As an urban dweller, land is hard to come by. Sure, I may have a great patch of concrete in the backyard where grass may have once existed, but when it comes to finding a plot in a local community garden or utilizing the green space in my neighborhood, we’re talking about at least a two year waiting period before any green spaces become available. It wasn’t until a year or so ago that I discovered how easy gardening can be when using a system called “square foot gardening”. Intended to give you the highest yield per square foot, these gardens are the perfect solution for urban gardeners looking to supplement their summer pantries with home grown goodies.
Step 1: Build your Raised Bed & Soil
For a raised bed, you want about a 4’x4’ patch to give you sufficient yield (that’s a 16 sq. ft. garden, or enough to grow roughly 16 different plants). Prefabricated options made of weather resistant cedar are easy to assemble and readily available at your local Ace Hardware. If building from scratch, you want to designate a minimum 6’’ depth for sufficient root growth. We recommend using cedar or pre-treated lumber for a weather-resistant garden box that lasts several seasons. Next, create a “grid” for your box, drawing a line in the soil every 12’’ to create individual plots. For a 4’x4’ raised bed, you’ll have 16 squares total, each one measuring 1sq.ft.
For your soil, a good rule of thumb is 1:1 top soil to soil conditioner with high humus content such as all natural compost or Leaf-Gro. It’s best to find a product that also has peat moss added to the mix. Adding one 8qt bag of vermiculite for every 4 cu. ft. of soil will improve water retention and soil aeration. A 4’x4’ garden box requires approximately 8 cu. ft. of soil. We recommend topping your soil with a sprinkling of worm castings as it is good all natural solution to top-down fertilizing as you water your garden.
Step 2: Map Out Your Garden Using Our Square Foot Garden Planner
Using our Square Foot Gardening Grid, map out which plants will go in your garden using the Square Foot Gardening Planner to determine many seeds will need to be planted per section of your grid. Use the Companion Planting Guide to avoid planting two uncooperative plants together. For instance, kale requires an entire square foot of soil to produce a mature plant, so you will only seed in the center of your plot; whereas scallions can afford up to 9 seedings per square foot.
Step 3: Seed and Transplant
Now that your garden is ready, it’s time to get growing! Space out your seed placement based on your square foot garden planner. Seed should be planted twice as deep as their diameter: larger
seeds (like peas) can be planted about an inch deep, while smaller seeds (such as basil) will be planted fairly close to the soil surface. Cover seeds with soil and pat firmly but gently to keep them in place. Water generously but be careful not to overwater. Not all seeds in a packet are guaranteed to germinate; by placing 2-3 seeds in each hole and weening out the smallest and weakest seedlings, you eliminate the risk of only planting unproductive seeds. If transplanting seedling, wait until they are approximately 2’’ tall and plant part of the stem in the soil to encourage strong stalks as plants reach maturity.
Step 4: Water, Care, and Enjoy!
Plants should be watered early morning or late afternoon to avoid excessive evaporation during the hottest hours of the day, when the sun is overhead. Continue to remove the “weakest link” seedlings in your garden until you are left with a single productive plant per allotted space per grid. When harvesting, clip from the stem versus pulling yields off the stock to encourage future growth and reduce any stress placed on the plant. Feed between plantings using worm castings or additional soil conditioners for plants with multiple yields per season, i.e. salad greens, radishes, etc.