Square foot gardening

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Square foot garden in raised bed

Square foot gardening is the practice of dividing the growing area into small square sections (typically 12" on a side, hence the name). The aim is to assist the planning and creating of a small but intensively planted vegetable garden. It results in a simple and orderly gardening system, from which it draws much of its appeal. Mel Bartholomew coined the term "square foot gardening" in his 1981 book of the same name.


A basic, 4x4, 16-unit "square-foot garden."

The phrase "square foot gardening" was popularized by Mel Bartholomew in a 1981 Rodale Press book and subsequent PBS television series.[citation needed] Bartholomew used a 12’ by 12’ square with a grid that divided it into 9 squares with equal lengths of 4 feet on each side. Each of these 4’ by 4’ squares was then invisibly divided into sixteen one foot squares that were each planted with a different species. In smaller square gardens the grids may simply serve as a way to divide the garden but in larger gardens the grids can be made wide enough to be used as narrow walkways. Bartholomew recommends careful spacing of seeds rather than planting the entire seed packet so that fewer but stronger plants will grow.

To encourage a variety of different crops over time, each square would be used for a different kind of plant, the number of plants per square depending on an individual plant's size. For example, a single tomato plant might take a full square, as might herbs such as oregano, basil or mint, while most strawberry plants could be planted four per square, and up to sixteen per square of plants such as radish. Tall or climbing plants such as maize or pole beans might be planted in a northern row (south in the southern hemisphere) so as not to shade other plants, and supported with lattice or netting.[citation needed]

One advantage of densely planted crops is that they can form a living mulch, and also prevent weeds from establishing or even germinating. Also, natural insect repellent methods such as companion planting (eg planting marigolds or other naturally pest-repelling plants) become more efficient in a close space, which may reduce the need to use pesticides. The large variety of crops in a small space also prevents plant diseases from spreading easily[1]

Since the beds are typically small, making covers or cages to protect plants from pests, cold, or sun is more practical than with larger gardens. To extend the growing season of a square foot garden, a cold/hot frame may be built around the SFG, and by facing the cold/hot frame south, the SFG captures more light and heat during the colder months of spring and winter.

In 2006, Bartholemew updated the concept with the book "All New Square Foot Gardening", which advocates growing in raised beds instead of the ground. The rationale is that by using a premixed blend of peat moss, vermiculite, and compost instead of dirt, one will enjoy the benefits of having perfect soil conditions from day one, instead of needing to undertake a period of soil improvement.

See also


  1. ^ Pongsiri, Montira J.; Roman, Joe; Ezenwa, Vanessa O.; Goldberg, Tony L.; Koren, Hillel S.; Newbold, Stephen C.; Ostfeld, Richard S.; Pattanayak, Subhrendu K.; Salkeld, Daniel J. (2009). "Biodiversity loss affects global disease ecology" (PDF). BioScience. 59 (11): 945–954. doi:10.1525/bio.2009.59.11.6Freely accessible. 

Further reading

  • Bartholomew, Mel (2013). All New Square Foot Gardening (2nd ed.). Cool Springs Press. ISBN 978-1591865483. Retrieved Jan 30, 2015.  ISBN 1591865484
  • Ruppenthal, R J (2008). Fresh Food from Small Spaces: The Square-Inch Gardener's Guide to Year-Round Growing, Fermenting, and Sprouting. Chelsea Green Pub. Co. ISBN 9781603581455. Retrieved May 31, 2012.  ISBN 9781603580281
  • Bird, Christopher (2001). Cubed Foot Gardening: Growing Vegetables in Raised, Intensive Beds. Lyons Press. ISBN 9781599215914. Retrieved May 31, 2012.  ISBN 1585743127
  • Houbein, Lolo (2010). One Magic Square: The Easy, Organic Way to Grow Your Own Food on a 3-Foot Square. Experiment. ISBN 9781615191130. Retrieved May 31, 2012.  ISBN 9781615190126
  • (Fine Gardening) (2005). Gardening in Small Spaces. The Taunton Press, Inc. ISBN 9781561585809. Retrieved May 31, 2012. 
  • Bowman, Daria Price; Price, C A (2009). The Complete Idiot's Guide to Vegetable Gardening. Alpha. ISBN 9781101022139. Retrieved May 31, 2012.  ISBN 9781592579075

External links

  • Square Foot Gardening Foundation
  • Tim's Square Foot Gardening Page
  • Mel Bartholomew's Official Blog
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