A lot of people who live in apartments or have very limited gardening space feel like growing their own fruits and vegetables is beyond their reach… but this is not so! Gardeners have developed methods to grow beautiful, luscious crops in the small spaces they have available, and these methods are called “Square Foot” and “Vertical” gardening.
Square foot gardening is a practice where you section off your prepared garden bed into 1 foot squares instead of planting in rows. There are several different charts available online that give you some examples of how many of each plant you can grow in each square, so be prepared to do some internet searching!
In square foot gardening, you need to think of vegetables in terms of size relating to the square foot in which they’ll be planted. You have your extra large vegetables such as zucchini, pumpkin, watermelon and summer/winter squashes that all require at least 2 square feet per plant. Large vegetables, such as tomato, eggplant, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumber, okra and pepper require 1 square foot per plant. Medium vegetables such as lettuce, basil, marigold, corn, parsley, potato, strawberry and turnip can be placed in sets of 4 plants per square foot. Small vegetables such as bush bean, beet and spinach can be grown as 9 plants per square foot. Extra small plants such as radish, carrot and onion can be grown at 16 plants per square foot. With all these planting methods you can maximize the space available as well as cut down on weed growth due to the close proximity of the plants.
Vertical gardening is another great way to save space, which entails training vining vegetables to grow up instead of sprawling out. Tomatoes, beans, peas, zucchini and cucumbers can all be trained to grow up instead of out; climbing on fences, poles and trellises.
A useful trick is to pull out the old graph paper and plot your garden on paper. One square can equal one square foot, and you can go from there! You can also use online tools like http://www.smartgardener.com, which is a program that allows you to plot out your garden on the computer. Don’t be afraid to incorporate companion planting into your square foot gardening plans as a way to naturally control pests. Read our post on companion planting HERE.
If you’d like a more in depth look at square foot gardening, check out Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. We’ll go into the basics in this blog post, but we suggest reading the book for more information.
What makes a good site for your square foot garden? To put it plainly, lots and lots of sunshine! Good soil is always hard to come by, so luckily with this method you’ll be mixing together and implementing your own soil to use. According to Square Foot Gardening, the setup is actually very simple. Begin by selecting your location, and then mapping out where your boxes will go if you have more than one in mind. 4’x4′ is a great starting point for the size of your box if you’ve never attempted square foot gardening before. You’ll also need to make sure that the depth is at least 6″-8″. Your box frame can be built from wood, vinyl or even cinder blocks… just be sure that your material has no harmful ingredients or coatings that may leech into the soil.
Line the bottom of your box with a high quality weed blocking fabric and then fill the box in with the suggested soil mix: 1/3 compost, 1/3 peat moss and 1/3 coarse vermiculite. You’ll then need to create a permanent grid on top of the soil that is comprised of 1’x1′ boxes.
According to the guide we referenced earlier about how many of each type of plant can be grown in each box, plant your seed in shallow holes made by your finger. Only place 2-3 seeds per each hole, and then cover with soil (do not pack!). After your plants sprout, save the best one from each hole and snip off the others. This will save you from having to thin the plants out later.
To water, use only sun warmed water applied directly to the root. Water often when you first plant, as well as on hot days. Harvest continually, and when one crop is done producing, remove the plant scraps before adding more compost and planting a new crop.
Vertical gardening is the same idea, with conserving space and cutting down on weeds as the main focus, just with a different method. It also prevents the need to hunch over to harvest the fruits of your labor, as well as keeps the fruit that is hidden under a mound of vines and leaves from getting overripe and rotting.
Be sure to set your trellises and stakes up on the north side of your garden to prevent them from shading any other types of plants, and make sure they are properly anchored against wind damage and snapping under the weight of the plants. Most vining plants will climb whatever is available, while plants like tomatoes will need to be “trained” or progressively tied to the pole you’d like them to climb.
If you’ve had great success with a certain “map” for your square foot garden, feel free to share it in the comments section of this post!