raised bed gardening
ECO gardener

One of the most important things to consider when planning a garden in a small space involves maximizing every square foot of blank space to make the garden feel spacious. One gardening concept to consider for small spaces is square foot gardening. It's been a buzzword in the gardening world for decades, and it's as relevant then as it is now.

What is square foot gardening, the pros and cons, and how do you apply this concept to your garden design? Here are some tips:

What is Square Foot Gardening?

Traditional row-cropping guarantees a high yield, but not all have the space for it because every row must have ample space in between. With square foot gardening, the blank spaces are also utilized to make gardeners produce as much food competitively. This gardening concept was rooted in farming or growing crops for food. And just like companion planting, square foot gardening is all about getting more produce out of a small garden.

Square foot gardening involves measuring garden plots using; you guessed right, square feet for measurement. It involves using a 4×4 foot raised bed structure divided into 16 small squares. The idea here is to make every square foot of space work harder so you can get more out of the garden despite its diminutive size.

Designing Your Small Garden

vegetable garden

The Traditional 4-Foot Square

This technique was popularized by gardener and author Mel Bartholomew in a 1981 Rodale Press book. This gardening method centers around a 4-foot square raised bed divided into a grid of 16 squares. Crops like vegetables, herbs, small fruit plants, and flowering plants are planted into the small squares using a special mix of soil that’s equal parts vermiculite, peat moss, and compost.

Seed Grouping

This technique involves planting different seeds in every square. How many seeds to put into each square will depend on the space that every plant needs to grow. The critical thing to remember here is to avoid crowding the plants, so they don’t develop diseases or become stunted due to the shade caused by taller plants. A great rule to remember is to plant small, medium, and large-sized plants into one square like bush beans (small), lettuces (medium), and a tomato plant (large), adjusting how many of these plants are to fit into one square face accordingly.

Vertical Garden

Vining plants are ideal for square foot gardening because the climbing plants do not take a lot of space. You can install netting or frames into the square and let the plants climb onto the structures as they grow. This is an excellent idea for companion planting crops that need more depth (ex: root crops like potatoes and carrots). You can grow root crops alongside climbing vines like cucumbers and squash.

Tiered Raised Beds

Apart from the usual square, you can also use this technique on tiered raised beds. The raised beds give you better access to the plants + more vertical room to grow different plants. The ECOgardener tiered raised beds, for example, have three raised layers, giving more space for different crops. The structure is elevated, so it’s an excellent option for gardeners with disabilities or those who do not want to work using traditional beds.

Benefits of Square Foot Gardening

raised bed vegetable garden

Fewer Seeds: Square foot gardening requires fewer seeds than traditional row gardening. This will help you save money and effort while ensuring a bountiful harvest!

Low Maintenance: Square foot gardening lets you maximize a small space, enabling you to grow 100% of the crops in as little as 20% of the space! That’s because planting crops densely creates a “living mulch” that prevents weeds from germinating. Apart from dealing with fewer weeds, accessing the plants is easier because they are planted in a contained space. It’s a terrific garden design for people with disabilities or mobility issues.

Less Water: The secret to successful square foot gardening is the soil mix. Using regular soil just won’t do in a square garden. You don’t want the plants to compete for nutrients. The special soil mix holds more water and provides the proper nutrients, so the crops grow healthily despite the limited space.

Square Gardening Tips

 raised bed gardening

Plan Ahead: Before planting the crops, plan what kinds of plants you want to grow in a grid. Be sure that the growing habits, spacing, and size of the plants grouped together suit each other for efficient gardening. Visualize the garden design to create an organized framework.

Get a Seeding Square: A seeding square is a color-coded seed spacer for an organized square garden design. This tool lets you maximize the grid's space, gives depth accuracy for seed holes while simplifying the process of planting. With this tool, it's possible to double or triple the yield every harvest season.

Start Small: If you’re new to square gardening, it’s best to start at a modest size and work gradually. A small 2x2 square with 4 grids is fine if you’re starting out, then gradually expand as you get the hang of it. By starting small, you’ll know which plants grow best together, learn how many squares fit your small space, and avoid simple gardening mistakes that might lead to diseases and infestation.

Amend the Soil: The soil in a square foot garden must be amended every year with compost, manure, or peat moss to replenish lost nutrients. The crops absorb these nutrients every growing season, so by the time harvesting season rolls in, the soil is depleted of nutrients. By amending the soil, the crops are getting the nutrients they need to grow.

Watering: Watering is best done every day during the winter season. If the temps soar, you have to water twice a day. On regular days, check the soil first before watering to avoid oversaturating the soil and causing root rot to set in.

Making your small garden work harder is easy with square foot gardening. With this technique, it’s possible to harvest an excellent yield on the patio, balcony, or a tiny plot. The crops are contained within a space so no weeding is needed for easy maintenance. It will save you money down the line with minimal management to source your own food.

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