The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Square foot gardening

Square Foot GardeningThe method's founder claims that square foot gardening allows you to grow the same amount of food in 20% of the space, saving time and money in the process.  Although several people I know swear by it, I find it hard to believe that square foot gardening lives up to the hype.  Is square foot gardening a trend or a useful technique?

Mel Bartholomew outlines his method at great length (sometimes much greater then I'd prefer) in Square Foot Gardening.  He divides his garden into beds four feet on each side, then subdivides each bed into sixteen blocks, each one square foot in size.  These small sections are devoted to single crops --- big plants like cabbage fill an entire square while smaller crops may have several evenly spaced plants in the square.  That's pretty much all there is to it.

Check out our microbusiness ebook about making a living on the land.

This post is part of our Square Foot Gardening lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Anna Hess's books
Want more in-depth information? Browse through our books.

Or explore more posts by date or by subject.

About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

Want to be notified when new comments are posted on this page? Click on the RSS button after you add a comment to subscribe to the comment feed, or simply check the box beside "email replies to me" while writing your comment.

Way back when..... my son was in 4H his garden was from that book and he won several ribbons at the county fair. He only had the one 4 foot square but got quite a bit from it. He didn't know about companion planting but what he grew in it seemed to work quite well. To me it makes sense as it is easy to plant, tend, and harvest without actually walking on it, because the farthest you need to reach is two feet. I've looked at several Youtube videos that swear by this and similar raised bed systems, so others agree also.
Comment by vester Mon Apr 19 12:34:28 2010
I'm a huge fan of raised beds --- I totally agree that they're the way to go! Other parts of his method, though, held less water for me.
Comment by anna Mon Apr 19 16:58:01 2010

Square Foot Gardening is the most effective way to garden in large or small spaces. Not only does it only use 20% of the space a traditional garden uses, it also saves on water, not to mention time and energy spent digging and weeding. For more information please visit our web site Happy Gardening Everyone!

Comment by Amanda Mon Apr 26 15:12:38 2010
Thanks for the info, Amanda! Your website is where I got a lot of the pictures I used in this series.
Comment by anna Mon Apr 26 16:37:23 2010
You might want to check out Mel's new book, "All New Square Foot Gardening". Much of what you disagree about his methods has changed. For example, he no longer uses boards as isles and now recommends 3 foot isles. I believe that his great contribution to gardening is getting rid of weeding. I know that being overwelmed by weeds is the thing that keeps most would be gardeners from being satisfied with their results. I just talked with the local feed store owner who said she is amazed at how many folks mow down their gardens because of their inability to keep up with the weeds. Just my 2 cents. Thanks for the great blog site.
Comment by Roy Thu Mar 1 14:10:24 2012
Aha! That's why his book has been at the top of the gardening category on Amazon lately. (Yes, I admit to lurking over there and seeing how my ebooks are doing. :-) ) I hadn't noticed that it said "All New" and assumed that was his previous book.
Comment by anna Thu Mar 1 17:29:06 2012

Well it worked for me. Spent years traditional gardening before moving to Mels square foot gardening. I will never go back. Easier, produces more. Can't say enough. I don't understand people who are "stuck" on something or against something to comment "I don't see how"??? Very odd when one has the tunnel vision and hears people swearing by a subject but still makes the statement based on nothing. I could understand the comment of, I don't see how if you never heard anything about it. But, Thousands of photos on net of square foot gardening. you know what tools I use now? One trowel for adding compost in a square, a pitchfork for turning compost piles, a basket for harvest. Basically thats it. All in all, if someone can't get around not understanding how you can plant more in a square foot. They just aren't going to consider it any further. It is simple math. e.g. a 4x4 box can contain 144 bean plants, the same space i planted what was recommended in traditional gardening 48 plants.......6 in apart in rows 3 foot between. Tilled all that dirt for most of it not to be used. Now if you use 8x4 boxes you begin to multiply the difference. A full box garden reaps tons more than traditional in my experiment and experience over the past 20 years and BEST of all.......lots less work!!!!! I worked for me. Before judging and denying what others say........... Try it yourself.

Comment by Kyle Fri Jun 8 06:02:58 2012
Kyle --- You'll probably like the Square Foot Gardening Rebuttal, linked to above. Personally, I think the method takes credit for a lot of intensive gardening techniques that aren't unique to square foot gardening, and that the unique parts of the method aren't very sustainable. But I also have lots of growing room, so even though I garden intensively, I don't have to focus on only a few square feet.
Comment by anna Fri Jun 8 07:57:31 2012

Oh no! You've got a picture of the OLD book which teaches the ORIGINAL method. It's so much simpler if you use the All New Square Foot Gardening book - especially the 2nd Edition.

Now I haven't gotten this confirmed, so take it with a grain of salt, but author of Sustainable Food for the Globe: Everyday People Producing Food In Abundance, Norma Burnson said today that the UN mentioned Permaculture AND Square Foot Gardening specifically as sustainable methods.

BTW I'm a SFG Certified Instructor but I also teach a class on Small Veggie Gardening and feature Back to Eden, Hugelkulture, using squash arches as well as Square Foot Gardening. We all do what we can and anytime anyone grows any food themselves they are helping solve the problem.

Oh, and I love the rebuttal post.

Comment by Kim Roman Wed Apr 22 13:09:07 2015

profile counter myspace

Powered by Branchable Wiki Hosting.

Required disclosures:

As an Amazon Associate, I earn a few pennies every time you buy something using one of my affiliate links. Don't worry, though --- I only recommend products I thoroughly stand behind!

Also, this site has Google ads on it. Third party vendors, including Google, use cookies to serve ads based on a user's prior visits to a website. Google's use of advertising cookies enables it and its partners to serve ads to users based on their visit to various sites. You can opt out of personalized advertising by visiting this site.