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square-ft-gardenWe’re excited to have some Introduction to Square Foot Gardening Classes in Duluth and Oakwood again this year. Jason Clark, our Hardware Manager in Duluth is pretty passionate about square foot gardening and will be leading both classes.

We’ll be holding the class in Duluth on March 22 from 10am to 12pm. The same class will happen in Oakwood on March 29th from 10am to 12pm.

We’ll discuss:

  • Container / Bed construction
  • Soil preparation best practice
  • Plant selection
  • Grid layout and vertical growth options

We’ll also have some donuts and coffee!

What is Square Foot Gardening?

Square Foot Gardening is completely different from the traditional way of gardening with which most of us are familiar. Traditionally, when you think of gardening, you probably visualize straight rows with large gaps between the rows.

The reason that row planting is more common and has been passed down from generation to generation is because our ancestors needed larger gaps between the rows so that their machinery could easily roll and maneuver. Most of us don’t have gardens large enough to require machinery… but we still plant in the same style.

If you look on the back of your seed package, it will say something like, “Plant a seed every 4 inches.” When you remove the large gaps that are typically left with row planting, you can greatly increase your crop in a very small space.

What is the Best Location for my Square Foot Garden

Don’t overthink it… but don’t under think it, either. In my opinion, location of your garden is the most crucial part of starting your garden. You can put your garden anywhere you like as long as the area receives plenty of sunlight (8-10 hours a day.) I have found that the closer to the home I keep the garden, the more time I will spend in my garden. Besides, it is visually pleasing to be able to look out a window and see your garden.

Because most square foot gardening involves adding soil and compost materials to build up your garden, drainage and even level ground isn’t as important as you might think. Let your imagination go wild and pick the place you like the best.

Types of Square Foot Gardening

If you have decided to give square foot gardening a try, then you need to decide what type you are going to use.

On the Ground

If you have enough room in your yard, you can use untreated lumber to create a small enclosure to hold your soil in place. You can either dig down about 6 inches, block off the area with your untreated lumber and fill in the area with your soil, or you can build a boxed in area above ground with the lumber and your soil. The first option can be a bit more time consuming and more difficult, but it is really all dependent on what type of garden you want and how much effort you want to put into it. In either case, to avoid having weeds grow up from beneath your garden, use a weed barrier of some sort – solid wood bottom, fabric, newspaper, or mulch are all popular choices.

Raised Box or Container Gardening

If you want a raised garden, use a sturdy, untreated plywood bottom, and build a box just like you would if you were putting it on the ground. The above ground box option allows the garden to be placed anywhere that adequate sunlight is available – including the porch, patio, balcony, or anywhere with a flat space and sunlight.

Example of a 4 Foot by 4 Foot Grid

Example of a 4 Foot by 4 Foot Grid

Draw a Blue Print of your Garden

After picking out the site for your garden, it is time to draw a grid layout of your garden so that you can visually see where everything needs to go.

Why use a Grid?

Some people will forego using an actual grid in their Square Foot Gardens, but they really are cheating themselves. Grids are used to keep plants separate and in nice little compartments. Usually thin planks of wood are used to create a grid and are what should be walked on to water and weed your garden if you are putting it in the ground. Some people use twine in small Square Foot Garden boxes, which can be a good option as well. Either way, just make sure you use a grid; you’ll thank me later.

Mixing up the Soil for your Raised Bed

If you use the below combination, you will be able to use the same soil year after year and only have to add compost every season to rejuvenate your beds.  The below quantities are for a 4’x4’ bed 6” deep.

  • Peat moss – 2 Cubic Feet
  • Vermiculite or perilite – 48 Quarts
  • Compost (cow manure, mushroom, etc.) – 2 Cubic Feet
  • Garden Soil – 2 Cubic Feet

Take a 10×10 tarp and lay it on the ground next to your raised bed then put the proper amounts of the above items onto the tarp.  Bring the two ends of the tarp together and begin to roll the mixer back and forth till you get a good blend.  Now drag the edge of the tarp over the bed and pull the other end of the tarp over the bed and all the mix will dump in.  Spread the mix evenly around the bed, but make sure you do NOT tamp the mixture down.  You want the bed to remain light and fluffy not compacted.  NEVER walk in the bed once it is prepped.  Access the bed from around the edges or by walking the grid.

Planting Your Garden

When laying out your garden, make sure you take into account the mature size of the plant.  You would not want to put tomato plants in front of green pepper plants because the tomatoes would block sunshine from getting to the peppers.  I always try to do a “waterfall” layout by putting the smallest plants in the front, largest in the back.  Also, if the vegetable you are growing is a vine style, such as cucumbers, watermelons, pumpkins, etc., you can grow them vertically.  Yes, I said watermelons and pumpkins.  Don’t worry, the vine will grow in size enough to hold the melon in the air.  Also, by growing vertically, you get very good air circulation on the plant, which reduces the chance for disease, and you use very little space in your garden.  There are many different ways to make a trellis for the plant to grow on.  The method I use is ½” electrical conduit, 2 ½” conduit elbows, ½”rebar, and trellis netting.  Drive a 3’ piece of 1/2” rebar into the ground at each end of your raised bed until there is about 18” remaining above the ground.  Take ½” electrical conduit and cut 2 lengths for your uprights to whatever height you would like your trellis to be.  Slide each section down over the rebar you have driven into the ground.  Put on the elbows to the top of the conduit that you have just slid over the rebar.  Cut a third section of conduit to bridge the gap between the 2 uprights and insert the ends into the elbow.  Take the netting and stretch it across the opening and secure with zip straps.

What to Plant

The thought of planting your own garden may be daunting to some, and while the clay may make some plants difficult to grow in Georgia, just about anything will grow well in a Square Foot Garden. Some plants that are well suited to growing in Georgia’s weather are green beans, tomatoes, bell peppers (and peppers of any variety, really), eggplant, zucchini, squash, cucumbers, carrots, turnips, beets, corn, onions, lettuce, beets, strawberries, and watermelon. It is important to take into account the area that you will need for each plant and that some vine plants may need extra room and a structure to climb. Also remember that if you plant something tall, like corn, to make sure that it does not block out the sunlight from reaching your other plants.

Still not sure?

There are lots of resources out there to help you get started on your Square Foot Garden, both online and in your local garden center. A couple of online resources you can start with are www.MelBartholomew.com and www.squarefootgardening.com, and a quick Google or YouTube search will yield plenty more.

Just do it!

Even if you are unsure about whether you have Square Foot Gardening down to an exact science, why not give it a try? Start small this year, like I did when I first started. Try planting a few tomatoes and some beans, and next year try going bigger and plant some squash, radish, or spinach. From all that I’ve heard, you’ll be amazed at how much you can produce! And next thing you know, you’ll become an enthusiast for it to your neighbors, friends, and family.

While you are out shopping for the supplies that you will need to make your Square Foot Garden this year, be sure to shop at your locally owned and operated hardware store or garden center (you know… us!)  and get to know your friendly local experts who can help you make the most of your garden. Most of the materials you will need can be found at Howard Brothers. We have the plants, seeds, soils, fertilizers, advice, and just about everything else to get you started on your very own Square Foot Garden. Get to know the folks who are truly interested in you and want you to succeed and have FUN!

Below is a sample plan of a garden with various vegetables. This is a great example of the variety you can grow within a 16 square foot area.

sampleGrid