Square Foot 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.

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