Posted by Gardening Felix | Posted in Basic Gardening Tips, Landscaping | Posted on 27-06-2012
“Square foot gardening” has pretty much become a buzzword that you will come across sooner or later if you’re browsing gardening websites. It’s a concept that aims at both increasing yields (for vegetables) on a small area and also appeals to a certain “chic”. As its name says, it’s about creating a small patch for vegetable (or ornamental, or both) plants the size of four x four feet. This patch is further divided into 16 fields. This patch is intensively grown with plants that complement each other in nutrient use and symbiotic effects.
You can create the patch by building borders to the rest of your garden from wood, stone or other materials. This bed may be raised or even (raised is preferable for reasons of irrigation). Each field (1 x 1 square) is planted with one or more vegetables, depending on its size (f.e. you could plant about 4-9 onions or strawberries in one square or one cabbage). You don’t only have to plant vegetables but can include ornamental plants as well, some of which may have good effects on other plants: Mustard seed may repel snails, alfalfa is good for regenerating the nitrogen levels, and some other ornamental plants like poppies are simply beautiful.
It’s nice to know that you can grow a lot of plants even if you have only limited space (a balcony). What’s more important (in my eyes) is that you don’t waste space in your garden, as the borders for the vegetable patch are clearly defined (and you may plant lawn around it).
I sometimes had the problem in my vegetable gardens that the space between rows would be overgrown with weeds, and it always takes a lot of time to get rid of them. When you’re following the square-foot-gardening method, on the other hand, plants are growing so dense that weeds just don’t get much sunlight and have less space to grow (and are also easier to pluck out).
You also notice at once if one of the sixteen fields is not used and will be able to choose a new plant for it.
C.) The Look:
You can unleash your creativity and create a box that’s good to use and also nice to look at. Intensively grown patches look much more attractive than long rows of mono-cultures.
A.) The price of diversity:
Biodiversity is great, but the compactness of square-foot-gardens call for having a different plant in every of the sixteen fields. If your main focus is to grow a large amount of one specific plant, another system may be more efficient for you.
It’s not enough to exchange a handful of earth with compost each year to compensate for the nutrient loss the soil suffers. You will need to grow cover crops on one patch the one year and switch back to vegetables the other.
C.) More style than substance?
In my eyes, the concept is not as well-known as it is for its practical use but for the reason of it being a well-marketed catchword. That’s why my advice is: Don’t stick to the “rules” but use the idea to create something that fits your garden. If a strict organizational pattern (division of a patch into rectangular smaller fields) is fine for you, use it!
I hope you like this short introduction to square-foot-gardening. As I find the topic of planting intensively on small areas quite interesting, I will write a follow-up article on companion plants and sustainability of soil in the following days.