You know those directions on seed packets that tell you to space your pepper plants twelve inches apart, in rows three feet apart? That space between the rows sure eats up a lot of space in the garden. If you’re gardening in a small space, every inch of available soil is precious. If you’re struggling with fitting everything into your garden, it might be time to abandon the old row method of vegetable gardening for the square foot method.
This method is the brainchild of Mel Bartholomew, who has been teaching the method in books, classes, and even on a PBS series, for years. The idea, generally, is to set up your vegetable garden based on a grid of one foot squares. And then, you follow the instructions for spacing between the plants, ignoring the rules about space between rows (those row instructions are mainly meant for large-scale growers who use harvesting and planting equipment, and need all of that space between rows for their machinery). So, say a seed packet says to plant your spinach three inches apart. You can fit nine spinach plants in a single one-square-foot block. The method is loosely based on the French Intensive method, in which you make a point of spacing plants closely, and succession plant for maximum harvest.
There are a few other tenets of square foot gardening:
1. Never, ever walk on the soil.
2. Grow in raised beds.
3. Succession plant for optimum yield.
This was just a very simple overview of the method. I’ve used it in my garden, with good results. I’ve found that it especially works well for smaller crops like lettuces, salad greens, radishes, and carrots — so if you grow a lot of that type of thing, you may be able to grow even more using the square foot method. To learn more about square foot gardening, you can check out Mel Bartholomew’s website, or look for his books at your local library.