Square Foot Gardening a Way to Increase Productivity

Oct 12, 2015 | Growing Tips

by Stephanie Barger, SCMG

I love gardening. In many ways, it is the process of gardening that is important to me as opposed to the product.

But the last couple of years, our vegetable garden has been a lot of process and very little product. While the grasses, decorative bed and herb bed thrived, veggies were non-existent. So this year, we decided to try something a bit different: square foot gardening.

Square foot gardening is a grid-based method developed by Mel Bartholomew about four decades ago, intended to increase productivity and decrease space, labor and resources used.

The idea is that you plant in a 4-feet by 4-feet space, divided into sixteen 1-foot by 1-foot grids. Raised beds are ideal for this method. We had to modify things a bit because we already have a raised bed that is much larger than 16 square feet. Instead of constructing new raised beds of the required dimensions, we placed wooden trellises on top of the existing bed and, presto, instant grids!

One of the reasons for sizing the beds at 16 square feet is to ensure that one can reach all of the area so that space isn’t wasted with unproductive, packed down soil, so the whole planted area is productive. Therefore, we left space between the trellises so we could tend the planted area from all sides.

Once the grids were ready, it was time to plant.

With this method, planting is a simple process. Gone is the need to plant hundreds of seeds and then pulling young plants to create necessary growing space. Instead, you plant one, four, nine, or 16 seeds in each grid, depending on the recommended spacing of the mature plants. Not only does this conserve seeds and reduce plant waste, it makes identifying weeds much easier because you know the exact location of the seedlings because of the planting pattern used.

We have realized several benefits with square foot gardening. Weeds are virtually non-existent. Oh sure, there is the occasional straggler, but the time spent weeding this year is significantly less than that of previous years.

Additionally, we are conserving water — always a bonus in New Mexico. The watering method suggested for this type of gardening is to take a cup of sun warmed-water and pour it at the base of the plants, as needed. We used strategically placed drip lines — another modification of the recommended method that addresses some of the watering issues present in row gardening as identified by Bartholomew. Both methods conserve the water and water only the roots of the plant. By not watering the tops and leaves of the plants, disease and other problems are limited or avoided completely.

I mentioned earlier that the past couple of seasons, our vegetable garden was fairly unproductive. This year, everything that we have planted using square foot gardening is producing, but the produce being harvested is not excessive. We are not struggling to use, give away, can, dehydrate, or freeze veggies so that they don’t go bad. We were able to limit planting to our needs and stagger things so everything did not ripen all at once.

Our first attempt at square foot gardening has been a success. It is simple, can be done in a very small space, and can be modified to accommodate individual needs and preferences.

For more details about this method, you can find a number of good sources online or, if you prefer books, check out Mel Bartholomew’s 2013 publication, “All New Square Foot Gardening: The Revolutionary Way to Grow More in Less Space” (2nd Edition). {

This article text was previously published in the Rio Rancho Observer.