How to Garden in Small Spaces Using Square Foot Gardening Basics

Square Foot Gardening, a method of gardening developed by Mel Bartholomew after retiring from a career as an engineer and organizing a community garden, promotes the use of available space in the most efficient and effective way. It encourages gardeners to systematically plant seeds in tightly organized mini-plots within urban community garden plots, or the limited space of a patio or small urban yard.

The purpose of Square Foot Gardening is to be able to produce substantial crops with less work, less resources, and less space. Square Foot Gardening can also help to more easily manage gardening for people with physical challenges and limitations.

How to Garden in Small Spaces Using Square Foot Gardening Basics
How to Garden in Small Spaces Using Square Foot Gardening Basics

Principles of Square Foot Gardening

The main idea of Square Foot Gardening, as explained in Bartholomew’s book, Square Foot Gardening: A New Way to Garden in Less Space with Less Work, is to create 16 small plots or grids, one foot square, inside of a four feet by four feet frame. Each of the 16 small plots, or grids, will hold a different kind of plant. There should be adequately wide walkways around the larger four feet by four feet frame so soil does not compact from walking on it.

If planting around a patio or edging a yard, the outer frames can be built two feet by two feet to be more easily tended where the garden is only accessible from one side.

How to Garden in Small Spaces Using Square Foot Gardening Basics
How to Garden in Small Spaces Using Square Foot Gardening Basics

How to Plant a Small Garden

Instead of planting in long rows, each small square foot plot is planted according to spacing requirements on the seed packet. Plant a few seeds in small holes spaced according to package instructions. This eliminates the need to thin the crop as when seeds are planted in long rows or furrows in the soil.

Examples of how to plant in the square foot grid:

  • Plants requiring 12 inches between plants – 1 plant in each square.
  • Plants requiring 6 inches between plants – 4 plants in each square.
  • Plants requiring 4 inches between plants – 9 plants in each square.
  • Plants requiring 3 inches between plants – 16 plants in each square.
How to Garden in Small Spaces Using Square Foot Gardening Basics
How to Garden in Small Spaces Using Square Foot Gardening Basics

Bartholomew recommends planting each square foot with only as much as you think will be harvested. When the harvest is finished, replenish the soil with compost and replant the space with a different crop in order to maintain healthy soil through crop rotation.

How to Garden in Small Spaces Using Square Foot Gardening Basics
How to Garden in Small Spaces Using Square Foot Gardening Basics

Square Foot Gardening, whether fully implemented or used as a starting point for planning a garden, is a good resource for both beginner and experienced gardeners who want to get the most out of a small garden plot.