Home Vegetable Garden – Basics of Square Foot Gardening

Square Foot Gardening is a method of gardening invented by best-selling author Mel Bartholomew in 1976 and updated in his book All New Square Foot Gardening published in 2006. The key principle of Square Foot Gardening is the elimination of single row gardens in favor of gardening in wider, raised garden beds, the surface of which have been marked off with one foot “planting squares”. Planting instructions are based on references to the planting squares.

Square Foot Gardening offers many benefits for vegetable gardens:

  • Larger gardens can be grown in smaller spaces
  • Gardens require much less weeding as the entire surface of the garden bed is used for planting, leaving little room for weeds to take root
  • Since the surface of the garden bed is not walked upon, the soil remains healthier due to lack of compaction
  • Gardens require less fertilizer and water and are better suited for organic gardening techniques

The raised garden beds sit above the ground, generally six to twelve inches high depending on the style of garden bed you select. One of the key advantages of raised garden beds is that you do not need to worry about the quality of the soil beneath the surface of the bed. Instead, you simply turn over any existing sod so that the grass faces downward into the ground. Then you place the raised garden bed on the overturned sod and fill the bed with high quality planting soil.

Before the surge in popularity in Square Foot Gardening, gardeners had little choice but to make their own raised garden beds. Nowadays, there are very cost-effective options for purchasing raised garden bed systems, including trellises and small animal barriers.

Square Foot Gardening does require conversion of the standard planting instructions provided on the back of seed packs into instructions suitable for Square Foot Gardening. Find the “thin to” to spacing on the back of the seed pack, and convert using the following formula:

  • 1 plant per 9 squares: “thin to” specification of 24 inches or greater
  • 1 plant per 2 squares: “thin to” specification of at least 12 inches, but less than 24 inches
  • 1 plant per square: “thin to” specification of at least 6 inches, but less than 12 inches
  • 4 plants per square: “thin to” specification of at least 4 inches, but less than 6 inches
  • 9 plants per square: “thin to” specification of at least 3 inches, but less than 4 inches
  • 16 plants per square: “thin to” specification of less than 3 inches

Be careful not to overcrowd your vegetables. Vegetables are susceptible to a wide range of diseases caused by insufficient airflow from overcrowding. In addition, bees and other pollinators have a more difficult time in an overcrowded garden, resulting in loss of harvest due to lack of pollination.