Gardeners' Dirt: Square foot gardening means more yield

By Debbie Hopper - Victoria County Master Gardener InternEdited by Charla Borchers Leon
Feb. 7, 2013 at midnight
Updated Feb. 6, 2013 at 8:07 p.m.

These raised-bed gardens are designed 4 square feet in size and sectioned into 16 squares by running twine from one side of the frame to the other.

These raised-bed gardens are designed 4 square feet in size and sectioned into 16 squares by running twine from one side of the frame to the other.

When I first began gardening, I used a tiller and planted in rows. I soon became discouraged.

The tiller was heavy and difficult to handle. It was an exhausting ordeal.

A better way

I weeded daily only to come out the next day to find more weeds. I decided there had to be a better way. I did research and found the book, "Square Foot Gardening," by Mel Bartholomew. His ideas were simple and instructional, and I found myself eager to try them.

Intensive gardening

Square foot gardening is a type of intensive gardening. The Master Gardener Handbook describes intensive gardening as producing the most possible amount of produce from a given amount of space so that the gardener gets better yield with less labor. That is what I was looking for.

Growing conditions

Picking the right location for your garden is important. A garden needs six to eight hours of sun.

It should be located close to your home and a water source.

Raised beds

Raised beds are used in square foot gardens. A frame is used to make the bed. The frame can be purchased or made from lumber or brick, depending on your budget.


The gardener must determine how big to make the beds. I prefer a 4-foot by 4-foot bed that is 12 inches tall. I use pine, but other woods can be used. Many lumber companies will even cut the lumber to your desired length for a small fee.

Weed Prevention and soil

Once my frames were built, I laid down a tarp under the frames. Weed cloth could also be used.

Place the beds at least three feet apart to allow room to walk around and in between the beds for improved access to them for maintenance, harvesting and other necessary gardening tasks.

Each raised bed will need to be filled with soil. I buy my soil and compost from a local nursery and mix them in my beds. In his book, Mel Bartholomew makes his own soil using one-third compost, one third peat and one-third coarse vermiculite.

One-foot squares

Once your frames are built and filled with soil, measure and mark off one foot sections on the frame. I stretch twine across and attach it to the frame to form my grid. Wood slats could be used. Once this is done, there should be 16, one-foot squares. You will plant something in each square foot.

Plant knowledge

You must know when to plant, what types of plants will grow best in your area and only plant what you will eat.

Plant according to size

The plant size will determine the spacing in your raised bed garden.

Extra large plants such as broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage should be planted twelve inches apart. One plant can be planted in one twelve-inch square.

Large plants such as Swiss chard should be planted six inches apart. This allows four plants for each square.

Spinach and bush beans are medium-sized plants and they are planted four inches apart. Nine plants can be set in a one square foot.

Small plants like onions, radishes and carrots are planted three inches apart, allowing sixteen seeds or plants in a one square foot.

This is the basics of square foot gardening. It may sound complicated, but is really very easy once you get started.


After the plants begin to grow, put three to four inches of mulch down to keep the soil from drying out. A soaker or drip hose with a timer can be used to keep the soil moist and to conserve water. It is best to water in the morning.

Tips for success

Checking your garden daily for insects, disease and environmental stress is an excellent preventive measure and prevents you from stressing.

I would suggest keeping a garden journal. The notes can be a great guide as to what worked and what did not work. The journal will show what was planted, where it was planted and when it was planted.

Start small. Make adjustments to your garden and don't be afraid to try new things. Harvest your produce from the sides of your beds and never walk in the beds.

Square foot gardening is fun, easy and almost weed free. Best of all, no tiller is required.

The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or, or comment on this column at



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