Skip to main content

Square Foot Gardening

Square foot garden

Would you like to grow vegetables but don’t have the time or space for a large garden? You might want to consider square foot gardening.

Using this system, you can grow enough vegetables for one person in a garden that is 4 feet by 4 feet in size. This technique uses a box or frame made from 2-by-6 untreated boards, cinder blocks, bricks or a similar material. The constructed 4-by-4 frame results in 16 square feet of garden space. Expand the garden to 8 feet by 4 feet for two people, 12 feet by 4 feet for three people, etc. The 4-foot width is desired so you can easily reach halfway across the bed from either side to avoid stepping into it and compacting the soil.

Your garden should get six to eight hours of direct sun each day for optimum production and should be placed near a water source. Place four to eight layers of newspaper, corrugated cardboard or weed-block fabric underneath the frame to keep grass and weeds from growing up through the soil. Do not use plastic because it will not let water drain through. When installing more than one box, place them 3 to 4 feet apart to leave a walkway with enough room to push a wheelbarrow between the boxes.

Your planting soil should be an 8 cubic foot mix with one-third peat moss, one-third compost and one-third vermiculite for each 4-by-4 garden. This creates a well-drained soil that still holds plenty of moisture for fruit growth. Fill the box with the soil mix and add a grid.

The grid is key because without it, it would not be square foot gardening. Make a grid from items such as string, wood or plastic strips, or old Venetian blinds. The grid should divide the box into 1 foot by 1 foot squares for a total of 16 squares.

Before planting, read the seed packet to determine plant spacing needs. If a plant requires 12 inches of space, such as tomatoes or broccoli, put one seed in each square. If the plant needs 6-inch spacing, such as lettuce or chard, plant four seeds in each square. For 4-inch space requirements, such as with onions or beets, plant nine seeds. Small crops, such as radishes and carrots, need 3-inch spacing, so you can plant 16 seeds. In two squares, plant seeds for one very large vegetable plant, such as squash, cucumber or melon.

Plant each seed by making a shallow hole with your finger. Cover the seeds lightly without packing the soil. Place trellises on the north side of the frame to grow vining plants, such as beans or peas.

Once a square foot crop is finished, plant a new crop, adding a shovel full of new compost.

Mary Beth Bennett, Retired WVU Extension Agent – Berkeley County