Organic Square Foot Gardening – Design, Ideas, Tips

Introduction to organic square foot gardening

Square foot gardening is one of the methods of intensive gardening. Square foot gardening is a simple method of creating orderly, small, and highly productive kitchen gardens. It is the best way to grow fresh vegetables in urban areas and have only the plants you need to satisfy your gardening needs. The garden allows anyone with limited space to grow the vegetables, fruits, and even flowers they desire while controlling the garden environment.

A step by step guide to organic square foot gardening

Mostly, the sandy loam is mixed in a ratio of around four parts of sandy loam with one part of sphagnum peat moss or compost. An alternative one to mixing your soil would be to select from one of the high-quality bagged soil products on the market. Growing an edible garden organically and using this method in your backyard, you’re getting produce straight from your soil at much smaller environmental and health costs, in comparison to the average grocery store produce. Square foot gardening is a gardening method that is usually paired with raised beds for growing vegetables and herbs. It’s a way to grow an orderly, small, and highly productive garden that focuses on square feet. As an alternative to using rows and leaving walking paths in between, square foot gardening is more of a grid of square feet. A square foot garden pairs well with a raised bed. It’s is an intensive grid gardening method, and is great for small spaces like backyards where you don’t have much space.

Perfect soil for organic square foot gardening

One of the significant elements in the success of the square foot garden is providing the perfect soil mix. If you provide this attractive medium, your plants will grow twice as compared to the usual garden soil. The best soil is filled with humus, organic material that acts like tiny sponges. Vermiculite, peat moss, and compost and well-rotted manure all do the same job. They allow the soil to drain because they are separated by several open spaces, and yet, because they act like sponges, they hold the moisture, not the water. The moisture is held in each little particle of the soil, and the roots of the plants grow around each particle in the soil. When they require moisture, they suck it up. Nutrients and moisture are held in these particles of humus, and the plant roots can take them up as they are needed.

You can also improve these soil mixes by adding homemade compost, therefore increasing the amount of organic matter. Before you loosen your existing soil, test it for pH, and add sulfur or lime, based on the results, to bring the pH within the desired 6 to 7 range, which is slightly acid in nature. Most of the vegetables do quite well in that range. Then add a small amount of fertilizer, about one pound of 5-10-5 to each four-by-four-foot area.

Advantages of organic square foot gardening

Another advantage of the square-foot organic vegetable patch and it only takes up very little space, so you can fit it right in the smallest gardens easily. Everybody, even persons who don’t have a garden at all, can start growing and eating carrots, zucchinis, lettuce, tomatoes, parsley, and other organic vegetables and spices.

1. The most noticeable advantage, as indicated in the name, is this method’s ability to produce the same amount of vegetables in less space. You must harvest the same amount of vegetables in only 20% of the space you formerly used.

2. Less space also means less water, roughly 10% of what might have been used for the same plants in a conventional garden. Expensive hoses or other watering equipment is not required for this.

3. Maintaining the lesser space is far simpler, and no need to walk in the growing areas. Paths are made with or without additional materials. By using a raised garden bed, the squares can be elevated to make them accessible to gardeners in wheelchairs.

4. Finding adequate sunlight in a partially shaded courtyard or patio is very easier with the square foot garden method, particularly if raised garden beds are used. And also, a raised garden bed may be brought indoors when necessary.

The advantages of organic square foot gardening are;

  • The soil stays friable (easily crumbled or pulverized) because you never walk in the squares.
  • You can harvest many more vegetables because you are planting in blocks instead of rows.
  • The squares are much easier to water because you aren’t wasting water between rows. The same thing for fertilizer.
  • You have less weeding to do because the garden has not had the rows in between plants and every square foot is dedicated to vegetables.
  • Pest control is very easier.
  • You rotate crops by square instead of the location.
  • The squares are more aesthetic and need far less work.
  • You don’t need to wait until each spring.
  • You can build trellises at the north ends of the squares to grow vining plants such as beans, peas, and squash vertically, which saves even more space. This type of garden warms faster and drains better compared to other traditional gardens.

Set of rules involved in organic square foot gardening design

Square foot garden system has evolved into a precise set of rules;

First of all, you need a raised bed 12 to 16 inches in depth. Though a 4 foot by 4-foot space is ideal, you can grow significant amounts of food in smaller spaces. You can line the box and fill with rich organic soil and the square foot garden concept is best for urban landscaping, indoor farming and for anyone interested in eating fresh, organic great tasting food. 

Create Deep Raised Beds – Generally, 4 feet by 4 feet, with a square foot lattice placed on top to visually separate the crops. Beds are between 6 and 12 inches deep which provides the plants plenty of rich nutrients while maintaining good drainage.

Use an exact Soil Mix – One third each of compost, vermiculite, and peat moss. This starts the raised beds completely weed-free as well as being water absorbent and full of nutrients.

Plant in Squares – To maintaining the planting simple there are no plant spacings to remember. Each square has either 16, 9, 4, or 1 plants in it depending on the size of the plant. Easy to position in each square by creating a smaller grid in the soil with your fingers. As an exception to this, there are a few larger plants that span 2 squares. Climbing beans and peas are planted in two minimum rows of 4 per square.

Fill your square foot garden bed

Once you have created your square foot garden (SFG) frames and accessories, it’s time to fill with your growing medium. You may choose to follow Bartholomew’s book to the letter and use a soil-free mix of peat moss, compost and vermiculite.

Though peat is not a sustainable source of material to use and the horticultural industry is doing a lot of work to eradicate its use in plants and composts. A more eco-friendly and sustainable suggestion is using a mixture of 50% peat-free compost, together with 25% fine chipped wood bark and the final 25% potting grit or fine gravel. The bark and gravel help to increase the drainage as well as water retention of the mix. 

If you make your garden compost from old raw vegetable scraps, grass clippings, cardboard, and chipped wood, your crops will benefit from incorporating some of this into the mix too.   If you don’t make your garden compost, now is the best time to start! It is fantastic, easy for your plants, and best of all it is free. Well-rotted horse manure is also a great addition to a veggie bed – it has to be well-rotted for at least once in a year, or else it may burn your crops.

Why we use grids for plant spacing in square foot gardens (SFG)?

Using grids for plant spacing in SFG has several advantages;

  • Garden beds with planting grids utilize space more efficiently by removing the need for rows.
  • Using a garden grid helps you see accurately where there is space to plant. When an empty square, then quick to fill it with plants or seeds. In the past, empty spots in beds without grids were often left empty.
  • Garden grids help an unorganized gardener be more organized and don’t have to worry about straight rows.
  • Following plant-spacing guidelines with garden, grids allow for good spacing between plants. This avoids overcrowding, which causes plants to compete for limited resources of sun, nutrients, and water.
  • Using garden grids in your garden beds allows for a system of polyculture as opposed to monoculture (row after row of the same crop) which is well for pest and disease prevention.

How to construct your organic square-foot vegetable patch

To build your own square-foot elevated vegetable bed, no need to have years of building experience. And keep in mind that the result must help you grow your vegetables easily, which will make gardening a pleasure. For example, to ensure this stays true, it is recommended not more than 40 inches to either side for your vegetable patch. You won’t require to reach out to unnatural lengths as you try to grow your vegetables. To prepare the box itself, make your pick: old planks, edges, logs, whatever is about a foot (25 cm) tall will do. Keep in mind you’re working on an organic garden: forget about autoclave wood treated with all sorts of chemicals.

And now for the square foot part! Once again, many options are available such as wood strips, wire, and string, etc. The main goal is easy to mark out lots for your different plants.

To ensure each square foot is the same size, simply;

  • Measure the half-way point on two opposite sides of your garden box and attach a piece of wood between them.
  • This will give you two rectangles of the equal surface.
  • To make squares, do the same with the two remaining opposite sides.
  • This will give you 4 squares that are still too large at this point.
  • Use more wood strips or sticks to divide each of these four squares again into four smaller squares, in the same manner as above.
  • Once that is done, you’ll have prepared 16 squares that are roughly 12 inches (30 cm) wide.
  • The last remaining task is to fill in your elevated vegetable patch with soil mix and plant your seeds or vegetable seedlings. For an organic vegetable patch, everything must be organic such as the soil, the seeds, and even the fertilizer.
  • If this small-scale square-foot garden brought you joy, you can also scale up and prepare more elevated beds to grow even more plants. Simply collect multiple square-foot organic vegetable patches and align them next to one another, leaving a footpath of about 1 ½ foot between each for you to go around. 

Spacing plants in square foot garden

Proper plant spacing can help decreases plant disease and maintain a healthy plant.

Here is a brief guide to the spacing requirements for some of the most common crops;

One plant per square foot

The largest plants that can easily be included in a square foot gardening system will need one whole square foot each. These include brassicas such as cabbage, broccoli, Eggplant, Melon, Winter squash, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower, kale, okra, peas, peppers, pumpkin, tomatoes, parsley, rosemary, tomatoes, peppers, and herbs such as coriander, rosemary, oregano, sage, and mint.

Two plants per square foot

Cucumbers (vining, trellised), Summer squash, radicchio, watermelon, green bean

Four plants per square foot

Some of the plants in this category could grow to full size if planted one per square foot but can be more intensively planted if you harvest them as they grow, which will keep them in check. These plants include Swiss chard, Arugula, Asian greens, celery, Chives, Potatoes, basil, parsley, and several other leafy greens.

Nine plants per square foot

Crops in this category include peas, beetroot, large turnips, parsnips, turnips, onions, leeks, garlic, spinach, kohlrabi, and spinach. Each of your seeds or seedlings will be placed at four inches apart.

Sixteen plants per square foot

Carrots, onions, green onions, lettuce, radishes, garlic, and spring onions are all examples of plants that can be grown intensively at a spacing of 3 inches, in blocks of four by four.

How to build a organic square foot garden

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How to build a organic square foot garden.
How to build a organic square foot garden.

Step 1) Select a location that gets at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight each day for your square-foot garden.

Step 2) Buy or build or a 4-foot by a 4-foot open box with 6-inch high sides. The building supplies or Raised beds kits for this purpose are available at any local home improvement store.

Step 3) Combine the soil mix, which must consist of equal a parts peat moss, vermiculite and blended compost. Use a mix recipe that consists of 4 or 5 bags of compost, two 4-cubic-foot bags of vermiculite and one 3.9-cubic-foot bale of peat moss. This is the basic recipe for three, 4-foot-by-4-foot boxes.

Step 4) Add the mix to the raised beds. Using this mixture gives the plants nutrients and helps keep your beds weed-free.

Step 5) Using twine, sticks or strips, lay out a grid on the soil that creates 1-foot by 1-foot squares for each plant. When finished you should have 16 squares.

Step 6) Plant the seedlings of the plants you wish to include in an organic garden, making sure to space them in each square as directed on the package instructions. Plants like broccoli need more spacing and require their square, while plants that require less space, like radishes, can be planted in four rows in one square.

Step 7) Water them until the soil is moist after all plants are in place. Use a bucket or watering can make sure you do not flood the bed with excess water.

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