Square foot gardening is an ingenious method of growing large amounts of food in a relatively small space. First popularized in 1981 by Mel Bartholomew in his book Square Foot Gardening, the technique has been adopted by gardeners looking to maximize the potential of their gardens whether they have acres of fertile land or a small balcony in a high rise apartment.
Square foot gardening involves creating a raised planting bed and dividing it into a grid of four, nine or sixteen squares. Each square will house a different fruit, vegetable or herb, and the crops are continually rotated yearly to ensure rich, fertile soil. The method is ideal for elderly gardeners or those with mobility problems as it is easy to maintain. Kids and urban gardeners are also attracted to square foot gardening and just one 4×4 foot grid can produce enough food to feed a small family. No matter what type of property you have or your level of experience, you can begin growing healthy, delicious organic food that is free from GMOs, pesticides and harmful chemicals in no time.
To start your own square foot garden you will need four lengths of wood approximately 4 feet long, depending on how many squares you would like to divide your garden into. Each crop will need a space of approximately 1 square foot. If your garden will be atop some form of soil, prepare the soil first by loosening it using a spade and spreading a generous layer of dried leaves, hay or grass on top. Water the area thoroughly, and spread large plastic garbage bags on top before leaving it to decompose for a few weeks. Alternatively, mix already decomposed compost in with the soil. If you will be growing food on a balcony or roof, make sure you have permission first from the owner or landlord, and ensure the added weight of the garden will not be a safety hazard. Gardens that are situated on cement do not usually pose any problems, but if you live in an area with heavy rainfall you may want to lay down some heavy duty plastic underneath the soil to protect against leakage. Choose a south-facing spot to ensure your garden receives plenty of sunlight.
Once you have the perfect spot, secure your planks into a box shape and then fill the box with a mixture of 1/3 compost, 1/3 spagnum peat moss and 1/3 coarse grade vermiculite. You can find all of these items at gardening stores, or you can your own compost. Fill the square with the soil mixture until it is at least 1 foot deep, and then water thoroughly. Using either some small strips of wood or thick string, mark out a grid over your square foot garden that will indicate where each crop will grow.
What to Plant
One mistake that many square foot gardeners make is to plant random seeds into each square without researching what crops are able to grow well when placed in close proximity. Certain plants will thrive when placed next to a particular vegetable, whereas others may grow poorly and fail to produce a decent harvest. Some of the most common companion plant pairings are:
Friends – Tomatoes, Leeks, Onions, Sage, Beans
Foes – Radish, Parsnip, Dill
Friends – Celery, Peppers, Asparagus
Foes – Potatoes, Peas, Corn, Beets, Rosemary
Friends – Carrots, Lettuce, Cucumbers, Peppers, Beets
Foes – Lentils
Friends – Beans, Peas, Garlic
Foes – Carrot, Cucumber, Tomato, Onion, Sunflower
Friends – Tomatoes, Parsley, Basil
Foes – Garlic, Potatoes, Onion
Friends – Cucumbers, Beans, Broccoli, Carrots
Foes – Cabbage, Parsley, Celery, Cress
Crop rotation is essential to ensure the long-term health of your garden. Continuously planting the same crop in a particular place leads to pests, poor soil quality and dry, compacted soil. It is essential to vary your crops according to which family they belong to such as solanaceae (tomatoes, potatoes and eggplant), legumes (beans, lentils, and chickpeas), brassica (cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower) alliums (onions, chives and leeks) and umbeliferae (carrot, celery and parsnip).
Sourcing organic, non-GMO seeds has become more difficult lately, but there are still some companies that sell them. Always look for ‘heirloom seeds’ as these are seeds that have been passed down by farmers and are not a product of large-scale agriculture. There are a variety of sources for non-GMO, organic heirloom seeds.
Below are some popular online companies:
Seed Savers Exchange
Kusa Seed Society
For more information on companion planting, visit http://www.growveg.com.
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