Square Foot Garden in About an Hour

April 6th, 2009 by david laferney Leave a reply »
A 24 square ft garden like this can grow a remarkable amount of food and is easy to build and take care of.

A 24 square ft garden like this can grow a remarkable amount of food and is easy to build and take care of.

Once you have all of the materials gathered up you really can set up a square ft garden like this in about an hour.  As you probably already know “Square Foot Gardening” is a method promoted by Mel Bartholomew.  Basically you grow in a permanent raised bed full of highly enriched soil which is divided into blocks which are 1 foot square – each block is intensively managed and cultivated.  It is an especially effective method for small areas and people who are new to gardening – there is no need whatsoever for roto-tillers or any other expensive equipment.

The bed in this article does not yet have a square foot grid so according to Mr. Bartholomew it isn’t quite a square ft garden.  I guess that will be up to the owner (My Daughter Sharon) who has been reading the book.  Anyway here are the simple steps to building a Square Foot Garden.

The frame for this bed is made out of regular SPF grade construction studs – not pressure treated – and should last 3-5 years before it rots and has to be replaced.  In my opinion treated lumber should not be used to construct garden beds, because of the chance that it will leach nastiness into the soil which could either harm your plants or end up in your food.

For this project we used:

  • 6 – 2 x 4 x 92 5/8″ studs
  • 4 wooden stakes about 14″ long (made out of scraps of 1 x2)
  • 16 – 3 1/2″  screws
  • 10 – 1 1/2″ screws
  • Some newspapers
  • 2.8 cubic foot bale of peat moss
  • 2.8 cubic foot bag of vermiculite
  • 40 gallons of screened yard compost
  • about 5 pounds of rabbit poo

Start out by cutting two of your studs up into 36″ pieces, and then screw them together – Put the 36″ end pieces between the long side boards so that the inside width of the bed is 36″ .  You could go all OCD here and carefully measure, mark, pre-drill, and counter-sink each hole if you like, but consider 2 things first:

  1. You ain’t buildin’ a piano.
  2. It will rot it a few short years.

So, do whatever makes you happy.

Screw the fram together with 2 long screw in each corner.

Screw the frame together with 2 long screws in each corner.

Once you’ve put all of the boards together so that you have two rectangular frames, stack them on top of each other and screw them together.  You can make this easier and neater by first drilling a 3/8″ (more or less – it isn’t critical) hole about 1/4″ deep at all of the locations where you want to angle screw the two frames together.

You can improvise pocket screws by drilling a small hole straight in...

You can improvise pocket screws by drilling a small hole straight in...

Then drive screws downward at an angle through the side of the holes you drilled in the previous step.  This is an improvised pocket screw – it’s just as fast and strong as a “real” pocket screw, but without the expensive pocket jig.  It also looks almost as good if you’re careful.  I used about 10 of these to hold the 2 frames together.

Like this...

Angle the screws in like this...

Fasten the frames together with screw driven at an angle - I call this an improvised pocket screw.

I call this an improvised pocket screw.

Once you have the frame completely assembled place it where you want the finished garden to be – pick a place that is in full sun, near the kitchen, and also near a water supply if at all possible.  A level spot with good soil would be awesome but not really essential.

The spot for this bed had lots of grass growing on it so I used a weedeater to cut it as short as possible – I suppose you could skip this step if you wanted.  Now drive a wooden stake in each corner.  Since our spot isn’t level I leveled the bed by raising the frame and screwing it to the stakes.  If your site is level you can skip this step.

Level the square foot garden by screwing the frame to stakes driven in the corners.

Level the square foot garden by screwing the frame to stakes driven in the corners.

I filled the worst of the gaps between the frame and the ground by screwing scraps of chip board to the inside of the frame.  The gap can be dammed up from the outside with soil, grass clippings, or mulch once the bed is finished.

Once the frame is leveled and secured to your satisfaction cover the bottom with several layers (at least 3-4) of newspaper or cardboard,  Then wet it down so that it mats down good.  Lap the newspaper up the sides a bit.  The newspaper will help to kill the grass and keep it from growing up through the bed, but will very quickly decompose.

Cover the bottom with wet newpapers to help kill the grass.

Cover the bottom with wet newpapers to help kill the grass.

Now start adding the soil mix.  If you choose to mix it in the bed like we did don’t just dump all of the materials  in a lump – spread them out in layers and it will make it much easier to mix.  By the way, I can’t think of a single reason not to mix in the actual bed and several reasons why you should.  Anyway, we started with a layer of compost…

The compost inspector is my Grandson - hes been a raised bed gardener since he was a little kid.

The compost inspector is my Grandson - he's been a raised bed gardener since he was a little kid.

Spread that out, then add half of the peat moss…

Half of the vermiculite…

and so forth until you use up all of the soil ingredients.

Add the soil ingredients in layers.

Add the soil ingredients in layers.

Now simply use a hoe or tilling fork to mix it all thoroughly together – with just a little care it isn’t hard to avoid tearing up the newspaper.

Thoroughly mix the soil ingredients right inside of the raised bed.

Thoroughly mix the soil ingredients right inside of the raised bed.

When you’re finished give it all a good watering and wait a day or two before setting out any plants to allow all of the ingredients to absorb the water.  If you have seeds you want to sow there is no reason not to go ahead and do that immediately.

Needless to say you could use different materials and build the bed a different size.  I like 3 foot wide beds because you can reach all the way across without running laps around the bed – the length of the bed is as much a product of the previously used materials that were available as anything.  If I had 10 or 12 foot materials I would probably build beds that size unless there is some compelling reason not to.  Of course you could also build a bed that is only 2′ x 2′ if you want, but at some point you might just want to get a big flower pot.

Even so, the 3′ x 8′ size that we did use is pretty handy because one bag each of vermiculite and peat moss worked out well to fill it – along with our home made compost.  It would also be easy to construct a cold frame or poly tunnel to cover a bed this size.

Of course you could use any number of materials to formulate your soil mix – which is essentially home made potting soil.

So, you’re just a simple afternoon project away from being a square foot gardener.  If you haven’t already tried it, you should .

Happy gardening.

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