Square Foot Gardening Review

Guest post by Emira Mears

This year, as I was faced with the task of starting up our veggie garden relatively from scratch, I did a bunch of research into garden design, veggie growing, etc and settled on trying the Square Foot method. I did this for two reasons really. The first being that it gave me a pretty straightforward plan that was easy to follow and had decided boundaries. That made the project of starting a veggie garden from scratch seem manageable what with the working full time and such. Second, that kind of regimented, planned gardening kind of runs counter to my entire gardening nature and I was sort of curious, in an admittedly twisted way, to see what I could learn from trying something kind of outside of my normal pattern.

I picked up the first edition of Square Foot Gardening from the library and surprised myself by reading it pretty much cover to cover. And, I continued to be compelled by all the talk of how easy it was to maintain such a systematically planned garden, once you’ve put the initial work into setting it up. And so, I pressed on. Martin (my partner) helped me build two 4×4 ft squares, I made a plan (with a schedule!) for what would go where and when I would plant it, and eventually replant as squares became available. And off I went.

As of this weekend I have four squares left to plant and have already moved onto replanting one of the radish squares that has been harvested, and so I figured the time was right to share my thoughts on this process so far.

I love it. Much more than I thought I would. And primarily my reason for loving it is that it is exactly as easy as promised. On the weeks when I’ve thought that I didn’t possibly have time to go out and fuss planting vegetables that won’t really give me much return for months to come (so why not wait a few more days… weeks… oops too late), I’ve remembered that to go out and plant two squares of lettuce will take me about 5 minutes including washing up afterwards. Weeding is a breeze in the raised beds, and watering has also been pretty low maintenance (though here in Vancouver the rain has done much of that for me so far). And I have, somewhat to my surprise, stayed pretty close to my original plans. I’ve made a few shifts here and there, ditching a scallion square for extra radishes to meet the in-house radish demand, or deciding that one of the kale squares could instead be planted amongst some of my flower beds to free up a square for example. But, overall, I’ve stayed pretty close to my original plan. And that’s the other great bit: going into it with a plan has been wonderful in that I don’t have to really think about anything, I just need to remember to check my book each week (which I do every Saturday morning) and make sure I’m on track. If I don’t have time to daydream and do web research, or pour over seed catalogues I don’t need to worry. Typically any one week’s tasks (exclusive of watering) can be done in a few 10 or 20 minute stints, leaving me time to worry and fuss in the flower beds.

In fact, my only complaint so far is that I didn’t plan for enough. I should have done three boxes, and I’m regretting that now. In the planning stage I thought that 32 squares (each 4×4 ft box contains 16 squares) would be enough for our family, but I’m not sure that it really is. I had wanted to replace most of my farmer’s market produce shopping for the summer, but I’m not sure how realistic that is going to be. I may need to try growing some regularly consumed extras (like those radishes) in pots or in other beds. And now that summer is coming, I’m already regretting the fact that I definitely won’t be getting quite enough of some of the staples (tomatoes, cukes, beets) for much in the way of canning or pickling, so would need to go to the market for those which seems a bit of a shame. But really, that’s a minor complaint. And I’m already looking forward to setting up a third box next year and may even see if I can maneuver a fourth box for “production” growing of items for canning etc.

I know it is typically a method lauded for small space gardening, and I can certainly see it working well in community gardens. At this point, though I’d recommend it for many folks. It really has allowed me to be pretty utilitarian about my food growing, freeing up much needed time for more creative thoughts about the rest of the garden.

Lettuce and Radishe Squares

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10 thoughts on “Square Foot Gardening Review

  1. I have found a kindred spirit! I was given the square foot book by my dad in March, I read it cover to cover and I am now the proud gardener of 3 blocks…and I wish i had at least one more block for all the other veggies and flowers i want to grow. All 3 blocks are fully planted, and then some, and seem to be growing nicely so far, i just need more strawberries and one more sweet purple pepper…always just one more! Next year I will build and grow one more block…maybe two! happy growing!

  2. I haven’t been quite as thorough in my planning, but I’ve had the same happiness with my square foot garden. I’ll have to buy a copy of the book next year. :) (I planned from one borrowed from the library!)

  3. I’m so glad to hear that this method works. I’ve just picked up the book and plan to get the beds ready this season for planting next year.

  4. I do something similar, not exactly 1 foot by 1 foot. I divide mentally into six inch divisions but then I plant some at angles, some in squares, rectangles etc. this way it allows my vegtable garden to be a beautiful as my flower gardens.

  5. I’m so glad to read that your SFG is working for you! I just planted mine last weekend, as I didn’t even move into my house until 2 weeks ago. Next year I will definitely start earlier for lettuce and radishes, etc.
    My only complaint so far is that I planned my garden very carefully, and planted very carefully, and then I went to work on Tuesday, and something came digging through my garden! I think it was a skunk, based on the holes left. It doesn’t look like it ate/took any of the seeds, since I found a bunch of them, already germinating. The problem, though, is that I couldn’t figure out exactly where to place them again. So, my garden might come up with a few spacing issues and a few surprises, but I’m still excited.

    Keep us updated as to how the garden is going!

  6. Just out of curiosity, did you have any trouble finding the vermiculite?
    I’m really glad you wrote that, it is inspiring for me to read!

  7. I’m having troubles finding the vermiculite. I’m in the Greater Toronto Area. Does anyone have any sources?

  8. Gayla might be great for that info, though I’d think any garden centre would have it no? If not maybe try one of the hydroponic shops — though I’m not sure if those are in as abundant supply out there as they are here in Vancouver ;)

    I’ll come forth with full honesty here though: I didn’t use vermiculite. Ack! I got this awesome dirt mix from a local supplier called “garden veggie mix” that is very compost rich and light and airy (awesome loami-ness factor) and I just went with that. Now maybe it’s my conditions out here, but aside from two stubborn dill seeds (two of my four did fine, the other two have failed to surface) I’ve had I’d say a 95% success rate with all seeds coming up and doing well (I should watch the bravado here lest I be punished soon!).

    So while I did follow the directions in the SFG book pretty close to the letter, I let go here and there…

  9. I have been using tbe SFG method for a number of years and am loving it. I have two 4 X 8 and one 4 x 4 beds. This fall I want to replace the wooden frames with cement blocks. My problem is, how do I set up the grid on the cement blocks? Any ideas anyone? This method is one of the best ways to grow a number of different plants. This summer I added cosmos to my vegetable and herb garden.

  10. I, too, tried square foot gardening for the first time this season and I, too, love it. It’s as easy as the book says it will be, and as a neophyte gardener I really appreciate the help of the step-by-step plans for everything from building the boxes to starting seeds. I even wrote a question to Mel’s website about pruning tomatoes and got a very helpful response. I have two 4×4 squares and here in Minneapolis things are going fairly well. My cucumbers died, perhaps victim to a misunderstanding about hardening off seedlings, but my radishes have thrived and we’ve harvested several salads from the three types of lettuce I’m growing. My scallions are off to a slow start and I’m not sure how my bush beans will do, but my herbs, tomatoes, peppers and squash seem to be happy and healthy. I did not plan — as a new gardener I just couldn’t get my head around the planting and replanting schedule, it was mysterious enough to figure out when I could put things outdoors (see above comment about cucumebers) — but winging it seems to be working just fine. Maybe next year I’ll plan more since I’m a planner by nature. When my radishes are done in a week or so, I plan to fill that square with another crop. The newest edition of the SFG book advocates using 6″ boards, which is what I did, and the only downside seems to be the inability to plant carrots and other deep veggies, so I put those in my sunny flower beds. I’m a convert, not that I ever was anything else since this is my first vegetable garden. Even if I one day live on acres and acres I think I’ll plant veggies this way. Good luck with your garden.

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