square foot garden harvest. heirloom tomatoes, tomatoes on the vine, fresh basil, and butter lettuce gems vegetable gardening

Vegetable Gardening for Beginners: One Square Foot at a Time

New to vegetable gardening? Fear not—Mel Bartholomew’s square foot gardening method revolutionizes your green thumb game. Say goodbye to overwhelming layouts and hello to simplicity and abundance, whether acres or a cozy balcony. Square foot gardening creates a thriving garden paradise—one square foot at a time.

square foot garden harvest. heirloom tomatoes, tomatoes on the vine, fresh basil, and butter lettuce gems vegetable gardening

For years I’d tried to grow a decent vegetable garden. The high cost of fresh basil—$3.50 for a few measly, wilted basil leaves, ditto for a pound of somewhat reddish tomatoes, and mostly pink strawberries—prompted me to try.

I started with tomatoes, basil, and peppers (a salsa garden!). Over time, I ambitiously expanded to include zucchini and cucumbers and even ventured into growing corn and strawberries.

But I have to be honest, my harvests ranged from disappointing to mediocre. Only that one year did my garden produce so well, we had enough to share with others. I’m still trying to remember how I did that.

One thing I do quite well is weeds. I try not to take too much credit here, but I have to tell you I’ve never seen anyone else grow weeds quite as successfully as I do. And I take them right through the season until they actually re-seed themselves for the next season!

While I love the concept of a garden that’s not only nice to look at but actually produces the food we enjoy eating, I’m not 100% in love with the anxiety, pressure, guilt, backaches, leg cramps, and fear of needing hip replacements.

From Hobbyist to Harvest

While in the past my efforts to grow a garden have been more of a hobby than a serious endeavor, I feel that changing. The high cost of food—specifically, produce—tells me it’s time to get serious. We need to become more self-sufficient but in a cost-effective way.

While I feel that I’ve mastered weeds, I’ve failed miserably in cost-effectiveness. I shudder to imagine the true cost of the pathetically tiny bounty I’ve garnered over the years. That doesn’t mean I’m ready to give up on vegetable gardening, only that I’m ready for a new way to do it.

The Better Way: Square Foot Vegetable Gardening

Mel Bartholomew, the brilliant mind behind “square foot gardening” and author of the All-New Square Foot Gardening, 3rd Edition, revolutionized home vegetable gardening as we know it.

Square Foot Gardening is the most practical, foolproof way to grow a home vegetable garden, whether you’re growing an urban patio garden, or have an entire backyard. Adopting this method, you can transform any space into a thriving vegetable garden, regardless of its size or location.

Garden in a box

Bartholomew, a civil engineer by profession and a frustrated gardener on weekends, became convinced that gardening in single rows because “that’s the way we’ve always done it,” is a waste of time, energy, and money.

He condensed his garden to above-the-ground, 6-inch deep plots measuring four feet by four feet, which yielded 100% of the harvest in 20% of the space—without all the hard work and drudgery of single-row gardening. Imagine gardening one square foot at a time!

Best Harvest Yet with Square Foot Vegetable Gardening

With this approach, you’ll need 20% less space, making it ideal for small areas like patios, balconies, or driveways. Despite its compact size, a square foot garden produces double the yield of a traditional garden. Notably, recent data reveals that the Square Foot Gardening Method is estimated to cost 50% less, utilize 20% less space, require just 10% of the water, and involve a mere 2% of the effort compared to single-row gardening techniques.

Even in a compact space as small as two feet square, square foot gardens are easily shielded from weather and pests, ensuring high productivity with minimal effort.

A green plant in a garden

A square foot garden can be created and maintained by those with physical limitations, thanks to its adaptable raised bed design.

Regardless of the season, you can kickstart your square foot garden effortlessly. With no need for thinning, tilling, or extensive seed planting, it’s a hassle-free process. Plus, the best part? Say goodbye to weeds—none, zero, zilch!

Setting Up Your Square Foot Garden

Start by choosing a location receiving 6-8 hours of daily sunlight, away from trees and shrubs to avoid root interference and shade. Opt for proximity to the house for convenience. The quality of existing soil is irrelevant as it won’t be utilized. Ensure the chosen area doesn’t puddle after heavy rainfall.

Step 1: Construct a box

Build a 4’x4′ box using materials like untreated cedar or recycled plastic, ensuring weed prevention with landscape fabric.

Step 2: Fill the box

Fill the square foot garden with Mel’s Mix™, a tested formula consisting of equal volumes of coarse-grade vermiculite, sphagnum peat moss (or coconut coir), and blended organic compost.

Step 3: Install a grid

Install a grid to divide the SFG, which can be made from materials like Venetian blinds or wooden yardsticks. This grid ensures proper spacing for seeds/plants, promoting organization and higher yields from your limited space garden.

Invest in Bartholomew’s Guide

If you have any interest at all in pursuing a square foot garden, I highly recommend that you invest in Bartholomew’s book. Presented simply and visually, this is a resource that will return its value hundreds of times over in home-grown bounty and I’m talking about so much, you’ll have plenty to share. And please … don’t forget to snap some pictures of your thriving garden!

Discover the simplicity and productivity of square foot gardening in Mel Bartholomew’s updated third edition. This comprehensive guide provides essential tips and charts to maximize your vegetable yield. With easy-to-follow steps—build, fill, and grid—no digging or tilling needed. From trellising to pest management, this 272-page book caters to both novice and experienced gardeners, promising a bountiful harvest every time.

Square Foot Gardening creator Mel Bartholomew established the Square Foot Gardening Foundation in 1996 to further his mission of promoting self-sufficiency and sustainability through gardening. Through their grant program, the foundation supports local and global organizations in their efforts to increase food security, empowering families and communities worldwide—one square foot at a time. For more information and to get involved in their mission, visit the Square Foot Gardening Foundation’s website.

 


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  1. porscha's human says:

    i have clay/rocky soil zone 5 ish- i now have raised beds made from concrete/cinder blocks- they heat up earlier and retain warmth later in the growing season and don’t deteriorate like wood beds do. they are high enough for me to sit on- makes things way easier. i compost in the beds especially when building them up. my soil is wonderful with lots of worms. i do a more cube like gardening since soil is deeper than 1 foot. i have had success with nearly everything except eggplant and peppers – i think it is not quite warm enough here.

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  2. Emily Booth says:

    I garden at a community garden. My raised bed is 4′ X 8′ or 32 squares. I love Mel Bartholomew! He explains how to plant. So easy. I also recommend a book called Carrots Love Tomatoes. It’s about where to locate specific vegetables and herbs when planting. I plant from seed except for tomatoes and 1 or 2 other vegetables.

    I didn’t know I would love vegetable gardening as much as I do. Being outdoors in the sun, planting, watching seeds and seedlings grow & harvesting. There is something eternal about it. It’s deeply peaceful.

    It costs more than buying produce in a grocery store (I pay a fee every year for a bed) but it costs less than the produce sold at a farmer’s market. And, I have the satisfaction that I grew it myself.

    Reply
  3. cheryl says:

    I grew up with gardens, and loved them, but I live on a main thoroughfare, and public sidewalk, and surround mostly by renters and when I was growing black raspberry bushes (my FAVORITE JELLY EVER!!) I never got very many berries, the 2 footed pests got them, even before birds and deers did. Once guy actually brought his little boy to my house and said he’d like to have some of my berries, of course it looked like the little boy had already been into the berries. Sad part is that this was year two after planting and it finally had a few berries, (not enough to make jelly). He /his child had already eaten most of them, I think I got maybe 10-12 berries total. I gave up and mowed them down. Now I scrounge farmers markets for them.

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  4. Mary Baker says:

    We still have the original square foot gardening book. We now use a combination of methods. Just so you know you will have weeds – they may be more manageable for you with this method but the weed seeds will find their way to your soil – trust me. Gardening is still worth it! Wishing you lots of enjoyment in your garden!

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  5. Sherry says:

    As we are still under stay-at-home orders from the pandemic, we have started square foot gardening to not only help pass time but also in an attempt to make sure we have access to fresh food. The herb garden box is in, and the salsa garden, salad garden, vegetable garden, strawberry garden, and one box dedicated to watermelon are about to go in…maybe six 4′ x 4′ boxes is going a little overboard, but since we are new at this, we will see how the first year goes and consolidate or expand as needed. And the best part, growing from heirloom, non-GMO seeds, something that many of our local farms, sadly, are no longer doing.

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