What is Square Foot Gardening (SFG)?

Submitted by ~ Suri Lunde

Square foot gardening (SFG) is a method of creating small, orderly, and highly productive kitchen gardens. Developed by gardener, engineer, and efficiency expert Mel Bartholomew as a better way to grow more vegetables in less space, the idea was popularized in his books Square Foot Gardening (1981) and All New Square Foot Gardening (2006).

The basic system: a 6-inch-deep frame or raised bed is created, filled with a mixture of vermiculite, peat moss, and com-post, and divided into a grid of 1-foot squares, which are masquarefoot 2naged individually. Each of the squares is planted with a different crop depending on the size and requirement of the crop. When a square is harvested, just add compost and plant a different crop within it, allowing for continual harvest. Since there are no paths between the squares, there is no wasted space, and the soil in the bed stays loose because you never step on it.

It is an almost fail-safe system for new gardeners, the elderly or disabled (SFG beds can be built at a raised height to make them more accessible), children, and people with limited yard space or little time, or who want a highly organized method to follow. Additionally, SFG can also be included in a garden plan that uses traditional planting methods.

Pros of SFG

  • High yields: Intensive planting means plentiful and continuous harvest from a small space.
  • Fast set-up: SFG is a quick way to start a new garden. Raised garden bed kits and raised garden soils can be purchased if you prefer not to create them from scratch.
  • Place the raised bed anywhere (even over grass or pavement), fill, and start planting in just a few hours.
  • Ease of maintenance: Since the garden is small, regular tasks like planting, maintaining, and harvesting take less time, and watering can be done by hand.
  • Less weeding: An SFG bed filled with good soil-less mix should not have seeds which means no weeds to pull in the first season. Closely planted crops also minimize weeds in the beds.
  • Increases biodiversity: Growing a variety of different crops close together is a form of companion planting which increases biodiversity and helps reduce pests and diseases.

Cons of SFG

  • High initial cost: The expense of building or buying even a small raised bed and filling it with soil-less mix can be costly.
  • Cramped beds: SFG beds are not ideal for crops that take up a lot of space such as pumpkin, squash, or a big planting of sweet corn. Therefore, grow compact vegetables such as carrots and radishes in SFG beds and plant large crops in traditional rowed vegetable gardens.
  • Insufficient depth: The 6-inch-deep beds recommended in SFG might be too shallow for some plants. The solution: make your frame at least 12 inches deep to accommodate plants like carrots and potatoes.
  • Watering: Consider installing soaker hoses or a drip irrigation system since the soil in raised beds tends to dry out faster.

SFG Bottom Line
Many gardeners find vegetable gardening a relaxing activity, and there is satisfaction in eating something grown in your own backyard. SFG can be that successful backyard gardening method but before you decide if SFG is right for you, know your gardening style, needs, and preferences. Happy gardening!

Noteworthy: YCMGA has square foot demonstration gardens at the Metra. Check these links for information.