Sunday, May 17, 2009

Square Foot Gardening

After researching and studying numerous types of gardening, and debating raised beds versus planting in the ground, companion planting, and so on, we decided to try square foot gardening. The idea is that you build a raised bed and section it into 12 inch squares. You then plant different vegetables in the squares and rotate them as you harvest.

We started with an old fence my dad salvaged for us. Josh pried it apart and recycled it into a 6' x 6' box. It's a little bigger than I would prefer, but it was easy and quick to assemble because that's how long the boards were. We filled the bed by a modified Lasagna Gardening method. Lasagna gardening is no digging, no tilling. (I don't have pictures of the first few steps because I was on baby duty.)

1. Build the raised bed box on the ground in a sunny spot. I would recommend only 4 feet across, not 6.
2. Lay wet newspaper down thickly on the ground. I would go at least 5 pages thick to reduce weeds. It's easier to wet with a hose after the newspaper is down
3. Put several inches of compost on top of the newspaper. We found some great aged horse manure through craigslist.
4. Fill in a good section of the box with dirt. We used 14 40lb bags of topsoil from Lowe's for this one, and we're going to use dirt from the old garden plot for the next one.
5. Snake a soaker hose through the dirt. It took 25 ft of soaker hose for this box. It was cheaper to buy a 50 foot soaker hose, cut it and crimp on an extra nozzle then to buy 2 25' hoses.
6. Add a few more inches of compost.

7. Hammer nails every 12 inches around the edge and run string across to mark your 12" squares. I used nylon string I had left over from a science project at school.

8. Map out your garden and plant your plants. See below for our plan.
9. Place mulch around the plants and water. We needed only 1 large bag of mulch for this bed.

Essentially, lasagna gardening is layering newspaper, compost, dirt, compost, mulch. Some directions involve more layers and many involve peat moss. Here is a great explanation of why we NEVER use peat moss. To summarize, it does nothing good for your garden over time, as it decomposes too quickly and squeezes the air out of the soil. More importantly, the mining of peat moss destroys bog and wetland habitats.

We just barely dipped into the concept of companion planting. The author of Square Foot Gardening says he doesn't really think companion planting makes that big of a difference. However, telling people to plant lots of different types of vegetables in one garden essentially is companion planting. We made sure to place carrots next to tomatoes, onions near carrots and a few other pairings we read would work well. We also included marigolds at each corner to aid in pest repulsion. The underlying concept of companion planting is that (most of the time) plants do better when a variety of types are planted near one another.

Here our garden layout:

3 MA 4 LL 4 LL 1 HL 1 HL 3 MA

4 CE 8 SS 8 SS 4 SP 4 SP 1 OK

4 CO 1TO 1TO 1TO 1TO 1 OK

8 BE
1TO 1TO 1TO 1TO 1 OK

8 BE 12 CA 4 PA 4 SN 4 SN 1 OK

3 MA 12 ON 1 RP 1 RP 1 BA 3 MA

MA = Marigolds
LL = Leaf Lettuce
HL = Head Lettuce
CE = Celery
SS = Sugar Snap Peas
SP = Spinach
OK = Okra
BE = Beans
TO = Tomatoes (4 Better Boy, 4 Celebrity)
CA = Carrots
PA = Parsley
SN = Snow Peas
ON = Onions
RP = Red Peppers
BA = Basil

As far as plant spacing and what to put where, we put the tomatoes in the middle so they wouldn't cast a strong shadow on one end of the garden. The bed is also in a very sunny spot. This is the conversion for seed packet spacing to how many per square you can plant:
12 in. = 1 per square
6 in. = 4 per square
4 in = 9 per square
3 in = 16 / square
From there, I used graph paper and counted how many starts we had and kind of made it up as I went. Some of the starts were very small and weak, and I'm not sure if they will take.

We would like to build and plant several more beds, but with Ben's surgery Tuesday we at least wanted to get one going beforehand. We still have 172 plant starts and hundreds of seeds.

We have enough of everything to make another bed identical to this one, and then we would like a couple that have melons and other vining plants. We also need to decide how and where we're going to do corn and if we're going to do potatoes.

Between using recycled lumber and starting almost everything from seeds, we have only spent about $150 so far on our vegetable garden projects and we've got everything to do between 4 and 6 beds total. We do not planning on buying topsoil for the rest of them, but we just wanted to get this one done today, without having to borrow the tractor again from Tim. We will hopefully build the rest of the boxes soon and get everything in the ground and going within the next couple of weeks.

A toad friend watched as we planted.

Ben spends a lot of time sucking on his hands and fingers these days. I'm thrilled he's figured out some kind of self-soothing and our car rides have been a little easier when the paci falls out.


  1. SO glad someone else is doing the square foot gardening! I have yet to grow a good crop in mine (due to having my little guy) BUT I have BIG plans. People ask all the time what the boxes are out in our back yard (we live on a corner, and tons of people walk by daily). How deep did you make the boxes?

  2. Hi Tiffany,
    Our boxes were 16 inches deep. I'm not sure that we are actually going to do square foot gardening again next year. Some of the vegetables really outgrew the space, and our boxes were way too big - being 6 x 6 feet. Because we have the space, we will probably do rows next year then compare. Some things did really well in the squares (okra, marigolds, basil) and some really took over the beds (tomatoes, peas, beans) and invaded everything else around. I really like the concept, though.