How to Start Your Own Square Foot Garden

Written by Jonathan Dick

Starting your own garden is a great way to be prepared for any situation. You can start with less than $50. Square food gardening is the perfect introduction to growing a successful vegetable garden. In a square-foot garden, plants thrive in raised boxes that are sectioned and filled with nutrient-rich soils.

Follow these instructions this summer and you can start enjoying organic vegetables from your own backyard!

Gardening Infographic
Updated August 21, 2012

20 Comments

  1. Howard wrote:

    I am starting one, but for a box I have found some 4 ft. square plastic fruit bins, that are used in the orchards

    August 22nd, 2012 at 12:40 am
  2. Jeff Launiere wrote:

    I have several square foot gardens in my backyard and it is so easy, and mostly weed free. Because the soil is so loose it is easy to pull out weeds, and this mix of soil allows everything to grow perfectly from my Blueberries, Oranges, lettuce, radishes, tomato, eggplant, strawberries, peppers, broccoli, and so much more.

    October 13th, 2012 at 6:06 am
  3. Uncle Shaggy wrote:

    When substituting coconut fiber always make sure it is washed thoroughly or nothing will grow because of the salts in the coconut shells (think saltwater, usually near coconuts) I have seen its ph as low as 3, most veggies need ph between 5 & 7!

    October 13th, 2012 at 7:36 am
  4. Dave wrote:

    I started a sq ft garden this past season. It wen OK, but the mixture I used required I add extra nutrients to get real growth. I started a winter garden a few weeks ago and am seeing a great crop of lettuce, radishes, cauliflower and collard.

    Ii really like the convienence of having all my produce in the same place. I have back injuries and limited mobility so having everything at arms length is very helpful. I would not dirt garden an other way.

    I also have a hydroponic system that I built and is off the ground which eliminate having to bend.

    I can send pics of both if you would like.

    October 13th, 2012 at 7:57 am
  5. Beuna wrote:

    A 4 x 4 box, 6 inches deep requires 8 cubic feet of soil mix. This requires 2 2/3 cu ft each of compost and vermiculite. Peat moss is usually compressed so if you use an equal amount you will have too much peat moss. Because it expands to about twice its volume you would need about 1 1/3 cu ft of peat moss.
    Coir (coconut fiber) has not been shown to be a suitable substitute for peat moss and is more expensive. If you cannot get or afford vermiculite then don’t add peat moss either – use straight compost. You can always add vermiculite and peat moss later if you are able.
    If you are going to be off on anything it should be compost since that is where the nutrients are.
    Compost needs to be added everytime a new crop is planted. So if I plant peas once I harvest those peas and want to plant tomatoes I need to add some more compost to that spot. Peat moss and vermiculite never need to be added again.
    I would recommend using lath strips for the grid. They are inexpensive, will last longer, and not stretch, break, or leave fibers in your beds as string and twine tend to do.
    Drip systems are also a great way to water but don’t usually make sense if you have one box.
    For most vegetables 6” deep is plenty. For longer carrots you would need a deeper box.

    Square Foot Gardener for over 20 years and a Certified Square Foot Garden instructor.

    October 13th, 2012 at 8:22 am
  6. Joan wrote:

    I made one this past spring. I grew peppers, carrots, peas, spinach, beets, lettuce and broccoli. They all grew very well, however, the broccoli nearly took over – it grew huge! I bought a kit at Home Depot for about $38. Included 4 untreated boards, 4 corner pieces that the boards just slip into, and 4 corner tops that screw in to hold it all in place. Worked great.

    October 13th, 2012 at 8:23 am
  7. George Krauss wrote:

    Is there such a kit as a veggie seed lit as noted in the article….if so….where do I get one. If there is none it would be nice to have someone make up these kits and sell them…or at least provide a source where to get the seeds for such a garden. HINT: a great place to get rich soil is from a forest and add what ever else might be needed. I have a nutrient called Protogrow that I bought from Solutions from Science and believe me I had tomato plants that grew over 6 feet high and so bushy with dark green leaves I had to prune the non productive branches off to let the sun to the tomatoes and produced delicious tomatoes like crazy. Another hint buy netting to keep birds off and plant marigolds near your tomatoes-they keep those nasty horned tomato worms/caterpillars away.

    October 13th, 2012 at 8:28 am
  8. DeScribe wrote:

    Best article yet.
    I am base camped in a desert RV park and will adapt you article garden idea to stand up to our harsh weather conditions of high winds, sun, etc.

    October 13th, 2012 at 9:17 am
  9. Kristie wrote:

    I was wondering, where can you buy the course vermiculite? Thanks!

    October 13th, 2012 at 9:40 am
  10. Tom Kelly wrote:

    Howdy: For a more in depth read on this great subject, check out Mel Bartholomews book “Square Foot Gardening”, 2nd edition. You can also add 2′ rebar in the corners, add plastic pipe hoops and put plastic over the grow box, making it a small greenhouse. Don’t forget to cover the ends as well. This will extend your growing period out to nine months, dependent of course where you are. He gives suggestions on other crops ideas as well, like Salad Greens. Chard,Kale, (try Scottish and italian varieties), Mustard Greens, Collards! They are cool weather crops and will work most of the year. Use it up by cutting the leaves of pot cooking or sauteing gently untill wilted with a bit of crunch left! Yummmmm

    Enjoy…Tom

    October 13th, 2012 at 8:32 pm
  11. Jean-Marie wrote:

    This is exactly the info I’ve been waiting for. I’m somewhat older (only 63) but am handicapped and find it impossible to tend to a large – or even medium-sized – garden. I hope to build a couple of these and elevate them high enough for my granny HoverRound to roll underneath :) Thanks again, both for your info and that of you who took the time to post.

    October 13th, 2012 at 9:21 pm
  12. Cindi wrote:

    I did find one little wrong thing. You don’t “replace the used soil with more recipe” you add a trowel of compost to the square after harvesting. I love to sfg.
    I have
    3 4×4 = 48 sq f
    2 2×4 = 16 sq f
    2 2×6 = 24 sq f
    3 4×6 = 72 sq f
    total 160 sq f
    One of the 4×6 has hoops with plastic over for extended harvesting of carrots/chard/radishs/brusselsprouts.
    One of the 4×6 now has a coldframe on it for winter harvest.
    Yup, I love sfging!

    October 13th, 2012 at 11:22 pm
  13. Beuna Tomalino wrote:

    Coarse vermiculite can be difficult to find. Sources for vermiculite for your area may be listed on the Forum at the official Square Foot Gardening website http://www.squarefootgardening.org

    Since it is sometimes difficult to find vermiculite the foundation has contracted with companies make a mix that can be purchased by the bag – just open and dump into your box. It will say Square Foot Garden mix on the bag or it may be called Mel’s Mix. If it is called something else it is not the mix.

    The most recent version of the book is All-New Square Foot Gardening. This version makes all previous versions obsolete.

    Removing compost from a forest is illegal unless it is private property and you have permission from the property owners.

    October 15th, 2012 at 6:34 pm
  14. Anne O'Nimmous wrote:

    Years ago I had a very small backyard, and built a number of boxes to enclose the plants. Turned out – as I read up on gardening – that raising a barrier of boards even as little as 12 inches keeps most unwanted seeds out of your garden. It seems that the breeze carries a lot of seeds along the ground, but mostly clearing the grass tops by just a few inches. So building BOXES for your gardens reduces the amount of weeding you’ll need to do.

    The other two things I learned: 1) prepare the soil in early spring or very late winter, and the plants will grow best; and (2) weed thoroughly for the first ten days for most plants, and they will get enough of a “lead” on the competing weeds that they will need much less weeding after that- their leaves will deny sunlight to any new weed sprouts.

    If you use even old newspapers to cover the ground between your veggies, that will help suppress weed growth. Black plastic film/sheet works even better.

    I NEVER had to apply pesticides, but I did put a bunch of really hot peppers in the blender and spread the pulp on plants. The Hot Peppers seemed to very effectively repel insects. (I couldn’t eat’em; they raised WELTS on my skin!)

    June 30th, 2013 at 3:29 am
  15. Scott wrote:

    I’d like to start by saying that I’m a ready store fan. I think they sell some great products, they deliver what they promise (a rare thing), and their shipping is spot on.

    The content of the article is ‘fine and good.’ I would like to point out to any of The Ready Store staff that the opening statement is an immediate turn off. I think any Prepper worth his or her weight in salt is going to have a red flag pop up as soon as someone starts speaking in platitudes. “Starting your own garden is a great way to be prepared for any situation.”

    For those looking for a SHTF or TEOTWAWKI garden you may want to consider planting tubers. They are more resistant to theft(unnoticed by most would be urbanite raiders who wont recognize them as food) and can feed you over the winter. Potatoes, Carrots, and Rutabagas are excellent choices for survival tubers.

    Tubers tend to grow quickly. The primary food portion of the plant is highly resistant to pests. Tubers can be stored in a cool dry place and last over a year w/o any need of canning, drying, wrapping, ect. The more tubers go through a freeze/thaw cycle the sweeter many tubers become. What better way to hide your food supply than under a blanket of snow and an inch of frozen earth? They tend to also be easily reseeded.

    Potatoes: Do not eat potatoes tinted green, even after they are cooked as they ARE poisonous. A healthy adult can usually handle it fine, such as a few French fries from McDonalds. But a pregnant or breastfeeding woman, young children, those already ill, and the elderly should NEVER eat any portion of a potato that is green. To prevent this on your own spuds, occasionally heap extra soil over them as they are growing. Don’t worry, potato stems are resistant to most forms of soil rot – just don’t touch the leaves.

    Carrots: Carrots contain some vitamins that will be harder to obtain when the SHTF (unless you are into eating fish eyes). Very similar to potatoes.

    Rutabaga: Rutabaga information also readily applies to turnips, radishes, and the like. While these may be a bit tough to eat raw, this toughness also makes them the hardiest of the tubers. Watch out though, humans aren’t the only ones who like these. Be prepared to fend off (and eat) gophers, ground hogs, and the like. Rutabaga benefit the most from going through the freeze/thaw sweetening cycle. They make a great spring staple food to fill the gap between when your New Year crops are growing and when they can be harvested.

    General Tip: Be prepared to disguise your garden. A pile of junk or large scraps of metal can be a daunting obstacle for a night time garden raider.

    July 1st, 2013 at 7:08 am
  16. flats wrote:

    Staw Bale gardening beats Square Foot Gardening shovels down…Literally…No need for shovels or creating raised beds.

    July 1st, 2013 at 9:00 am
  17. Ben from Texas wrote:

    Always put one quarter mesh galvanized screen under and nailed to the bottom of your wooden box to keep out gofers and moles if you have them in your area or you’ll find nice healthy tops but everything underneath them gone.

    September 1st, 2013 at 11:11 am
  18. Ben from Texas wrote:

    Thats one quarter inch square galvanized wire screen under and nailed to your box..

    September 1st, 2013 at 11:13 am
  19. Danielle from Mississippi wrote:

    Really interesting ideas, living in the South and growing up in the country I’ve never even thought of anything like a box garden;) my garden covers 2 acres and a 10 x 20 greenhouse for sprouting spring plants.

    December 4th, 2013 at 10:23 pm
  20. Catherine Broughton wrote:

    I have several acres of garden and so far have resorted to large pots because there is only a shallow soil – a matter of inches – the rest is rock. This is a great idea for me and I will certainly use it.

    July 9th, 2014 at 7:09 am

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