Square foot gardening

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Square Foot Garden in Raised Bed

Square foot gardening is the practice of dividing the growing area into small square sections (typically 12" on a side, hence the name). The aim is to assist the planning and creating of small but intensively planted gardens. This method is particularly well-suited for beginner gardeners since it encourages experimentation with different plants within a single bed. Square foot gardening is typically done using raised beds and as a result shares many of that approach's methods and benefits, including a strong focus on compost. That in turn makes square foot gardening, and raised beds in general, particularly attractive to gardeners with poor native soil and for those with disabilities. The phrase "square foot gardening" was coined by Mel Bartholomew in a 1981 book.


A basic, 4x4, 16-unit "square-foot garden."

The phrase "square foot gardening" was popularized by Mel Bartholomew in a 1981 Rodale Press book and subsequent PBS television series.[citation needed] Bartholomew used a 12’ by 12’ square with a grid that divided it into 9 squares with equal lengths of 4 feet on each side. Each of these 4’ by 4’ squares were then invisibly divided into sixteen one foot squares that were each planted with a different species. In smaller square gardens the grids may simply serve as a way to divide the garden but in larger gardens the grids can be made wide enough to be used as narrow walkways. Bartholomew recommends carefully spacing of seeds rather than planting the entire seed packet so that fewer but stronger plants will grow.

To encourage a variety of different crops over time, each square would be used for a different kind of plant, the number of plants per square depending on an individual plant's size. For example, a single tomato plant might take a full square, as might herbs such as oregano, basil or mint, while most strawberry plants could be planted four per square, and up to sixteen per square of plants such radish. Tall or climbing plants such as maize or pole beans might be planted in a northern row (south in the southern hemisphere) so as not to shade other plants, and supported with lattice or netting.[citation needed] The logic behind using smaller beds is that they are easily adapted, and the gardener can easily reach the entire area, without stepping on and compacting the soil.[citation needed]

One advantage of densely planted crops is that they can form a living mulch, and also prevent weeds from establishing or even germinating. Also, natural insect repellent methods such as companion planting (i.e. planting marigolds or other naturally pest-repelling plants) become more efficient in a close space, which may reduce the need to use pesticides. The large variety of crops in a small space also prevents plant diseases from spreading easily[1]

Since the beds are typically small, making covers or cages to protect plants from pests, cold, or sun is more practical than with larger gardens. To extend the growing season of a square foot garden, a cold/hot frame may be built around the SFG, and by facing the cold/hot frame south, the SFG captures more light and heat during the colder months of spring and winter.

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  1. ^ Pongsiri, Montira J.; Roman, Joe; Ezenwa, Vanessa O.; Goldberg, Tony L.; Koren, Hillel S.; Newbold, Stephen C.; Ostfeld, Richard S.; Pattanayak, Subhrendu K.; Salkeld, Daniel J. (2009). "Biodiversity Loss Affects Global Disease Ecology" (reprint). BioScience 59 (11): 945–954. doi:10.1525/bio.2009.59.11.6. 
Another example of a square foot garden style at West Marina Gardens, East Sussex, England

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