green onions; nine beans, peas, spinach or red onions; four heads of romaine lettuce, or basil; and one tomato, pepper or eggplant.

    You can grow almost anything in a SFG. In our SFGs we have trellises that are 6 feet tall. On those trellises we grow tomatoes (have you ever had a tomato plant reach over 6 feet tall?), pumpkins, watermelons, peas, beans, cantaloupe, cucumbers and squash. If you consider the plants you can grow up, you use even less space.

    When you think of a traditional row garden, think about all the space it takes up. Almost half of that space is just being walked on to get to your produce. With a SFG, you efficiently use space. Imagine how much room you would need to grow all of those items in a traditional row garden!

Diagram of 4x4 SFG garden layout

Here is an example of a 4×4 garden layout.

  1. No weeding and less watering.
    Since the soil mix contains coarse vermiculite and peat moss, you eliminate the need to weed and avoid overwatering. You also don’t need to worry about plants drying out if you forget to water them. Most likely some seeds from various weeds will blow into your garden, but since you are planting seeds or plants in a specific place inside of your square, you can pick the weeds out easily.
  1. It’s fun, easy and great for families!
    Gardening should be something that we find fun and relaxing. With SFGs there’s little work and effort involved, and it’s something you can get the whole family in on. Whether you have kids, grandkids, nieces/nephews, it’s a great way to teach and encourage healthy eating, as well as making lasting memories.

SFG is a very simple concept and a great way to try gardening. In fact, I’ve met people who’ve done traditional row gardening for over a decade, then switched to a SFG and found it much more efficient and easier.

Lastly, I would like to share a video on the 10 basics of SFG. I made it last year while I was becoming a certified instructor. To learn even more about SFG, visit The Square Foot Gardening Foundation or read “The All New Square Foot Gardening Book” by Mel Bartholomew. This book features tons of information such as how to build a bed, make Mel’s mix, planting guides, etc.

I hope I’ve inspired you to start your own SFG. If you have any questions I am more than happy to answer them! Please keep a look out for my next post on this SFG series where I will show you step-by-step on how to make your beds and how/when to plant certain vegetables.

– 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.

1 Response to “Square Foot Gardening – An easy and fun way to grow your own food”

  1. 1 Anonymous May 4, 2015 at 12:05 pm

    I continued to be inspired! Such great information. Such fun for kids too!

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