An introduction to square-foot gardening

I grew up in the country. My family always had a vegetable garden. For us, gardening meant a large plot, plowed and raked, then planted with long, widely-space rows of vegetables. It also meant weeding and hoeing, weeding and hoeing. Lots and lots of weeding and hoeing.

Gardening was a chore.

When my ex-wife and I bought our first home, we both wanted a vegetable garden, but we didn’t want the drudgery that came with it. Besides, we didn’t have a big space in the country — we had an average city lot. Fortunately, we discovered Mel Bartholomew’s Square-Foot Gardening.

Bartholomew’s method allowed us to enjoy reasonable crop production in a small space. With his technique, almost any homeowner can grow her own food.

How Square-Foot Gardening Works

The square-foot gardening concept is simple: Build a raised bed. Divide the space into sections of one square-foot each. Lastly, plant vegetables (and/or flowers) in just the amount of space they need.

The advantages of this system include reduced workload, less watering, easy weeding (and not much of it), and easy access to your crops. This is a great way to learn to grow some of your own food.

Back in the 1990s, Kris and I had raised beds similar to these (from Flickr user johnyaya).

raised beds

We built our square-foot garden one Saturday in mid-April. I spent the morning constructing three raised beds out of two-by-sixes. Each bed was twelve feet long, four feet wide, and twelve inches tall. At the time, I most certainly was not a handyman, yet I was able to build these in just a few hours. It was fun.

Digging was less fun.

I spent the afternoon double-digging three patches in our lawn. We maneuvered the frames into place, leveled them, and then filled them with rich soil (purchased from a nearby nursery-supply center). Finally, we created a grid over each bed using tacks and twine. When we were finished, our raised beds looked like orderly grids.

After we built the raised beds and outlined the growing space, we followed the guidelines in Bartholomew’s book.

The ten basic tenets of square-foot gardening are:

  1. Layout. Arrange your garden in squares, not rows. Lay it out in roughly 48 inches (125cm) x 48 inches (125cm) planting areas.
  2. Boxes. Build boxes to hold a new soil mix above ground.
  3. Aisles. Space boxes 36 inches (100cm) apart to form walking aisles.
  4. Soil. Fill boxes with Bartholomew’s special soil mix: 1/3 blended compost, 1/3 peat moss, and 1/3 coarse vermiculite.
  5. Grid. Make a permanent square foot grid for the top of each box. (The book and website insist that this is a must. I think a temporary grid works fine.)
  6. Care. Never walk on your growing soil. Tend your garden from the aisles.
  7. Select. Plant a different flower, vegetable, or herb crop in each square foot, using one, four, nine, or sixteen plants per square foot.
  8. Plant. Conserve seeds. Plant only a pinch (two or three seeds) per hole. Place transplants in a slight saucer-shaped depression.
  9. Water. Water by hand from a bucket of sun-warmed water.
  10. Harvest. When you finish harvesting a square foot, add compost and replant it with a new and different crop.

You might, for example, plant a single tomato in a square, but you’d plant sixteen carrots in another. Using this system, you can cram a lot of garden into a small space and still get excellent yields.

The official square-foot gardening website includes several handy planting chart cheat sheets to help with planning and planting.

Square-Foot Gardening Cheat Sheet

My Square-Foot Garden

I haven’t had much of a garden since Kris and I got divorced seven years ago. When Kim and I bought our country acre in 2017, it came with three ramshackle raised beds. We’ve made the most of these — well, Kim has, anyhow — but not in any sort of systematic way.

This year, we took down a gangly cedar tree that dominated one corner of our yard. In its place, we planted three fruit trees, four blueberry bushes, and four grape vines. Last weekend, in a mad fit of productivity, I decided to add two new raised beds.

Using scavenged lumber (we have a stack of good stuff after replacing our carport and back deck), I build two solid boxes. I filled them with the dirt I’d removed when we put in the orchard in March. (Although it’s not the “official” square-foot gardening mixture, I topped the beds with bagged soil purchased from a local nursery.)

Because it’s far too late for me to start most plants from seed this year, I opted to purchase starts from the same nursery.

In the smaller raised bed, I started an herb garden.

Square-Foot Gardening (Herbs)

In the larger raised bed, I planted both flowers and some cool-climate veggies (such as carrots, lettuce, and peas).

Square-Foot Gardening (Flowers)

As you can see, I applied the square-foot methodology but I didn’t actually use a grid. (And because I don’t own a copy of the book anymore, I guessed at spacing.)

Within hours, the herb garden was infested with pests. (Probably because I planted some “pestnip”.)

Square-Foot Gardening (Animals)

In retrospect, I ought not to have planted catnip next to my other herbs. Avery has destroyed both catnip plants already, and he took out the winter savory in the process. (Plus, he damaged the cilantro and the parsley.)

Further Reading

I’m very excited to have a garden again. It’s been a l-o-n-g time since I’ve been serious about growing my own food. Plus, Kim is into it too. She’s been growing seedlings this spring, and she planted them out yesterday. Once the weather warms a bit more, she’ll plant some tomato and pepper and basil starts. By the end of the summer, we should have some good eating!

If you’d like to experiment with square-foot gardening, Mel Bartholomew’s book is excellent. But you can also find info online at the square-foot gardening forum and this terrific tutorial from Journey to Forever.

If you don’t have the time or space to construct raised beds, consider starting a container garden. Apartment-dwellers can get good results from plants grown in large self-watering pots on a patio or balcony. (Here’s a review of The Bountiful Container written by my ex-wife in 2008.)

In any event, now’s the time to get your garden space ready in many parts of the U.S. The danger of frost has passed for most of us. Garden fairs and plant sales have begun to pop up like weeds. Get out there and grow some food!

More about...Home & Garden, Food

Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others

Subscribe to the GRS Insider (FREE) and we’ll give you a copy of the Money Boss Manifesto (also FREE)

Yes! Sign up and get your free gift
Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others

There are 53 comments to "An introduction to square-foot gardening".

  1. Jennifer says 21 April 2007 at 07:42

    We built our raised beds last week and are going to be getting them into position this weekend. My dh bought Square Foot Gardening for Christmas this year, I love it! We just moved and knew we had to start from scratch. We are currently trying to figure the best place to put them that will get the most sun. We have a wooded lot and will be taking down trees to help get more sun. I can’t wait to start growing things!

  2. Maitresse says 21 April 2007 at 07:42

    I’ve been square foot gardening for years.

    Rather than double dig all that ground, I just laid newspapers and (livestock) feed bags on the ground and covered them with good soil. I bought a truckload of mushroom compost from a local mushroom farm for my soil.

    Be sure to mulch, and if you install drip irrigation on a timer you can be a lazy gardener, like me. 🙂

  3. Wallet Rehab - Ways to save money says 21 April 2007 at 11:53

    I love Sq. foot gardening! Especially the information about growing musk melons on trellises. I’ve never had the chance to try it out yet.

  4. Dylan Ross says 21 April 2007 at 11:57

    I’ve been doing square foot gardening for three years now. It is so simple, and I’m still amazed by the amount of food that can be grown in such little space. I have two 4×4 beds and end up giving food away every year. Planting a few marigolds and sprinkling some red pepper flakes have kept most of the pests at bay and weeding has been minimal. By the time the garden fills in there is no room for weeds. Square foot is to gardening, what index funds are to investing: good returns, minimal effort, no guess work, and low cost.

    • Whitney Nelson says 12 April 2011 at 06:26

      Can you plant marigolds with any/all veggies or are there certain ones you should be careful with? Also, what pests are deterred by red pepper flakes. Sounds super easy! My tomatoes were infested last year with stink bugs. Would be great if it helped with that.

      • Catherine says 02 May 2019 at 11:36

        Marigolds help, as does basil. I’ve been successful with tomatoes combined with those two plants for years.

  5. BillinDetroit says 21 April 2007 at 12:03

    I’m glad to see this topic come up as this is ‘where I live’.

    To tell where the sun will be at noon on any day of the year, check the shadows cast by the moon at midnight, 6 months earlier. It’s that simple.

    I’m familiar with Bartholomew’s methods but have taken them a couple steps further. Your readers might be interested in this.

    Mels’ methods are an adaptation of a form of cultivation known as “French intensive”. You might also research the writings of Jon Jeavons for another variation on this theme.

    Both of these methods produce yields that are difficult to believe. They are the only methods that make sense for home gardeners with just a few hundred square feet at their disposal.

    But both of those methods involve too much stooping to suit my tastes. Additionally, under Mel’s scheme, the lower portions of the soil are allowed to compact and become less penetrable by roots. Thus his emphasis on watering … all his roots are shallow.

    Mr. Jeavons is considered as something of ‘the dean of organic gardening’ but his methods call for frequent digging and is also too low for us aging baby boomers and for the increasing numbers of people who either get around in wheel chairs or count on electric scooters for mobility. My method solves those drawbacks for a few days of hard labor while one is still young to engage in such … but old enough to look ahead to a day when that will no longer be true.

    I built 2′ tall bottomless boxes of ordinary pine which were then doused liberally with raw linseed oil. I use 1x4s nailed to 2x4s because that was what I could afford at the time. Heavier lumber would certainly hold up better. In any case, use raw linseed oil, liberally, as a preservative. In your design, make the overall length a multiple of 4′ and allow for cross-bracing between sides every 2′. Alternate the top brace and the bottom brace to also serve as a support for the trellis uprights, spaced on 2′ centers. These general dimensions allow for the least material waste.

    Mine were also given reinforcing cross beams to hold 2×4 masts upon which to hang a wire mesh for trellising plants. I don’t have a large yard, but I have as much sky as King Solomon did. The beams are 12′ long and reach 10′ above the boxes. This isn’t excessive … higher would have been even better. Pole beans, cucurbits such as cucumbers and squash, and (indeterminant) tomatoes will outgrow the trellis. I’m writing this from a motel room in Eagan, Minnesota, but somewhere around my home I have a photo of ripe tomatoes at the top of that trellis and the whole plant, 15′ of it above ground and another 3′ of the roots, stretched out on my lawn.

    THEN I dug. In fact, I dug deeply enough to completely bury a bale of hay laid sideways … and then lined the holes with just that, bales of hay laid sideways with the twine left in place.

    I then set the boxes in position over the holes. Mine were 20′ long by 4′ wide. I did it myself, but could certainly have used some help. The boxes were then leveled such that the trellises were straight up & down.

    Then, after screening, the displaced soil was crudely mixed with compost and placed in the new bins until they stood a couple inches proud of the rim. By ‘crudely mixed’, I mean simply to just throw a couple shovels of soil into the hole and follow with a couple shovels of compost. I probably have about 40 hours of honest labor into the project … but I garden standing up now and everything, from planting, to weeding (not much of that, to tell the truth) to picking starts at mid-thigh level … although picking after mid-summer calls for the use of a ladder.

    As the compost and the hay continue to decompose, the soil will continue to settle … and remain loose for years. Each spring I top dress with about 4 inches of compost and each fall I bring the surface back level with compost, turn the top 12″ with a soil fork and replant with garlic just before the hard freeze makes the ground unworkable. This is then given an additional top dressing of straw and compost to limit frost heaving of the bulbs. By March, the garlic is back up above the blanket and it is time apply a top dressing of blood meal and to plant lettuces!

    That early-spring blood meal (~$5.00) is the only investment I make in fertilizer. One bottle of BT v. berliner and another of BT v. San Diego are the only investments I make in pesticides. Compost tea keeps mold & fungus down to acceptable levels and nutrient levels topped off.

    Note that an east to west orientation of the bins will allow the sun to warm their sides … giving a two month (or more) extension of the growing season in the cooler latitudes. The higher the sides of the boxes, the more area there is for the sun to hit and the earlier in the season you can plant, later in the season you can harvest. And consider this … cold air falls. That means that the higher your plants are, the later it will be before they get a killing frost. My garden usually skips the first hard frost, which, where I live, can be followed by as much as another month of fine weather. Here, in Detroit, I can actively garden 10 months of the year without so much as a plastic sheet for a cloche. With a cloche, my garden would never shut down but I think it wisest to give the garden, and the gardener, a short rest each year.

    I’ve been doing this for nearly 15 years and, without making allowance for the fact that I also use organic methods, I figure that my wife and I shave our grocery bill by about $3,500 a year simply by preserving the output of our 640 square feet of raised beds. And … we eat like royalty all summer while having more than enough to give with an open hand to our friends and the less-fortunate in our congregation.

    I figure that it costs me about $200 to build each bed. They will last, it would appear, about 10 years as I have constructed them. Your expenses will vary by location and choice of materials. And how long they last will also vary. But figuring $20 per bed / per year and 80 (horizontal) sq ft per bed I find an amortized cost of about 25 cents per square foot. That, all by itself, is reasonable expense for organic produce tended while standing. But there is an additional 160 sq ft of trellis space per bed, also … so the amortized cost per square foot of growing surface (horizontal + vertical) is only about 3 cents per year.

    Using USDA numbers, my wife and I figure that canning the food then adds about 10 cents per quart … making our total expense for the garden for a year come out to less than $50 for a yield of at least $3,500. (Making no allowance for the value of what was eaten fresh through the season.)

    DO you know of any other investment that yields that return. Consistently? Without significant risk of loss of capital?

    Some of the people we associate with snicker at the thought of a garden. They think this means we can’t afford grocery store food. Well, they are right about one thing … my money has better things to do than buy food.

    My wife and I eat much better than those who are doing the snickering. We don’t mind paying less.

  6. BillinDetroit says 21 April 2007 at 12:15

    Sorry for such a long post above. I hope it was informative enough to justify its length.

    I’d also like to point out that the spacing given on the back of seed packets is based on row. Don’t use it. Instead, use the average of the between row and within row numbers to derive a spacing to be used with triangles. You will get about 50% more plants in the same square footage without excessive crowding. Also, research interplanting for some tips on really great yields for every single inch.

    Examples to consider:

    Leaf lettuce beneath climbing peas / beans.
    carrots (deep rooted, late maturing) with garlic (shallow bulbs, pulled early summer in northern latitudes)
    hot peppers interspersed with other plants to throw bugs off-course

    Plant a garden. Pay attention to it. Learn from this and plant wiser next year. Many people skip the learning part and that’s why they continue to get small yields of puny vegetables from their weed patches.

    And here’s the mantra every good gardener lives by:

    “I feed the soil. The soil feeds the plants. The plants feed me.”

    Feed the soil intelligently, reap accordingly.

  7. J.D. says 21 April 2007 at 12:32

    @BillinDetroit

    No worries about long comments like yours when they’re that good! 🙂

    You mention that you figure your raised beds will last ten years. Ours lasted exactly ten years at the old house, and then we moved. Two of them had several more years of life in them, but one would have needed repair if we’d stayed.

    I can’t remember how much we spent to build them, but I know that to build my three beds, I used:

    * 16 non pressure-treated 2×6
    * 3 non pressure-treated 4×4
    * a lot of nails (I would use wood screws if I were to build them now)

    I didn’t follow a plan. I just made them up off the top of my head. It was easy!

    Because the wood was not pressure-treated (you don’t want that stuff next to the soil where you grow your food), the boards rotted with time. If the lumber had been able to withstand the Oregon rain, those beds would probably last twenty years or more!

  8. Kris says 21 April 2007 at 14:33

    “For all things produced in a garden, whether of salads or fruits, a poor man will eat better that has one of his own, than a rich man that has none.”
    -J.C. Loudon, An Encyclopedia of Gardening (1826)

  9. Brian W says 21 April 2007 at 19:13

    Wow, BillInDetroit should do his own gardening blog! I bet it would be great!

    Anyway, J.D., all I wanted to add is that I found it a little funny that you recommended passing up the newest edition of Square Foot Gardening, but then lamented the amount of digging you had to do. The new edition has a new soil-enrichment method that doesn’t require digging into the existing soil! Heh! Oh well, hard work is good for ya.

  10. Allie says 21 April 2007 at 19:49

    The great thing about this type of gardening is that it is so adaptable to any shape or size of container or bed that you want to have.

  11. Ben says 21 April 2007 at 23:26

    Wow! Thanks for all of this! We bought a house last fall that has one spot in back, and were not quite sure how to go about this. I am starting tomorrow!

  12. Daniel Jamieson says 23 April 2007 at 01:59

    I love the concept of square foot gardening. has anyone heard of a company called nurtur (i think its spelt like tht)? they make products that use this sorta principle. i dnt think it gets release for a while tho. there website is http://www.nurtur.co.uk . great blog guys!!

  13. Beth says 23 April 2007 at 09:18

    For those of us city-dwellers that don’t have space for raised beds, The Bountiful Container is a *great* book on container gardening.

  14. Florabora says 27 April 2007 at 11:07

    You can grow most anything in a container on your patio/balcony. I’ve had success growing tomatoes, carrots, hot peppers, eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, scallions and tons of herbs. Buy the plants at a decent nursery. Invest in some large plastic self-waterning pots (with the chamber at the bottom).

  15. BillinDetroit says 27 April 2007 at 14:07

    If you don’t care for the expense of a self-watering pot, you can poke a small hole in the cap of a soda-pop bottle, fill the bottle and upend it in the soil surface near the plant. Make sure the hole is small, though … about 1/8″ or less … so the bottle doesn’t empty all at once. Most plants don’t need “dunk & dry” … but grow most rapidly when the soil is kept uniformly moist. And constant healthy growth will thwart a lot of bug & disease attacks before they even get started.

    Many times you will see advice to wait until leaves droop before watering. That’s too late … the plant is already stressing and weakened. Bugs & disease are how nature clears out weak plants. During the heat of the day it is natural for plants to conserve moisture by wilting simply because their roots can not supply enough water some days despite adequate levels of soil moisture. But if they are still wilted after the heat of the day, they are water-stressed and the bugs are on the way.

    The nice thing about the bottle is that it’s easy to glance over and check whether you need more or not.

    The self-watering pots can look nicer, but the key point is to get water to the soil at the root level or beyond.

  16. Steve says 30 April 2007 at 21:17

    All of the methods you mention work

    However if you take some time and research you will find most of these methods originated from Dr. Jacob Mittleider Even Mel worked with the Dr. I use the Mittleider method and get about 8 times the yield of my old traditional garden. Do not starve the plants for light, like us they need “elbow room: 🙂

  17. Micron The Cat says 18 February 2008 at 08:16

    Hey there. I see it’s been awhile since the last post, but I have a question I hope someone will answer for me. I have just built a raised bed. It is 2′ tall, 6 x 3′ and I have it filled with lasagna layers up to about 4-6″ from the top. Should I fill the thing completely, or leave some room at the top? Mel talks about “side dressing” some things with compost, which I take to mean scooping some compost around the plants. The Lasagna Gardening lady also mentions this. So should I leave the room at top or no?

    Thanks!
    L

  18. BillinDetroit says 19 February 2008 at 07:00

    No. Fill it. In fact, crown it over.

    Then rake it slightly concave to assure maximum absorption / minimum run-off of water. The edges should be slightly higher than the center.

    The lower layers WILL recede enough by fall that, even crowned over, there will be room to dig in additional material.

    I garden in wooden boxes. My boxes are 2′ deep by 4′ by 20′ and I am speaking from approx. 10 years experience with them.

    In the fall, cap them with as much compost as you have … ready or not (this is a new garden so you won’t have much, if any, that is finished) and then, in the spring, work that cap DEEPLY into the soil -at least the depth of your spading fork- to finish composting (think ‘green manure’ … in fact, Google the term). Then plant and, once the plants are up and identifiable, mulch to a minimum depth of two inches, preferably 4, keeping the mulch slightly back from the tender young stems. To the extent possible, keep the mulch this thickness … it will subside over the season from moisture loss, vibrations of the earth and earthworms eating the bottom of the layer.

    Ignore advice to let the soil dry out between waterings … the maximum growth and yield come from uninterrupted growth and this requires constant availability of moisture. This is also one way of avoiding blossom end rot (hard black spots) on tomatoes. (Working dried eggshells into the compost pile will keep the soil calcium levels up, but moisture is required to get it to the fruit.)

  19. plantgirl says 14 May 2008 at 20:42

    SFG is definently the way to go – would of never gotten into gardening without it. Great article, though I think the new book is the better one to buy (even if it is a couple bucks more).
    ~plantgirl of http://squarefootgardenblog.com

    • rita says 23 May 2011 at 18:19

      I bought the new book for $5 at dollar general.
      yahoo.
      Happy gardening
      Rita

  20. Lou says 30 May 2008 at 12:22

    Thanks for all the invaluable advice. About to start, but due to back problems am getting the hard work done for me. Has anyone ever block built the beds for SFG? Want something permanant without much/any maintenance.

  21. Heidi says 03 June 2008 at 15:15

    It seems to me like square foot gardening would combine very naturally with the theories behind self-watering containers. Has anyone tried to build a square-foot garden with some kind of water reservoir and wicking system on the bottom?

    And how about modifying the construction so it could be used as a cold frame (some way to put a glass roof on it for the late winter to start seeds early). I just moved to Colorado and maximizing my short growing season and minimizing water use are a priority. Thanks for any help!
    heidi

  22. BillinDetroit says 04 June 2008 at 01:19

    Heidi,
    Raise the boxes higher than for SFG. Orient them east-west so that the south side of the box is the long one to capture max heat from the sun. Keep a LOT of rotting vegetable material / manures worked into the soil as a natural heat source. We just had a pretty hard (and very late) frost in Mich. while I was out of town and I lost NOTHING. All I had for heat was some half-finished compost … but my beds are ~2 ft above the ground and the cold air sinks BELOW the level of the plants.

    You can certainly make a cold frame from salvaged windows / patio doors that is more than serviceable.

    I can recommend the Irrigro (tyvek tape) low pressure weep irrigation system. It has always worked well for me … my plants never realize that we have a drought every July / August … they just keep plowing ahead. The tomatoes, especially love it.

    Keep LOTS of mulch on top of the soil to minimize water loss. I plant, lay the tyvek in place, adjust the water flow to just enough to keep the tape a little ‘weepy’ and apply a thick mulch over everything. Done. Few weeds – no drought stress – great yields.

  23. Heidi says 04 June 2008 at 07:05

    Bill,
    Thanks for the advice! I think building the boxes high up is a great idea, and I was just thinking last night that since I’m going to have to replace the windows in my home soon, I could adapt them to put a temporary cold frame over the whole structure to grow from seeds and then remove it when they get too tall. Temperature here drops all summer long, so the more time I can give them…
    Heidi

  24. Mary says 06 June 2008 at 22:08

    This will be my first vertical garden. I want to trellis pick-n-pick yellow crookneck squash from Burpee. Will it take to a trellis?
    If not, I can trellis butternut, but I’m going to plant new seeds for the trellis, and crookneck is what I don’t have much of.

    Thanks,
    Mary

  25. Janna says 12 January 2009 at 12:11

    What type of wood are the raised beds generally made of? I imagine people just use pine, but here in the south I think I would only get a couple of years out of pine. Just wondering if something like cypress might be better. Any thoughts?

  26. Jim Kirby says 20 January 2009 at 05:54

    @Janna: Last boxes I build I made with 1″ cedar. They were still going strong on their 6th season when I had to leave them behind last summer. This year I plan to use redwood instead.

    DO NOT use treated pine. You don’t want the chemicals in your food. You can use untreated pine, but expect to replace parts of it every year or so.

  27. Jeff says 20 January 2009 at 13:01

    I have some guard railing 1’X16′ I am considering using for the sides of raised beds. They are painted over Galvinized steel. Do you see any problems?

  28. Jim Kirby says 20 January 2009 at 13:25

    @Jeff: Personally, I’d take the paint off of any surface that touches dirt. But otherwise it sounds like a cool idea. Should look good.

  29. The Happy Rock says 21 January 2009 at 18:44

    Just delicioused the article so that when we finally have a house with some land we can do this. I love the idea of less work.

    I am hoping to do a couple of fruit trees too.

    It will make a nice dent in the summer budget.

  30. Lizzy says 13 May 2009 at 05:50

    I am excited about my 40×40 fenced in square foot garden. I wished I would have done this 30 years ago. It’s amazing how much you can actually grow and produce. I am working on another 30 foot section. Answering to some questions, Melons are easily grown and squash, if craddled when the veggies get to a certain size. ANYTHING can be attached to a trellis, if the trellis is properly supported. 🙂 Happy Gardening

  31. ddm says 17 May 2009 at 17:57

    I’ve been trying to decide between Mel’s square ft. method and the Mittleider method. I’ve heard that the Mittleider method has an even much greater yield and deals more with lowering acidity levels. Does anyone know which method offers more yield or are they about the same. Thanks for any advice.

  32. carol in il says 18 May 2009 at 20:30

    Hi. There are some great posts here, but I wanted to add my two cents on bed building. I used cinder 4″x8″x16″ cinder blocks to build my beds. They came out slightly larger than 4’x4′. I only managed to finish one bed last year, but I planted it with tomatoes and they went crazy. I would have gotten really great yields if the dogs hadn’t have eaten most of them! 🙂 Using the cinder blocks helps warm the soil/plants even better! Plus, I left the top of the blocks open and use the holes to grow herbs, etc.

    There is a little extra work involved in the beginning because you have to slightly bury the first level of blocks, but then I reinforced the setting of the blocks with rebar and used mason’s adhesive between the two layers of blocks for added hold. I got the blocks as seconds from a local plant so they were like 1/2 the price you would pay at Lowe’s or Home Depot. And, instead of just being a regular concrete gray, they have more of a pink tone to them so they actually look a little decorative.

  33. Micki in Denver says 09 August 2009 at 06:05

    I’m about to start building raised beds (and I, too, want them more like 30 inches high because my knees are shot). I was planning on using 2x10s and was wondering about longevity of the boards if I line them with a really thick plastic. I used off the shelf plastic stapled to my board fence where I wanted to plant a short raised bed against it–and that was 15 years ago. Still no rot on fence. I have some ridiculously think clear plastic left over from an asbestos removal project (the plastic is new).

    Any reason I shouldn’t line the raised beds? We don’t have excessive moisture/rot issues here in Denver. (In fact, I have to water the compost bin.)

    And thank you all for sharing such great information!

  34. Diane says 13 August 2009 at 19:48

    If you have a higher raised bed, just what the heck do you put in the bottom so you are not having to put expensive dirt in – I want to start with 4 courses of the cinder blocks for 32″ height. I LOVE the idea of herbs and flowers in the open holes on top. The base has to be solid or the frost would get it from underneath – I’m in northern Minnesota near Fargo, ND. When I moved here, it was 61 below wind chill so it gets a bit cold.

    • Bruce K says 17 May 2013 at 11:47

      Hi Diane,

      I just finished building two raised beds, 24″ high – nice height to sit on while working in the beds. I filled the bottom foot with plain old dirt (tri-mix) – at $31 a cubic yard, it’s not expensive to fill. Compost is even cheaper at $20 per cubic yard…. the perlite was the expensive part. Here’s an image of my finished beds… just put the last plants and seeds in today.
      http://greenterrafirma.com/square-foot-garden-construction.html

      Good luck, Bruce K.

  35. Diane says 13 August 2009 at 19:52

    Have any of you checked out Lasagna Gardening? It’s layers of newspapers, grass, compost, etc. right over grass or even packed down dirt. I did it in my first raised garden and the next year I dug down to check the bottom and the sod was GONE and so was the newspaper – all decomposed beautifully.

  36. Laurie says 03 June 2010 at 09:36

    I’ve successfully combined lasagna gardening with square foot planting. Another method I love comes from Ruth Stout’s No-Work Garden Book.

  37. Meggan says 11 July 2012 at 08:48

    I recently saw a large-ish garden seemingly built around the idea of square foot gardening. I think that when I have a large garden of my own I’d like to set up boxes even if there is plenty of land to forego boxes, because maybe that saves time weeding and helps to keep everything organized. Do you think this could be a good idea?

  38. J.D. says 02 May 2019 at 08:40

    Until we develop a better method, this is the alert that flags where the old comments end and the new ones begin. As you can tell, this is an updated version of an article originally published on 21 April 2007.

  39. Sophie says 02 May 2019 at 09:56

    I grow pest-nip also, but in hanging pots far, far away from where interested parties may discover and reach it. They are motivated and agile, as you know, so that’s the only solution.

    Also, about 30 years ago, there waas a book called Postage Stamp Gardening, and I used that as a guide. It recommended extra additions of nutrients to the soil (Manure, bone meal, etc.), and called for pretty much “cramming” in the veg. Sounds iffy, maybe, but it worked great! Good luck with your home grown!

  40. Catherine says 02 May 2019 at 11:42

    I have both editions of SFG, and they’re both interesting. The only thing I’ve found that works better where I live is that squash prefers my NW MO clay with compost and gypsum to the perfect medium in the SFG method. I don’t know why, as I’m quite the amateur, but zucchini and cucumbers kind of stare at me in the raised beds I built, but go crazy in growth and fruit when I put them in the ground. Tomatoes do well with both, lettuces need the SFG soil, and only potatoes can make themselves at home deep in the clay. So I have both gardens. ?

  41. Steveark says 02 May 2019 at 12:47

    My wife grew up on a 400 acre farm, and at our house has generally tried to raise veggies in a plot in our backyard. We’ve got a two acre property with a large back yard but the problem is that we live in the woods and the towering trees around our property shield everything from many hours of sunlight. Then if you do get something to grow in the shade the deer just eat it about three days prior to time to harvest it. She has cut back to just growing some herbs and spices in pots, the deer usually leave those alone but they also eat all of her flowers. One morning we watched a mama deer walk a fawn around our entire yard and stop at each flower pot or bush and let the baby deer eat the flowers. It was cute but we didn’t have any flowers afterwards!

  42. Dave @ Accidental FIRE says 02 May 2019 at 13:19

    No matter how I try to plant vegetables, no matter how many nets or cages I put around them the squirrels and chipmunks get to them and eat them. They even dig under the ground outside of my cage and borrow inside the cage if they have to. I’ve kind of given up, but I do enjoy the fact that so many critters live behind my house….. it’s just frustrating

  43. S.G. says 02 May 2019 at 13:27

    I try to garden so I’m ready for the zombie apocalypse. But it seems weird to me to spend $ in order to work in order to eat veggies that I can pick up at Sprouts in 1/100 of the time.

    The biggest thing holding me back is bears. It seems that bears love to eat everything that isn’t onions.

    • J.D. says 02 May 2019 at 14:25

      WTF? You have bears? Yikes. I hate bears.

      • S.G. says 02 May 2019 at 19:00

        Oh yes. They come right up to the house if there’s something interesting. Bobcats and coyotes, too. I think there might even be a mountain lion or two in the area. But bears are the only omnivores. The others only help with rabbit population control.

  44. Marc says 03 May 2019 at 04:03

    My wife followed this approach at our old house. She had two boxes for the raised beds and used them for a few years until we moved. It worked out really well, because, like you said, the maintenance is pretty low.

  45. JoDi says 03 May 2019 at 10:59

    Oh no! Not the winter savory! That is one of my very favorite herbs. I have three 8 ‘x 4’ raised bed gardens, and I love them. I plant flowers in one and herbs and veggies in the other two. This is my 3rd year and I’ve been learning a lot. Last year was a bit of a bust because it rained so much. None of the plants were very happy so I didn’t get nearly as much yield as the year before when we were overflowing with tomatoes! The weather has been better already this year so I’m hoping for another bumper crop.

  46. Joe says 05 May 2019 at 06:33

    I’m curious if you’ve examined the ROI of this activity at all. I gardened for several years in my last house (where I built four 4’x8′ raised beds). But I found that without spending more time on it than I wanted to (weeding and pest prevention, mostly), it wasn’t productive enough to be profitable.

    Of course there are many other reasons to garden than just saving money buying veggies, but I found it hard to be motivated to work in a money-losing garden, and when we moved, I did not try again.

    • J.D. says 07 May 2019 at 06:25

      About a decade ago, I spent two or three years tracking how much I spent on the garden, how much time it took, and what the yields were. My numbers showed that this wasn’t especially cost-effective despite what certain frugality blogs want to claim. Yes, I got higher-quality produce, but when you consider the time and money involved, the ROI isn’t there. (I will say, however, that this might differ depending on the size of the garden and the location you’re growing.)

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*