Updated: Mar 12, 2022
I have been organic vegetable gardening at a community garden for the last five years and it has been wonderful, satisfying, and productive, but it hasn’t been particularly easy. Oh, some things (garlic, snap peas, and kale, for example) seem to grow themselves, but others (I’m looking at you, potatoes, squash, and melons) take a lot of work and attention. It’s been a labor of love.
But vegetable gardening doesn’t have to be hard. I’ve been researching an easy method called Square Foot Gardening and I’m excited to share our square foot garden with you this year. Anyone with a bit of time, a bit of money, and a bit of yard can do it, including my five-year-old daughter, who is totally committed to the project.
Square foot gardening was developed by Mel Bartholomew to increase garden space and time efficiency. The method helps take the guesswork out of planting and simplifies the process. You can read more about it on the Square Foot Gardening website or borrow his books from your local library.
The genius part of square foot gardening is the way it divides the garden into a grid and tells you how many of each plant can be planted in each square foot. For example, you can plant one tomato plant or 16 carrot plants in the same amount of space. This really takes the guesswork out of gardening and gives you maximum yields for limited space, like a raised bed, which is Bartholomew’s preferred garden structure.
This chart show how many of each plant can be grown in one square foot of garden space.
My daughter and I measured and divided our homemade raised bed into square feet using leftover yarn from a knitting project instead of scrap wood, as he suggests because a) we didn’t have the right size scrap wood and b) I was feeling lazy. It was good mental and physical exercise for her (she enjoyed the hammering much more than the measuring).
Once we had the bed divided into sections, we planted our snap pea seeds. Snap peas are seriously the best plants for kids because you plant them early (like now!), the seeds are big and easy to deal with (just stick your finger in an inch deep and drop in a seed, then cover), they are fun to pick, and they taste delicious. If you do nothing else, plant some peas! We planted 8 per square, as recommended. We’ll add a trellis later to support them.
We had a little helper for most of this project. Gardening gives kids a sense of responsibility and accomplishment while getting them outside and physically active. And, on top of that, square foot gardening helps us practice our math skills! What’s not to love?
I start most of our plants inside these days because it’s cheaper and less wasteful (I reuse the same flats and pots over and over), but if you’re new to gardening, I would recommend buying tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and herbs from your gardening store. These plants need a longer growing season than New Hampshire can give them and need to be started inside. You can plant squashes, pumpkins, cucumbers, potatoes, carrots, parsnips, corn, and greens directly into your garden. You can find a super helpful seed-starting chart on SquareFootGardening.com.
My daughter really enjoyed planting the snap peas. She has planted them in her plot at the community garden before, but in a less organized way. Square foot gardening appealed to her sense of order. 🙂
I hope square foot gardening will help jump start your vegetable garden this spring. Stay tuned for more square foot gardening as the spring and summer progress. I’ll also share about my own much bigger and much less orderly garden.