There’s no doubt about it: Gardening is a great hobby! Not only can you can grow your own fresh vegetables and fill your house with beautiful flowers, this pastime is great stress-release for the mind and terrific exercise for the body. But if you’ve tried your hand at it before and were overwhelmed with weeds and work, maybe it’s time to do it a different way: Try Square Foot Gardening.

Broccoli in Square Foot Garden

With Square Foot Gardening, you can grow delicious vegetables in one square, greens in another and flowers in others!

Photo Credit: Square Foot Garden Foundation

Grandmother and granddaughter gardening

If working on the ground is too difficult, consider building your Square Foot Garden on a raised platform.

Photo Credit: Square Foot Garden Foundation

Square Foot Gardening book cover

For more information on how to create your own intensive garden, check out the inventor’s books, Square Foot Gardening and All New Square Foot Gardening.

Photo Credit: Square Foot Garden Foundation

While not new to the garden scene, this concept is new to a lot of people. The method is based on preparing small, intensive gardens to grow only what you want to eat or use. And it’s a great way to maximize a small space and minimize your gardening routine.

It all started back in 1975, after Mel Bartholomew retired from his consulting engineer business. Mel decided he’d enjoy gardening with his new free time, so he and a group of local gardeners opened a community garden and learned about traditional gardening methods of clearing land, adding manure and planting in wide rows. Many, many weeds later, Mel decided there had to be a better way to grow vegetables and flowers.

After talking with gardeners from around the world, Mel tried building a garden a new way – with no rows or large paths that could fill up with weeds. The end result was the Square Foot Garden, a 4- by 4-foot plot filled with a light, fluffy soil mix rich with compost. By using only as many plants as he needed, Mel created a small but efficient garden. Since its invention, Mel’s gardening method has grown to be so popular, he’s written two books and a lesson plan for teachers to use in their classrooms. It’s also been featured on PBS.

The best news of all is the fact that Square Foot Gardening is as easy as it sounds:

  1. Select a site for your garden that gets at least 6 hours of sunlight. Next, build a 4- by 4-foot open box that’s 6 inches high, for that spot. (You can buy raised bed kits or pick up the building supplies at your local home supply store.)

    If you plan to have more than one 4x4 box, allow for a 3-foot pathway around each bed so you can work your garden easily. Also, be sure to use a groundcover cloth in the pathways if invasive grass or weeds are a problem in your yard.
  2. Combine 1/3 blended compost, 1/3 peat moss and 1/3 coarse vermiculite to create “Mel’s mix.” The basic recipe for three boxes is:
    • Two 4-cubic-foot bags of coarse vermiculite
    • One 3.9-cubic-foot bale of peat moss (It expands to about 8 cubic feet when open.)
    • Four to five bags of a variety of compost to equal 8 cubic feet
    Fill your boxes with this lightweight blend. It’s key because it encourages root growth and provides nutrients without any weed seeds.
  3. Use grids to divide your 4x4 box into 16 squares. (Each square will measure 1 square foot.)
  4. Plant your seedlings or seeds, being sure to check the package to determine how many plants should go into each square. It’s important to follow the guides on how far apart each plant needs to be from others. So, for example, since broccoli and peppers should be planted 12 inches apart, plant just one in the center of one square. Carrots should be planted 3 inches apart, so you can plant 16 (four rows across by four down), all 3 inches apart from each other and 1½ inches from the edges. After planting, water thoroughly, preferably by hand from a bucket of sun-warmed water.

Square Foot Gardens can be just as versatile and decorative as any traditional garden. You can grow climbing vegetables vertically on trellises and mix in all kinds of flowers. What’s more, it’s a great way to teach kids about geometry, math and, of course, gardening! So if you’re tired of pulling weeds in long rows, try boxing your garden into squares. Soon you’ll be saying “hello” to delicious vegetables and beautiful flowers and “goodbye” to the work of weeding!