How to Make a Square Foot Garden

How to Make a Square Foot Garden

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  1. Just to prove how truly imbecilic I can be, when I first heard the term, “Square Foot Garden”, I thought it was some strange nursery or greenhouse used to grow actual feet… square feet, nonetheless, which I imagined contained blunted cube-like toes that would appeal to Picasso in his more bizarre days. A neighbor invited me over to show off her new square foot garden with pride, and as I fretfully walked into her yard, I prepared to try my best to stifle the inevitable scream resulting from seeing all of those disembodied feet. To my great relief, I saw only growing vegetables—though, to my sudden, irrepressible horror, I noted with alarm that most of them were Brussels sprouts.

    How I loathe Brussels sprouts.

    Initially, my impression of square foot gardens was that they were, for the most part, a waste of time, money and effort. Then I moved to Humboldt County, land of the fabled banana slug—which can grow over a foot in length and is renowned for its insatiable appetite and destructive acumen—and I had to rethink my opinion of square foot gardens. I soon discovered that I was wrong on all counts. They were not a waste of time, for they saved countless crops of mine; they were not a waste of money, for they only cost me a few dollars each to build; and as for the effort… I made four of them in about ten minutes, once I had the supplies.


     For a single square foot garden, you’ll need four boards of equal length, width and depth. I used four-foot long planks that were 12 x 2 inches in width and depth, which I recommend, though the depth (the smallest dimension, as seen from the edge of the board) need not exceed half an inch (mine were two inches deep because they were free, found at a currently unmonitored construction project and appeared to be used and abandoned parts of some eccentric contraption, possibly a trebuchet, and I was certain that no one wanted them… or at least convinced myself of such). Chose your boards or planks in accordance to the size of garden patch you want to create; but keep in mind that you want it small enough that you won’t have to actually step into it if possible. The finished construct need not be square, but can be rectangular if you wish. Just because “square” is in the name doesn’t mean the shape must conform; “square foot” refers to the area within the construct.

    Use at least inch and a half long nails to join the boards together at the ends. Lay out two parallel boards long-wise, so that they stand on edge; then lay the other two boards along the ends of these to form a square or rectangle and hammer them together. Use enough nails that the joints are tight enough so that insects and slugs can’t squeeze through them.

    Place the construct where you wish to garden (someplace sunny) and fill with potting soil to within two inches of the top of the boards, providing a raised bed. If you used 12-inch wide boards as I did, this will afford ten inches of soil depth for whatever you plant, plenty of room for the roots of most vegetables. If you want to improve the soil depth, dig up and turn the earth where you plan to lay the square foot garden, mixing the old dirt with the potting soil. If you find earthworms in your digging, be sure to save them (in a cool, moist container out of sunlight) and release them into your garden, as they are beneficial to the soil.


     If you plan to use several square foot gardens, lay them out in rows with at least a couple feet of space in between so you’ll have room to work your crops. If you have more than six, consider creating a main pathway at least four feet wide so you can transport gardening tools, equipment and hoses between them without damaging your plants.

    Square foot gardens will not only help reduce damage caused by insects and slugs, they also decrease the amount of weeds with which you’ll have to contend. They work well for virtually all types of vegetable, and they’re great for flower gardens as well.

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