Poorganic Gardening: Square Foot Beds

This is our third year of gardening. Our first year, we miserably failed at a row garden. Last year, we had our first square foot garden and had moderate success. This year we are adding a second square foot garden, using our poorganic principles. It’s not too late for you to start gardening, so if you want to try an easy and cheap method, this might work for you.

Get two 2×8 or 2×10 boards.  They are usually 8 feet long.  Cut them in half, so they are 4 feet long on each side.  At Lowe’s they will cut them for you. Nail or screw the boards together to form a square. You may notice that we had two 2×10 inch boards and two 2×8. This is because we borrowed some leftover boards from my dad. Also, this is treated lumber. Ideally, you should use non-treated so there are no chemicals that will leach into the soil. However, if you are poorganic and are getting boards for free, you don’t care about that. :)

Lay them on a flat or nearly flat part of your yard that gets sufficient sun. Face the square to the south or southeast, so that if you decide to do a climbing trellis on the back portion, the trellis will not create a shadow over the rest of the garden.

Cut the bottom off of some paper bags. Then slit them along the middle so that the paper bag lays flat. You can also use newspapers or weed barrier cloth for this part of the job.

Arrange the bags, printed side down, over the ground and overlap to prevent weeds from coming through into your garden.

Wet the bags down.

The soil mixture recommended for the square foot gardening method is called Mel’s Mix.  It is comprised of 3 parts. 1/3 compost. (Mel recommends using a variety of different types of compost for the most nutrient rich soil.) These three piles from left to right are compost we made, cow manure compost, and mushroom compost.

The second part of the mixture is peat moss. You can get a large bag this size for $10 at Lowe’s. For one square foot garden, you will use most of this.

It looks like this.

Lastly, you need vermiculite. It is hard to find. A 4 cu ft bag costs $18 in this area. Big box stores do not carry this size bag.  I will say this this is kind of the “secret weapon” of Mel’s Mix and keeps the soil very porous so that you are able to plant more seeds in a smaller area, which is the point of the square foot garden.

So, on the far left is the vermiculite. In the center is the peat moss. On the right are the three types of compost. Pour your soils onto a large tarp.  (In the background you can see my first square foot garden on the right and the new one on the left.)

Your might want to wear a mask because the vermiculite has fine particles that aren’t great to breath in.

Wet the soil mixture and stir it together. We actually turned up the corners of the tarp and kind of shook it together first.

Pour into your frame and wet thoroughly. Wait a bit to make sure it drains efficiently.

Plant some seeds. As you can see in the background, for my first garden, I use a grid structure to help me know how much to plant for square foot, but for my second garden, I am going a bit crazy and just doing some close rows. :) Use old popsicle sticks for row markers.

When you see your first teensy little spinach sprout, squeal with glee. You’ve done it!

More later . . . any questions?

14 Responses to Poorganic Gardening: Square Foot Beds

  1. Anita March 13, 2012 at 5:25 am #

    LOVE! Will be doing this in 3 weeks! I told Neil that I will probably be in the yard putting my garden in within a day or two of arrival. I CAN NOT WAIT!! So excited to see how yours grows!!

  2. Lisa P March 13, 2012 at 7:39 am #

    Awesome! (I love the picture of Dylan!)

  3. Corina March 13, 2012 at 8:08 am #

    This is awesome! I actually researched Sq Ft Gardening 3 wks ago! I am delighted you are puttingit into action! Can’t wait to start mine!

  4. Laura March 13, 2012 at 9:54 am #

    What did you end up doing with the rail ties? Thanks to J for helping Mike even though it looks like you didn’t need the trade off in the end! :)

    • Katrina March 13, 2012 at 3:56 pm #

      J used the railroad ties for something else, creating a little play area for the kids.

  5. Amy March 13, 2012 at 10:39 am #

    We’re doing our first garden this year. Can’t wait! What plants are you planting? I need something easy. I was thinking tomatoes, zucchini, summer squash, basil, cilantro, parsley.
    Amy recently posted…Adoption ApprovalMy Profile

    • Katrina March 13, 2012 at 3:59 pm #

      Right now I have lettuces, peas, carrots, onions, beets, snow peas and spinach in. Later on I will plant cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers. I’m HOPING that my tomatoes and peppers will live. Usually I kill my seedlings and have to buy plants. I haven’t done squashes yet because I hear they take up lots of space which is something I don’t have, but I might give it a whirl. Basil goes CRAZY. Parsley is good. Cilantro will do well in the spring, but then it will go to seed when it gets hot so you have to keep seeding it.

      • Amy March 13, 2012 at 6:11 pm #

        I’m not even going to try to grow something from a seed. I’ll be lucky if I keep the plants alive. Lettuces was the other thing I was thinking of doing. Also onions but for some reason they scare me to death.
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  6. Kevin April 3, 2012 at 12:48 am #

    Great guide and clever blog name :) FYI, the brown bags will probably have to be replaced yearly or else they’ll rot through! We’d love to see any pictures you have of your garden as it progresses – I know Mel would absolutely love it. If you’re interested, send them to askmelsfg@gmail.com

    Thanks for spreading the SFG message :)

    Kevin from the Square Foot Gardening Foundation

    • Katrina April 3, 2012 at 6:23 am #

      Thanks! Yes, I did have to replace the bags in my first bed after a year because they no longer prevented weeds. I just dug out the soil, cleaned out the roots and stirred in some new compost.

  7. amy April 25, 2013 at 8:20 pm #

    my first attempt at gardningand we have a small space so I would like to try the square foot method . do I have to build the box or can I just measure out square foot areas in my garden? thanks …amy

    • Katrina Ryder April 29, 2013 at 5:20 pm #

      You do not have to build the box necessarily, but your soil will settle quite a bit and the box helps contain things from washing away. ALso it prevents weeds from crawling in. Additionally, the square foot method (close planting) requires a particular soil composition. You really should not plant things this close in a traditional gardening method because the soil doesn’t drain the same way and the plants really won’t thrive.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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  2. Let Your Roots | The Poorganic Life - May 2, 2012

    […] Now, because I’m a cheapskate and line my beds with paper bags instead of weed barrier, I recently had to dig out all of the Mel’s Mix from last year’s square foot garden and “clean it.”  The paper bags eventually disintegrate and let weeds through.  I dug it out. I lay down new paper bags. Finally, I spaded through all the soil from last year and pulled out all the weeds, hairy little strings of past roots, sprouting acorns, and other invaders.   Meanwhile, I sat at the edge of my garden hearing the mantra. […]