Here’s how to get the most out of vegetable gardening in small spaces.
Now, I didn’t invent square foot gardening – it’s been around for decades. Mel Bartholomew documented square foot gardening principles in 1976 as an alternative to traditional row vegetable gardens. As many of us live in social communities with smaller lot lines, we know that a traditional row vegetable garden is just not an option. Not only do we not have the space for it, but we just don’t have the time. The weeding alone in a 10’x20’ traditional garden would take a couple of hours a week – who’s got time for that?
The main concept of square foot gardening is to use less space, time, water and money by dividing the garden up into square feet and then using specific plant spacing to determine exactly the space a plant needs and no more. Then, other vegetable plants can be placed as close as possible to get the highest yield in the smallest space. Some like to use strings or strips of wood to divide up the garden into a nice tic-tac-toe board. I like to keep it simple and just draw lines on the soil with my hands. Then I use labels to remember what is planted where.
Many things are the same in a square foot garden as compared to a traditional garden. It is important to prepare nutrient-rich soil, have the proper irrigation in place, and a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight on the garden. Sometimes it is nice and relaxing to water the garden, but who needs the headache of having to get out there every day while trying to take care of all of the other thirsty mouths in the house. Self-watering gardens are low-maintenance and help to keep gardening enjoyable and stress-free. It is also important in our region to select only varieties of plants meant to grow in hardiness Zone 9b, which are heat tolerant and pest resistant.
Some differences with square foot vegetable gardens are companion planting and plant spacing. To plant so many different vegetable plants in such close proximity, it is important to understand how these plants interact with each other in the air and under the soil. The three sisters – corn, beans and squash – were known to be planted together by Native Americans prior to the European settlers. The corn acts as a great trellis for the beans to climb and also provides some welcome shade in the hot afternoons for the squash. The beans remove nitrogen from the air and transfer the nitrogen into the soil through the roots. The squash then utilizes the nitrogen for vegetable production. Since corn is too big to grow in many square foot gardens, just use a trellis and the two sisters left should be very happy together. Some plants can enhance the flavor of other plants, like having basil next to tomatoes. Other plants need to be separated when they compete for large amounts of water or nutrients. There’s no need to remember all of the companion rules because companion planting guides exist freely on the internet.
Some examples of plant spacing in a square foot garden are the standard tomato plant will take up about three square feet when supported by a tomato cage, where lettuce can be planted four heads per square foot. My spacing doesn’t always line up with Mel’s. While I admire his technique and wish I had shared a glass of wine with him while he was alive, his spacing can be quite ambitious. Depending on the variety of plant, the spacing can also vary. It is important to respect the plant spacing for maximum vegetable production.
So, if gardening has been daunting in the past, consider the approach of square foot gardening to have a high-yield, low-maintenance, successful garden this spring season.
Amber Harmon is the owner of My Nona’s Garden, where we sell and service low-maintenance, elevated, organic vegetable gardens. Our organization has a mission to bring health, promote growth and provide vegetable gardening education to local communities, one garden at a time.
Visit www.MyNonasGarden.com for more information.
“We make organic vegetable gardening easy!”