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14 Oct

How to Build Your Own Square Foot Garden in 10 Easy Steps

Let’s face it: Produce is expensive and, with the economy moving the way it is, it doesn’t look like its going to get any cheaper any time soon. A simple solution? Grow your own.

Now before you quit reading thinking this isn’t the post for you and your far-from-green thumb, it really doesn’t have to be that tough to keep-up – and benefit from – a garden, especially if you start small.

So, how small are we talking? Well, if you’ve got even 4 square-feet of outdoor space, you can enter the square foot gardening game.

But before we tell you how to build your own square-foot-garden, let’s first get the who, why and what out of the way.

A square foot garden is essentially like taking a full vegetable garden and condensing it down so that it fits in a 4 foot by 4 foot box. In order to make the “box” more efficient and to allow for a greater variety of vegetables to be grown, the box is gridded into a series of smaller boxes.

Now, you’ve killed three office plants in as many months and the only foliage that has made it into your home is of the fabric variety, but essentially, anyone can square foot garden. It’s a great project for those who have little space or time to care for a full-scale garden, can be used to teach children about nature, and is great for the elderly or those who are, for whatever reason, unable to cope with the physical demands of traditional gardening.

But seriously, why do it? According to the folks over at squarefootgardening.com, the source of many of the tips below, square foot gardening is easy to do, economical, and efficient. Specifically, square foot gardening requires up to 80% less space than a traditional garden, eliminates all tilling, wedding and digging, and can harvest up to 5 times more produce than a conventional garden. In addition, you get to select what you grow and how you grow it, which means no pesticides or chemicals.

Ok, now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty – how do we go about making this square foot garden?

1. Like many things in life, it’s all about location, location, location. When figuring out where to begin to build your garden, look out for an area that receives about 6-8 hours of sunlight, that is clear of trees or shrubs that might interfere, and is not prone to puddles or excess moisture. To improve convenience, meanwhile, you should try to position the garden close to your home.

2. When planning your garden, you must also consider layout. Always think in squares, and specifically, 4 foot by 4 foot squares. If you’re planning on building more than one square foot garden, be sure to plan for aisles so that you can access and tend to your garden without disrupting or destroying the other boxes.

3. To build the box frame, you can use just about any material except treated wood, which contains chemicals that can seep into the soil and, thus, the food you eat. We recommend taking a trip to your local lumber yard to scope out some 1 by 6 or 2 by 6 lumber. In most cases, the lumber yard will be able to cut the wood for you at little to no cost. Once home, layout the lumber to form boxes and secure corners with deck screws.

4. Now that you have created the box frame, it’s time to fill it with something that will nourish and fortify your garden. We recommend filling the box with a mixture of 1/3 compost, 1/3 peat moss and 1/3 course grade vermiculite. When purchasing these items, be sure to look for organic varieties that contain no fertilizers or chemicals. Alternatively, if you already make your own compost, feel free to use that to fill the boxes (although you’ll still need the peat moss and vermiculite to help retain moisture and keep the soil aerated.)

5. Now it’s time to create the grid that will form the one-foot squares within the box frame. This grid, which can be made shorter to fit inside the box or be secured on top of the box, will keep your garden organized and improve manageability. Much like the box frame, the grid can be made from just about any chemical-free material, including wood, nylon rope or plastic strips. In fact, squarefootgarden.com says that old Venetian blinds make for perfect grids! Use screws or rivets to secure the grid at each place where the strips intersect and to attach the grid to the box. The grid should be left in place all season.

6. Depending on the mature size of the plant, you’ll want to grow either 1, 4, 9 or 16 plants per square foot. For example, if the seed packet recommends that the plants be spaced 12 inches apart, you’ll plant 1 per grid box. If it recommends a 6 inch spacing, you can plant 4, if it asks for 4 inch spacing, you can plant 9, and if it recommends 3 inch spacing, you can plant 16 per square foot grid.

7. Now that all of the planning is done, it’s time to start doing a little planting! Since the space is so small, you’ll want to use your fingers to make a shallow hold in the soil and place one or two seeds in each spot. You should then cover the seed, but be sure not to pack the soil so that air and water can penetrate.

8. Once planted, you’ll need to water the plants regularly. Since the garden is so small, its best to water by hand and to use water that is room temperature or slightly warmer (it helps warm the soil and promote growth…especially in the early stages of the plants development).

9. Once the plants have matured, you can harvest continually. Once the crop has been removed, dig out any roots or debris, add new compost, and plant a new seed (or seeds) in that square.

And, for number 10, we present a tip:

10. If you live in a particularly arid or hot climate, you might want to set up a simple irrigation system in the early gestation period. Frugal Dad has a great – and of course, economical – way to create an irrigation system. To do, take a series of six or so water bottles and poke a small hole in each using a sewing needle or safety pin. Fill the bottles with water and use your finger to dig a small trench about the length of the bottle in each grid square. Place the bottle, pin hole down, in the soil. Over the course of the day, the water will drain from the bottles into the soil, leaving you with a well-watered garden. For best results, fill the water bottles back up each morning, which will allow the soil to dry out across the day and reduce the chance of fungus or disease developing.

Thoughts? Tips? Share ’em in the comment board!

Robert Goodwin, mlwhitt Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

Urban Gardening

Staying Primal During a Recession

How to Eat Healthy and Save Money

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. We are starting our Square Foot Garden here in Mississippi and…

    Ad Shah – 6′ of soil is all SFQ says is required for growing veggies. You can build a 1’x1′ square to add more soil to grow long carrots if you want. Just put the 1×1 into the square and add soil. Build up, not down.

    I was looking to not use the kind of expensive additives in mel’s mix, so instead of peat/sphagnum I decided to try Cypress Mulch mixed into the soil of one or two of our beds. We are going to have one out of three beds that are by-the-book mel’s mix (1/3 compost, 1/3 vermiculite and 1/3 sphagnum moss).

    We will see what results. We are also testing out various ways to handle the weeds under the boxes. I hope to blog about it….

    Bobby Kearan wrote on March 9th, 2012
  2. This is our fourth year of square-foot gardening and I can pass along a few tips. If you live in an area of hot summers, peat can really dry out. Be sure and hydrate it well when first filling the box, and don’t let it dry out over the summer. We have a rice mill in our area which gives away rice hulls and we are experimenting with replacing most of the peat moss with those in our mix. Also, we made a 4’x4′ box 12″ deep and filled it half full of rice hulls, (any cheap material would do for filler, including chopped straw,)then we filled it the rest of the way with Mel’s Mix. It settled a bit over time but we just kept filling it with more MM and it’s now stable and great for growing deep-rooted veggies such as leeks, carrots, and potatoes. Sweet potatoes would be good in it, too.

    Ander wrote on February 5th, 2013
  3. Bobby Kearan, it’s been a year, I was wondering how the produce between your beds compared. What’s your verdict,Cypress Mulch or Mel’s Mix?

    Kt wrote on March 8th, 2013
  4. I would not use the vinician (SP) that were manufactured in the 80 and 90’s unless you know for sure they were not made in China or Indonesia many of these contain lead. My youngest son is living proof you can get lead poisoning from them he would stand in the window watching for me to get home from work and chew on them when he was teething or get his walker by them before he could walk at 11 months he was tested he had a high level of lead in his system. The county lead inspector came in with his sniffer I was expecting him to tell me that the soil or paint had lead in it since it was a old farm house. No it was the Varnish on the doors in which my son did not chew on we did not sand it and the blinds the guy was so shocked they paid to have them all replaced my sons father ex wife had purchased them from KMART and never sent in the registration so no one was aware they had been recalled for lead. So please if you are worried about eating healthy know where these come from before you use them.

    Pandora wrote on October 20th, 2013
  5. Hi, does anyone know how to prepare the land before building the box? Should I remove any weeds Thanks

    natalio wrote on April 11th, 2014
    • You will not be using the native soil, so you don’t have to do any prep. Lay a thick layer of newspaper or cardboard down and wet it good before putting your soil in, and it will take care of any existing weeds.

      Mamasan wrote on April 18th, 2014
  6. We live in a duplex and we do have a small yard, but i’m concerned with killing the grass. Is there a way to do this on top of our concrete patio? Should I put particle board for the bottom? How deep should I build the box so there is enough soil and the plants get enough nutrition to grow? If the box doesn’t drain like the roof boxes they were talking about isn’t it possible for the plants to get too much water? Thanks for any help, we are struggling to come up with the money for food right now and I would really like to eat better. Cheap food and food you get at food pantries are loaded with carbs, starches, and are processed. We can’t afford hamburger right now. Only have 30.00 a week for groceries for three people. Having our own vegetables would help alot. My dad can get us the lumber, and we can get seeds from an Amish friend, we’ll have to buy the soil mix but it’ll be worth it in the long run.

    Angela Statton-Hunt wrote on May 1st, 2014
  7. I used a cedar box and before assembling it (tong and groove) I treated the boards with olive oil sealed them up very nicely zero chemicals hope it helps others

    kriss wrote on April 19th, 2015

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