Common sense sustainable solutions


Building a Raised Square Foot Garden

Raised Bed Square Foot Gardens

Why a Square Foot Garden?

A Square Foot Garden, is a form of INTENSIVE gardening - growing many plants in a small space, first publicized by Mel Bartholomew. A traditional gardening method, would use rows of crops, each row being separated by several feet. If you don't have a lot of space for a garden, square foot gardening is for you. In addition to intensive use of a small space, square foot gardening may have the following advantages:

  • less compaction of soil making tilling easier
  • fewer weeds as soil not turned up as much
  • easier weeding - all weeds within easy reach

Good garden practices apply to all planting formats: square foot, rows, hanging gardens, etc. These include:

  • the proper use of compost, peat moss, perlite or vermiculite to keep soil loose and retain moisture
  • mulch to retain moisture and inhibit weed growth
  • companion planting
  • crop rotation
  • proper watering - soaker hoses, correct amount of water, time of day, frequency

Planning the Construction - Square Foot Gardens

Picking the site

I'm making two raised beds, each about 2 feet tall - easy to sit on and less bending. The beds will be 4 feet wide, so I can easier reach all the plants from one side or the other. I originally thought I would have one LONG bed, but decided crop rotation would be easier if I used two beds. Four beds would be perfect for crop rotation, if you have the space. I'll put an arbor in between the beds, to grow pole beans, etc.

Squar foot garden location

Given my limited space, I've picked the northeast corner of my lot. The raised bed to the north (left in picture) will receive more shade, thus will contain my cool weather perennials such as chives and basil. Via crop rotation, some years my "sunny" plants will just have to put up with the reduced hours of sun and I'll have to put up with the reduced production of veggies.

Initial Layout

I'm leaving at least 4 feet on all sides. This makes it easy to cut the grass. If you don't have beds raised as high, you'll also need the space to knell down and work in the beds.

Leveling the beds in all directions was a bit of an issue, given that my lot slants away from the house like most lots. The drop in the far corner was quite significant. I decided it didn't need to be perfect in all directions.

Squar foot garden location

As we laid the blocks, we also discovered that the corners would not mesh into the blocks below, as the interlocking ribs were running at 90 degrees to each other. This caused the corner blocks to be slightly higher by the time all 6 rows were laid.

We also had to play with the dimensions of the beds. My blocks are 12" x 8" x4" and thus my initial layout would have required me to cut 2 blocks in every row. We changed the width to 4' 8" inside, and all worked out well.

Raised Bed Square Foot Garden Beds

Square Foot Garden - the Soil Mixture

I lined the sides with landscaping cloth to keep soil from leeching out, but the bottom is left natural, so earthworms can move through. The bottom half of each bed was then filled with tri-mix. The top 12 inches is a mix of compost, peat moss and perlite. This mix provides a loose, moist habitat for your plants. Next I'll run a soaker hose back and forth along each bed, to provide even watering directly to the roots of the plants. I picked up 2 soaker hoses at the dollar store for $1 each.

Square Foot Garden - Planning and Planting

Planning your layout will take some time. I recommend using sticky notes. Draw your beds on a sheet of paper, based on your final bed size (8'x4' for me). Look up how many plants can be grown within one square foot for each crop you plant. You can read the instructions on the seed pack regarding recommended spacing. (12"=1, 6"=4, 4"=9 and 3" spacing = 16 within a square foot) Then label the sticky notes with your crops, including the total plants to be grown within that square foot. Now arrange your sticky notes on the diagram of your bed. Consider companion plants and crop rotation when deciding where to place your plants. When finalized, KEEP your plan, so you can refer back to it next year and rotate your crops.


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