How to plan a square foot garden?

Square Foot Gardening (commonly referred to as SFG) is a planting method developed in the 1970s by American author and TV host Mel Bartholomew. It’s an easy way to create easy-to-manage gardens with raised beds that require a minimum of time to maintain. SFG quickly gained popularity in the 1980s through Mel’s first book and television series and has since spread around the world, eventually becoming mainstream with several companies offering turnkey SFG gardens. Proponents of SFG claim that it produces more, uses less land and water, and takes only 2% of the time spent on a traditional garden. So what makes Square Foot Gardening so special and why don’t all gardeners use it?

Square Foot Gardening (commonly referred to as SFG) is a planting method developed in the 1970s by American author and TV host Mel Bartholomew. It’s an easy way to create easy-to-manage gardens with raised beds that require a minimum of time to maintain. SFG quickly gained popularity in the 1980s through Mel’s first book and television series and has since spread around the world, eventually becoming mainstream with several companies offering turnkey SFG gardens. Proponents of SFG claim that it produces more, uses less land and water, and takes only 2% of the time spent on a traditional garden. So what makes Square Foot Gardening so special and why don’t all gardeners use it?

  • Thin with scissors: Instead of pulling up excess plants that could disturb the root systems of the plants you want to grow, trim them off with scissors.
  • accessories: In addition to details of all of the above, the All New Square Foot Gardening book includes practical instructions for making various accessories, including protective cages that can be easily lifted on and off the SFG beds, covers to extend the season, and supports for vertical cultivation.

Each of these ‘rules’ serves a purpose, and together they form a powerful and nearly fail-safe method for successful gardening. It’s a great method for novice gardeners, those short on time, the elderly or disabled (SFG gardens can be built at an elevated height to make them more accessible), and children. Many schools have embraced the SFG method because it is easy to install and maintain without becoming an additional burden on the teacher. However, there are some limitations:

  • Easy to outgrow: While many vegetables can be grown in SFG gardens, they struggle to accommodate larger plants (pumpkin, melons, main crop potatoes, etc.), perennials (bulb artichokes, rhubarb), and fruit bushes/trees. Once new gardeners experience the success of SFG gardens, they often want to expand the range of crops they grow beyond the standard SFG crops.
  • Non-renewable resources: There is no doubt that ‘Mel’s Mix’ is an excellent base for vegetables. However, two of the three ingredients come from non-renewable sources. Peat takes thousands of years to develop and is a valuable natural sink for greenhouse gases. Vermiculite is mined and is therefore also a non-renewable resource with a significant environmental footprint. Like many gardeners, I will not use peat and prefer not to use vermiculite.
  • Expensive for large gardens: While SFG beds are inexpensive to maintain, they are quite expensive to set up if you have a large surface area and want to fill it quickly.

However, none of these reasons prevent SFG from being a useful part of a garden – you can use 100% recycled compost in the beds instead of Mel’s Mix, gradually build up the number of SFG beds and combine it with areas of your garden that are set aside for fruit trees and larger crops. Many of the SFG techniques that were revolutionary in the 1980s are now widely used for vegetable gardening – deep raised beds, non-compacting soil, removable covers and plant supports etc.

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