Finding the space to grow vegetables is not always easy. This, together with the inexperience of some teachers and many students, can make growing vegetables seem like a daunting task. However, it is these factors that make ‘square foot’ gardening ideal.
The ‘square foot’ garden is a method of growing as many vegetables as you can, in as small a space as possible. The area we are using is 4ft x 4ft. This space is all you need to grow a wide range of crops. If you have more space you could double the area. However, 4ft x 4ft is ample enough room to get you started.
Creating a Square Foot Garden
1. Measure out a plot 4ft x 4ft. Edge it with untreated wooden boards.
Note: Brand new wood can be expensive. A cheaper option is to ask around for off-cuts and other waste boards, or use second-hand wood.
2. Dig out and remove any weeds and rocks from the area. Improve the soil inside the bed with garden compost or some manure.
3. Sub-divide the 4ft x 4ft area into sixteen 1ft squares. This can be marked by nailing long shoe laces or string across the box.
4. Decide which crops are going to be grown in your ‘square foot’ garden. Each square is planted with a different crop, using close spacing. When planning this, ensure that the tallest plants are at the back of the bed, with heights decreasing progressively to the front of the bed, which should face south for maximum sunlight.
5. As soon as each crop is finished, replace it with a different one. This helps with the crop rotation, but planning for rotation is still essential.
As with any organic garden, crop rotation is crucial in a ‘square foot’ garden. It helps with pest and disease control, and prevents nutrient depletion. It may appear that having distinct areas for each crop would make rotation easier, because simply replacing crops with another after they have finished is a natural crop rotation. However, it is not always that simple. Square foot gardeners need to plan a crop rotation carefully. This is further complicated by the fact that tall plants need to be near the back of the bed.
Planting methods and bed management.
Rather than planting long rows of seeds and then thinning out, square foot gardens require a different technique. The suggested method is ‘station sowing’.
1. Make holes of the required depth for the seed at the spacing needed by the mature plant.
2. Drop the seeds into the holes then fill with fine soil.
3. For most plants 1-2 seeds are enough, but for carrots and parsnips use 4-5 seeds to ensure uniform germination.
4. If too many seeds germinate, simply snip off those not required, with a pair of scissors, to avoid disturbing the roots of the remaining plants.
Crop examples in a ‘square foot’ garden
Square foot gardening is a clever approach to growing food. It’s easy to do, easy to manage, very adaptable, and it produces high yields of top-quality food. Now get out there and try it out for yourself!