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January 2018
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Episode 175 Square Foot Gardening

In today’s episode I discuss Square Foot Gardening.  This show is dedicated to all of the people that say:  “I know you don’t like _____”.  The truth is that personally I feel like after a few years any gardener can move past SFG but it certainly is a great learning tool and it really fits what some people like so I say whatever works – go for it!

NOTE:  Listener J. Kaiser pointed out in the comments that I made an error when calculating square feet.  I wrongly reported that a square foot is a square with sides .32x.32 .  I’m not sure if I was trying to do Cubic feet (?) or if I simply carried a decimal that didn’t belong but anyway, yes a square 1×1 is 1 square foot.  It didn’t affect really any of the content but I felt it worth noting.

I filled this empty space at my suburban home with a SFG just to say I tried it. It was a decent use of space.

  • What is SFG – Essentially organizing a garden into 1×1 foot squares.  Each square is not really a square foot that would be .32 x .32.  The method (usually but not always) involves using a raised bed box and a soil mix that is made by the gardener.  Pioneered by Mel Bartholomew.
  • Several steps:
  1. Building the box.  You build a bed – 4×4 is the recommended starter size.  Usually treated lumber, 2×6 or 2×8. 
  2. The Bottom – It can have a weed barrier on the bottom or not.  Some people use nothing.  Some use cloth, some use cardboard or newspaper.   Bartholomew suggests using a “weed barrier” beneath the box.  Personally with any raised bed I tend to try to kill off the weeds first and then put the box over with no barrier or to use a barrier that will break down like cardboard.  If you have problems with moles or gophers you can put chicken wire on the bottom.
  3. Filling it  – “Mel’s mix,” a combination by volume of one third of decayed Sphagnum “peat moss”, one-third expanded vermiculite and one-third blended compost.
  4. Planting into it – A grid is placed over the top usually.  Cutting the 4×4 bed into 4 columns and 4 rows.  Each plant has a recommended population per square. 

Beets: 16/sqft
Broccoli: 1/sqft
Cabbage: 1/sqft
Carrots: 16/sqft 


  •  Advantages:  Good for beginners, children or people with limitted access.  Gives gardeners a good guide on how to start.  Easy and confidence builder.  Forces intensive gardening within the squares.  Less compaction.  Can add accessories.  No fighting weeds. 
  • Disadvantages:  Cost is elevated.  Forces segregation to a point.  Space is not used well all the time.  Tomatoes and zuchinni are hard fits.  Takes gardener out of the garden.  Dries out somewhat quickly.  
  • Sustainability is questionable if you have to keep replenishing it from outside sources.  Here are some ideas to make it sustainable and more permaculturish:

*Refill it with compost you make on site. 

*Use natural materials for bed borders such as rocks or cedar logs. 

*Utilize the squares but as you learn mix it up.  So each square might have multiple plantings with similar populations. 

*Utilize the edges.  If you do plant something large find a way to utilize the space below it.



3 comments to Episode 175 Square Foot Gardening

  • J. Kaiser

    First off, I REALLY enjoy your blog and appreciate all the effort you put into it.  I think that I benefit greatly from your experience and efforts!

    That said, I did want to correct one thing in the article above.

    “Each square is not really a square foot that would be .32 x .32”

    I think that you are incorrect there.  1ftx1ft is a square foot, not .32ftx.32ft.

    A 4ftx4ft bed is 16sq. ft and contains 16 squares. Thus, 1 square=1sq. ft.

  • Jason

    J – you are absolutely right.  Don’t know what I was doing there! 

  • JD

    Rally good show Jason.  I installed 2 raised beds last year that were 4ft x 8ft and, like you stated, they were fairly expensive to build and fill.

    I used cardboard and wood much to line the bottom but I fought weeds all year.  Some of this could have been from a small amount of local manure I used as part of my ompost mix but there were a lot of weeds.

    I ran into specific spacing issues with the tomatoes and some peppers, just as you said.  Also I had issues with them drying out plus I had several different issues with pests.

    Overall, raised beds using the SFG method reminded me a lot of container gardening and I had a lot of the same issues.  Container gardening is what I did my first year of gardening. 

    Last year, which was my 2nd year, I did SFG with raised beds and had a lot of frustrations.  With what I have invested in time and money, I am bound and determined to make it work this year.  I added quality top soil as well as good, seasoned compost and am studying the mistakes that I made last year.  I did keep a small journal of my garden last year as you had suggested on one of your earlier episodes and I hope that it helps me to be more successful this year.