Home > Planting and Care > Square Foot Gardening

Square Foot Gardening

By: Leigh Sexton - Updated: 22 Aug 2012 | comments*Discuss
Square Foot Gardening Organic Gardening

This system was invented in the 1960s the USA, by Mel Bartholomew and claims for this form of agriculture are impressive. The system requires a south-facing raised and edged bed four feet by four feet square – this bed is further subdivided into 1 foot squares and each square is planted with a different crop. The spacing is very close together and as each food crop finishes, the plant is removed and replaced by something different.

The plants are arranged so that the tallest are placed at the back with 4ftx4ft is made and subdivided into 1ft squares. Each square is planted with a different crop using very close spacing. Throughout the growing season, as soon as each crop is finished it is replaced by a different one. Plants are grown so that the tallest are at the back, with height decreasing so that the shortest plants are at the front.

Fertiliser and Soil

Because of the period of history in which Bartholomew developed his ideas, organic gardening was in its infancy. However his original technique required a special form of premixed artificial 'soil' that was designed to provide the most effective possible growing medium with minimum effort. This soil was supported by the use of a rich well-balanced fertiliser. These two ideas are very to similar organic gardening principles.

Square Foot Rotation

Crop rotation is vital to managing the square foot planting system – it has crucial functions in reducing pests and limiting the loss of nutrients. Bartholemew’s claim was that it is as simple as replacing any crop with something different, which gives an automatic and natural crop rotation. However, more sophisticated systems are probably necessary for the long term health of the soil and keeping a record of your planting over previous seasons can be important.

This becomes complex when winter crops and long-living ones are in the soil for many months and may need to be followed by a fertiliser crop rather than a food crop. Another complicating factor is the need to grow smaller plants at the front, which limits the way you can rotate tall plants like beans which are vital nitrogen fixers or Jerusalem artichokes which are a good but tall winter crop. Companion planting, and its opposite, also become more complicated – beans planted next to onions do not perform well, for example, but it’s difficult to avoid planting them next door to each other at some point.

Advantages of Square Foot Gardening

There’s a lot to recommend Square Foot gardening to the keen grower.

  • It’s an ideal method to use up small patches of ground to maximum advantage, which can be useful if you have a very small garden or competing demands such as the need to use your green space for children to play in as well as for growing flowers and having a sitting space.
  • It’s also a very good system for getting started as a vegetable gardener – you have a limited investment in buying plants and seed and can rely on having a wide range of crops in your first year of gardening – this gives you a good opportunity to try out foods you might not be sure you like before planting a whole row or a whole bed of them. For this reason some gardeners combine Square Foot and traditional growing techniques: trying out new crops or new varieties in their raised bed before planting out a large area with them.
  • Finally, it’s a great method for those with limited mobility as a raised bed can be much easier to handle and it can be built to the right height for the individual to work without strain.

You might also like...
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
Why not be the first to leave a comment for discussion, ask for advice or share your story...

If you'd like to ask a question one of our experts (workload permitting) or a helpful reader hopefully can help you... We also love comments and interesting stories

(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
Enter word:
Latest Comments
  • Robyn
    Re: Growing Squash and Pumpkins
    @Freemind - They will happily grow on a teepee type arrangement. They are fine growing up high, you can stablise them if you thing…
    17 July 2018
  • Freemind
    Re: Growing Squash and Pumpkins
    Was given some onion squash seeds. Have four successful plants 3 of which have squash growing on them. I put up sticks because they…
    16 July 2018
  • Kamel
    Re: Everything You Need To Know About Brassica Vegetables
    search for any work i am agricultural engineer vegetables and foods
    22 June 2018
  • ella_TP
    Re: Growing and Using Artichokes
    Artichokes are best planted as began seedlings in trenches eight inches profound, fixed with one inch of fertilizer or decayed…
    26 February 2018
  • Rabby
    Re: Pickling Onions and Shallots
    I've been doing my own pickled onions for myself and my family for 30 years and I di them the same every year . I have about 10 of…
    16 February 2017
  • MrsF
    Re: Pickling Onions and Shallots
    I've done my 1st jars of onions today using 1/2 a 4kg pack of Parrish's onions. I'm using Sarsons pickling vinegar with…
    30 October 2016
  • Silverfox
    Re: Pickling Onions and Shallots
    When making a brine for pickles you need a tablespoon of salt for every pint of water, leave pickles in for no more than 24hrs. 3…
    28 October 2016
  • Pickles
    Re: Pickling Onions and Shallots
    I live in Spain and am having great difficulty in buying pickleing onions, anyone got any idea where I can buy them as I need…
    16 October 2016
  • Ian
    Re: Pickling Onions and Shallots
    Hi, I am in the process of doing some pickle onions. Yesterday I made a brine solution with approx 5 ltrs water and went a bit…
    5 October 2016
  • Minety15
    Re: Pickling Onions and Shallots
    Hi, I've been given a jar of pickled shallots and they are soft, does anyone know if it's possible to crisp them up again…
    30 September 2016
Further Reading...
Our Most Popular...
Add to my Yahoo!
Add to Google
Stumble this
Add to Twitter
Add To Facebook
RSS feed
You should seek independent professional advice before acting upon any information on the VegetableExpert website. Please read our Disclaimer.