All About Square Foot Gardening

Garden grown vegetables have a quality and taste that can’t be replicated – think about the crisp crunch of baby carrots, the flavour of steamed new potatoes, fresh peas & beans, juicy ripe red tomatoes, the coolness of cucumbers, and on it goes…is your mouth watering yet?  Are you feeling nostalgic for you grandma’s garden??

Growing your own veggies is becoming a thing as we see urban gardens popping up all over the place.  Growing your own veggies can be a reality and for those with limited spaces — square foot gardening could be the answer.  Let’s talk about Square Foot Gardening and explore the role it could have in getting those fresh veggies on your table.

What is Square Foot Gardening?

Square Foot Gardening is a cultivation method of that it super productive – it maximizes the use of space and optimizes growth through the use of companion planting.

What are the Advantages of Square Foot Gardening?

Where is Square Foot Gardening done?

As we said, Square Foot Gardening is very flexible and it can be done:

  • In the ground
  • In raised beds – this is the most popular way because —
    • they are more accessible for planting, watering, weeding
    • the soil stays warmer and plants grow better
    • we recommend that raised beds have a 12” depth of soil for vegetable production – this will help maintain soil moisture

Related: Why Raised Bed Gardening?

How does one get Square Foot Gardening Started?

  • Take out time to research, get great ideas, and plan – otherwise your efforts could wind up being in vain – there’s nothing like building a tower without having the proper plans in place. This can seem like the least productive phase of the entire operation but you really do save time in the end when you have a plan and you are prepared.  Familiarize yourself with the following information:

Where is the best place to put your Square Foot Garden?

  • Pick the sunniest part of your yard – vegetabless need at least 8 hours of sunshine.

Make a list of what you’d like grow

  • Annual vegetables
    • know which produce continually – like tomatoes, herbs, peppers
    • know which only produce once – root crops like beets, carrots, leeks, onions, cole crops like cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli
    • know which veggies have a flush of production over a period of weeks, but they don’t produce all summer – peas, beans and leaf crops like lettuce, kale, spinach, and swiss chard all have a period of production, but they don’t last the entire summer

Develop a schematic diagram

  • Either make one from hand with a photo or do one on the computer
    • Draw a grid representing 1 foot x 1 foot grids, or you could use bigger grids if you’d like
  • When planning vegetable placement keep the following in mind:
    • match heights – grow vegetables of similar heights side by side so that the smaller ones don’t get choked out
    • place taller plants and those that need a trellis together and in a place where they won’t shade out the sunshine from the smaller plants
    • optimize your use of companion planting – some veggies do better grown together and others inhibit growth – our blog on companion planting is coming out next week.
    • be careful to not overcrowd your garden – take heights and widths of the plants into consideration – and believe the dimensions given. Overcrowded gardens decrease production because of the stress it causes on the plants.

Make a schedule of when things need to be seeded

  • Not all vegetables take the same amount of time to produce so they don’t all need to be seeded at the same time; and for our northern climate, timing is everything.
  • We have prepared this veggie timing chart, check out this link (veggie garden timing chart) for suggestions on when to seed various vegetables
  • Direct Sowing – some crops do best being sown directly into the garden:
    • peas, beans, and corn always do best direct sown
    • cole crops like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale do well either direct sown or sown indoors a few weeks earlier. If they are grown indoors, they will usually produce earlier than sown directly into the soil.
  • Sowing Indoors – to get a jump start on some vegetables that take a longer time or are more sensitive to the cold, you can always seed them indoors. Check out our blog on seed timing to be careful to not start them too soon.  If they are started too early, they may stretch and it’s more difficult for them to be productive.  Never be in a big hurry to get these crops started.
    • celery, herbs, peppers, and tomatoes can be started indoors in mid-April
    • sensitive and vining crops like cucumbers, pumpkin, squash, and zucchini that get really large very fast are best sown indoors in the first and second week of May – plant these outdoors around the last week of May or 1st week of June because of their sensitivity to our cool nights.
  • Successive Seeding – leaf crops like lettuce and spinach work very well seeded directly into the garden every 2 weeks to ensure a continual supply during the summer

How to Maintain your Square Foot Garden?

  • Weeding – it is always best to get the young weeds early because when the weeds are large, especially in a Square Foot Garden, you may accidentally take some good plants out while getting rid of the weeds.
  • Watering – with a raised bed depth of 12”, water retention shouldn’t be a big issue. Water when the soil is dry; avoid watering your garden on a strict schedule because it may end up getting over watered and soggy.  Plants stress from overwatering as much as they do from overwatering.
  • Mulch – using 2-4” of mulch around your veggies will decrease weeding, keep roots cooler, retain moisture, and decrease your work overall.  Mulch is the golden ticket for reducing work in your garden.

Take good notes

  • Get yourself a good notebook and keep a garden memoir. This will help you avoid making the same mistakes twice.  One thing:   Remember to review your notes at the beginning of each season!  This is where the real learning and becoming a savvy gardener happens.

Disadvantages of Square Foot Gardening

  • It can get over full – like, stacked & packed – so be careful to research heights and widths of the vegetables you plant to grow and plant accordingly. It’s VERY tempting to put more plants in when they are really small but they will fill out.
  • Water retention can be a problem if the raised beds are less than 12” deep.

Stay tuned for next week’s blog on Companion Plantingfeel free to email or call (780-467-3091) with any questions.  If you are looking for vegetable plants already started, we have a large selection in the vegetable department of our retail greenhouse. We are happy to help make your veggie garden fun, simple, and wildly successful place!


About The Author

Sharon (Wallish) Murphy
Sharon grew up in the Wallish Greenhouse at the heels of her father, Charlie, who mentored her. Sharon’s passion is to share the love for growing and to empower others to find joy in their gardening journey, just like her dad.