Learning How to Increase Self-Sufficiency on as Little as One Square Foot of Land

Summer is approaching, and quick! Maybe you’ve considered starting a garden but felt discouraged by certain obstacles such as limited space — worry not! Growing your own food doesn’t need to be a big, fancy operation, and is something you can be successful at using whatever type of space you have.

A beautiful harvest from a simple square foot garden

A Few Benefits to Consider

Home food production is a practice that we’ve strayed from over time as modern conveniences became more plentiful, but as prices at the grocery store continue to soar, families are more seriously contemplating the idea of home gardening. One of the most substantial benefits you’ll notice, besides enjoying less frequent trips to the produce section, is that the homegrown food you produced in your garden is remarkably superior to what’s available in the supermarket. Many fruit and vegetable varieties are not produced near their point of use, endure long-distance shipping and cold storage, which results in visually appealing products that look much better than they taste, and ultimately have considerably less nutritional value than homegrown equivalents.

Superior taste is another immense benefit to home gardening. The two biggest factors affecting taste are freshness, along with the variety that was grown. Imagine being in your back yard, picking vine-ripened tomatoes to serve with your salad within minutes of picking them. Now compare that to what you’ll find at the store — those tomatoes were harvested while they were still green and ripened during the shipping process. An impossible taste & freshness comparison to make!

Consider adding a trellis to save space and help support vining plants like cucumbers

Additionally, due to our fresh produce being selected for characteristics like toughness during shipping, synchronic ripening, and the level of convenience that comes along with harvesting in mass quantities, many of the finest tasting varieties of fruits and vegetables are not offered in supermarkets because they aren’t suitable for machine picking or bruise too easily. Possibly the best benefit of all to growing your very own, is the increased choice in varieties to grow and enjoy. Home gardeners are free to “customize” their growing space by being able to pick from literally thousands of common and/or heirloom assortments based on their personal taste.

Square Foot Gardening and How to Get Started

Your Square Foot Garden will have a few unique characteristics:

  1. Small, uniform raised beds (usually 4 x 4)
  2. Rich amended soil
  3. A physical grid dividing the surface of each bed into 1’ squares
  4. A set number of plants per square foot

Location and Size

Before you get busy planting, there’s a few things to contemplate:

No matter how clever the design, it is important to keep factors such as sunlight and drainage in mind when setting up your space. Depending on what you’ll be growing, you’ll want to check the back of your seed packets to determine if your plants will need full or partial shade and choose the best location accordingly. If your yard allows you to, plant your garden where it’s not too far from the house to make maintenance tasks like watering and harvesting as easy as possible.

Next, you’ll want to think about how much food you want to grow. A single 4 x 4 foot raised Square Foot Garden bed will produce enough food for a small family, but if you plan to can or freeze some of your harvest, you may want to consider planting additional beds. If you are planting multiple Square Foot Beds, leave 3-foot aisles between the beds and mulch them well to help with weed control.

One of the best things about this gardening method are all the design options available — you can customize your garden to your specific needs. For example, if building raised beds on the ground isn’t an option due to back pain, etc., garden boxes can be raised off the ground and set at any height to help eliminate crouching.

Example of an elevated raised bed square foot garden

Designing Your Bed

First, you’ll want to decide if you’re going the DIY route, or if you’d like to start with pre-made garden boxes. While there are a variety of “ready made” boxes to choose from, you can put them together yourself fairly inexpensivlly, usually for less than $50 a box.

You’ll Need:

  • (4) 2 x 6 in. boards, 4 ft. long, untreated (Cedar is a good choice)
  • (12) 4 in. wood screws
  • (6) 4 ft. lattice strips (or your choice of material for making your grid such as twine or wire)
  • (9) machine bolts
  • Weed barrier
  • Drill
  • Staple gun
  • Screws/nails
  • (Or, for the gardener that prefers the convenience of having everything they need ready to use, ask us about our customizable raised bed kits)

Your garden boxes can be as decorative or as simple as you want them to be, depending on budget, time, and space. Once you’ve completed building your box(es) you may also want to add a vertical trellis for climbing plants like cucumbers, beans or peas, giving you even more produce in less space!

Picking Out Your Plants

This is the hard part — narrowing down what you want to grow! The easiest way to make the final cut on deciding what you’ll plant, is to think about your (or your family’s) likes and dislikes. What do you use the most? Do you make a lot of salads, or plan on making homemade salsa? A couple fresh herbs might be handy in the kitchen, and naturally sweet things to munch on like snap peas, carrots, strawberries or tomatoes make for refreshing, healthy snacks all summer long.

From there you’ll lay out your plant sites for small, medium, large, and extra large plants. This is where the grid we mentioned earlier in the set-up process will come into play.

A rough guide for laying out your grid:

  • Small: 3” apart (or smaller) = 16 plants per square (radishes, beets, etc.)
  • Medium: 4” apart = 9 plants per square (carrots, onions, et)
  • Large: 6” apart = 4 plants per square (lettuces, etc.)
  • Extra Large: 12” apart = 1 plant per square (cabbage, broccoli, peppers, tomato, etc.)

If you’re still unsure about the type of design that will work best for your space, a quick search can help give you a sort of “visual cheat sheet” to help you finalize your plan. (Or, if you’re the artsy type, let your creative side shine and sketch out your vision of the perfect garden!)

Let Your Garden Grow

High Five! You’ve officially started your very own “mini farm”, right in your own backyard! From here on out until it’s time to make your final harvest, water regularly, and keep tabs on those weeds as needed (be sure to pull them when they’re small if/when you’re able to.) Have you ever planted a Square Foot Garden before? What advantages or disadvantages did you have? Leave a comment below and share your best tips with us!