By Michael Russell
If you havent heard of square foot gardening, you're about to learn one of the most useful and versatile gardening techniques ever created. Conceived by Mel Bartholomew, author of Square Foot Gardening, the techniques have been enthusiastically adopted by gardeners all over the world. Square foot gardening is eminently suited for container gardening, patio and roof gardening, backyard gardening, organic gardening, herb gardens, vegetable gardens, flower gardens and more.
The basic concept is to start small; the unit of measure is the square foot. Although Bartholomews original square foot garden was four feet square, many schools, community gardens and home gardeners start even smaller; a couple of one square foot containers is plenty to get you started. According to Bartholomew, a four square foot garden provides just enough harvest for one person.
How to Create A Square Foot Garden
Creating your own square foot garden is as easy as building (or buying) a box in which to garden. My own first square foot garden was a two square foot garden on the cement apron outside my back door in a city apartment. I used four square wicker plastic lined wastebaskets bought for a dollar apiece at the All-for-a-Buck store. Any container that can hold 6-8 of dirt, and has drainage holes in the bottom will work. The biggest requirement for location is sunlight. Choose a nice, sunny spot to place your garden.
Did I say dirt? Amend that. Bartholomew recommends what he calls Mels mix instead of soil. Mix 1/3 vermiculite, 1/3 peat moss and 1/3 compost to fill the squares of your box or container. A 10 pound bag of each was plenty to fill my little 2 square foot garden.
Choosing and Laying Out the Plants for Your Square Foot Garden
The most important factor in laying out your garden is the one-square-foot grid. You'll be planting one type of plant in each square how many of them depends on the recommended spacing between plants which you'll find on the back of the seed packets. Depending on the needs of the specific seedlings, you can plant 1, 4, 9 or 16 plants in each square. To break it down if the recommendation on the seed packet is 1 foot apart, you can plant 1 in a square. If they need six inches between plants, you can plant 4. Two inches gives you room for 9 plants, and one inch spacing means you can fit 16 plants into one square foot.
My own first square foot garden was a spaghetti garden with this layout:
1 Basil Plant 4 Tomato plants
1 Oregano Plant 16 Onion plants
After You Harvest Your Square Foot Garden
Harvest the crop in each square foot when its ready, and continue harvesting until its no longer producing fruit/vegetables. At that point, uproot the plants in that square (use them for compost!), and plant another crop. By refilling and rotating the crops, you avoid depleting the natural nutrients of the soil, and keep the space productive throughout an entire growing season.