square foot gardening set up

Last week, I mentioned that we were working on adding a backyard vegetable gardening. Well, it happened! I’m not going to lie – it took a little while. But it’s only because I wanted a cage built around my plot to keep the squirrels away. My backyard is like Great Adventure for my local town animals. I have rabbits, birds, squirrels  and my dogs all racing around having fun.

They were not going to get hold of my tomatoes! 🙂

So, if you DON’T DO the cage (that I’m about to show you how to build), you can have your square foot garden built out and planted in a few hours. Truly. I took it a little further (because I’m psychotic) .

Here we go!

What is Square Foot Gardening?

My friend Matt told me to buy this book called ‘All New Square Foot Gardening‘. For urban gardeners (I live in Long Island – right outside of NYC. Not a lot of land to work with – so this was appealing to me.), it’s important to maximize the amount of product that comes out of each square foot you plant. The author – Mel Bartholomew – was an engineer and took a look at traditional farming methodology and changed it to better serve the family gardener. No more long rows of cabbage! How much cabbage can one person eat anyway?

Mel’s Square Foot Gardening technique reduces the amount of land you need to plant down to 20% of the typical plot because he tells you exactly how far away seeds actually need to be planted from one another. It’s so SMART! This man forever changed backyard gardening. I read the entire book in one sitting and filled it with notes and highlights. So happy I started out using Mel’s suggestions because I hardly took up any space in my backyard and I know that we will be set for LIFE with vegetables.

square foot gardening set up

Setting Up Your Raised Bed Using Square Foot Gardening Methodology

There’s one thing that Mel says will make your garden a “Square Foot Garden”. The Grid. You have to lay out a 12×12-inch grid for your garden. It doesn’t work unless you have this in place! Immediately, you’re probably thinking string would be easier – and you are right. However, it’s frowned upon. Consider getting several pieces of wood lath to securely create your grid. This is the foundation of your entire planting experience. You do this once – and it will be set for years to come. And believe me – this part didn’t take too long. The book has step by step instructions.

Did I build out my raised bed? No. I bought 2 kits and set them up in about 3 minutes. You CAN build out the beds on your own… but I didn’t have the time or energy to put into that project. If you are trying to save money, Mel will teach you how to build out your beds as well. Did I mention you absolutely need to buy this book?

square foot gardening set up

square foot gardening set up

It’s important to lay out weed cloth underneath the raised beds. Your soil in the boxes will be rich and filled with nutrients. The rest of the garden will sense that and try to attach roots. The weed cloth will prevent this from happening.

square foot gardening set up

Square Foot Gardening Soil: Mel’s Mix

Sorry Mel – I skipped this part of your book. I was trying to keep this planting experience as easy as possible and didn’t think I was up for dealing with compost just yet. But in case you want to get down with Mel’s Mix it’s:

  • 1/3 Blended Compost
  • 1/3 Peet Moss
  • 1/3 Coarse Vermiculite
Square Food Gardening has an entire chapter dedicated to working with these three products. What did I do? I bought a TON of Miracle Gro Potting Mix. It was more money than if I created my own compost… but that wasn’t going to happen. Hey! I’m just being honest.

Square Foot Gardening Planting

Here’s where the magic is – this section. There are so many changes to traditional farming methodology. This is where Square Foot Gardening really stands out. The mature size of the plant determines how much space is needed between each seed hole. It could either be 1, 4, 9 or 16 per square foot.

So, you have 12 squares in each raised bed. Each of those squares will house a particular type of vegetable. Depending on how large the vegetable is determines how many holes you will put in your square. Here are some examples of how much space a vegetable might need:

In one square you can place:

  • 1 Broccoli
  • 4 Leaf Lettuce
  • 9 Bush Beans
  • 16 Carrots
  • 16 Radishes
  • 9 Beets
  • 1 Red Pepper
  • 16 Onions

With this consolidated method of planting, you will reap greater rewards each season!

square foot gardening set up

(honey – ignore how dirty my wedding ring is)

(Everyone else – I used a Sharpie to make my holes)

How Many Seeds Should I Plant In Each Hole?

Here’s another change to traditional farming. A pinch could be 20 seeds. You don’t realize how many seeds you are grabbing at a time. And the more seeds you place, the more weeds you will have to manage. With Square Foot Gardening, the recommendation is just 3 seeds a hole.  That way, after you determine which seed is the strongest, all you have to do is take a pair of  scissors and snip the other two seedlings. Less work all around! That’s the point of Square Foot Gardening – minimize your work, maximize your enjoyment. If we had to spend 2 hours a day weeding… gardening becomes a chore instead of a hobby.

square foot gardening set up

(some pics of my family helping out with the set up)

square foot gardening set up

(kids were dying to get involved)

square foot gardening set up

Summer Planting

I didn’t have enough seeds / herbs to fill my boxes – but I took this picture anyway so you can see that it’s still possible to start planting in the summer. Your local Home Depot / Lowes will have vegetables/herbs already grown. All you have to do is buy them and plop them into the dirt. Nice and easy!

We put the following in our Square Foot Garden:

  • Red bell pepper
  • Cherry radishes
  • Onion
  • Cucumber
  • Beans
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Basil
  • Rosemary
  • Tomatoes
  • Oregano

But When Should I Plant What? Help!

There are a TON of sites available to help you out with this. Mother Earth News is AWESOME. I am ALL OVER the Fall right now! Getting ready. 🙂

square foot gardening set up

Protecting Your Square Foot Garden

This is where we spent the most amount of time. We made a wire U-Frame cage to fit over our squares. Like I said, we have a ton of animals! I was freaking out about my tomatoes! Basically you need the following to create your own protective barrier:

  • (4) 1 inch by two inch boards  – 4 feet long
  • chicken wire
  • plastic ties
  • cutting sheers
  • power drill

square foot gardening set up

square foot gardening set up

Create your square. Secure the chicken wire around the entire base.

square foot gardening set up

Use the plastic ties to secure everything together.

square foot gardening set up

Create the dome by manipulating the wire around the top edges of the original base. Secure again with ties.

square foot gardening set up

And you are done! We need to make one more today to protect our second bed.

What do you think? Is Square Foot Gardening something you’d like to try out? I am really excited about the whole thing and promise to keep you informed about our progress. Let me know if you are a gardener?? Would love to hear some tips!


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