Square Foot Gardening for Dummies

I decided to do some gardening this Spring and was inspired by Frugal Dad to make a “square foot garden.” These are gardens “invented” by Mel Bartholomew, whose website is so unusable that I can only assume it was designed for Windows ’95 and Netscape Navigator. But basically S.F.G. is for people who can’t be arsed to do real gardening, or for those without space to do one. I dragged the Mottas into this since we meet both requirements.

So last week we built a “tabletop” version of a SFG. I used Frugal Dad’s plans, sort of, only I modified them so as to ensure maximum disaster. But our version is also 4×2, only we nailed legs to the bottom of the plywood to create a 3.5′ tall box that’s just tall enough that the Motta’s balcony wall won’t block what little sunlight will be coming our way.


Here’s what we bought so you can steal all our ideas without credit:

— a 2x4x12 cut into (4) pieces for the legs (a huge mistake [This is called foreshadowing]).

— a 2x8x12 cut into (2) 4′ pieces for the sides and (2) 2′ pieces for the ends. You need 6″ of soil in 1×1′ plots, so we opted for walls 8″ high

— a pre-cut 2×4′ piece of plywood roughly 3/4ths of an inch thick

All of this is untreated, btw. You won’t want treated lumber leaching chemicals & AIDS & cancer into your soil.

— like F.G. suggested, we went with 4 cubic feet of Miracle Gro Garden Soil. It’s neat-0, and has all the properties we were looking for: messy as hell, nice dark color, feels great to the touch… as to its actual ability to help grow living things, I don’t know/care. This and your plywood will be the biggest upfront costs; we paid ~$12 for plywood and ~$15 for two bags of this veggietastic soil. “Mel’s Mix” is quite different, but more expensive and requires reading Mel’s annoying book and God knows everybody gets into gardening to avoid pretentious activities like reading.

Arguably the best part of this was picking out seeds. We did minimal amounts of studying beforehand and basically picked stuff that had pretty packaging and promised untold piles of prizewinning fruits [this is sickly alliterative if you use a Filipino accent]. The finalists:

— Red Cored Chantenay carrots (stubby little buggers that won’t get pissed with only 6″ of soil)
— Marketmore cucumbers
— DiCiccio broccoli
— Early Girl Hybrid tomatoes (early plant time + fast harvest)
— Yard Long asparagus
— Grand Rapids lettuce (these were bought because “Grand Rapids” is also a city in a state that one of us hails from)
— Sweet Pea flowers
— Silver Queen Hybrid sweet corn

Most of these cost about $1.25 or $1.50 except for the corn & flowers. I am skeptical that either of these last two will grow, though I think Mel the Esteemed says corn’s no problemo, Joe. We didn’t realize until getting home that Sweet Peas grow to like 10 feet or something.

OK so after all this shopping I decided I was going to single-handedly build the whole garden box myself the next morning. This was about the time that I discovered that carpentry is slightly more difficult than hitting refresh on Twitter, which has hitherto been my chief skill. You know how they say “Measure twice, cut [drill] once?” I more-or-less followed this, except with a twist: I did “Measure once, ignore it all, and half-ass drill/screw with no regard to angle, location, or aesthetics.” When it comes time, I imagine this is the same approach I will take to screwing in real-life.

So I not only split one board (Mr. Lowes Man did erroneously tell us that our 3.5″ wood deck screws didn’t need “pre-drilling”), but I also managed to snap a drill bit in half, which I still maintain was a result of mis-aligned stars and shoddy wood than anything I did in particular. Oh, I should also mention that a couple screws are just jutting out quite noticeably.

The real problem was these four legs. “Frugal Dad” just set his on a pre-made table. And it turns out to be good advice, because it turns out that making legs for a table is a bit challenging if you care about things like “stability” or “balance” or “evenness” etc. So trust me, either set your SFG on the ground or put it on a table made by an Amish man who hasn’t learned carpentry from Wikipedia. Note too that I was attaching these legs by myself with no workbench, no clamps, no brains, no breakfast etc so it was extra challenging. At the end I dumped all our soil into the container before remembering to drill holes in the bottom for drainage. Yes, I ended drilling “up” into the soil; some 18 total holes, a number chosen with no regard to logic or any real knowledge of drainage requirements).

But everything turned out vaguely OK in the end. It’s not the prettiest, but may actually work alright after all. Our 1×1 squares aren’t exactly 1×1 and the whole thing is really wobbly: still, we managed to get twine to divvy up the individual plots and have successfully (if haphazardly) planted lettuce, cucumbers, carrots, and broccoli. The rest will wait for warmer weather, although we have taken so little care up to now that we might as well plant it all and pray to the vegetable gods.

I’ll confess that we’re basically running an experiment to see if square foot gardening is so absurdly foolproof that a few non-gardening neophytes can completely ignore 6000 years of collected wisdom on biology, horticulture, meteorology, agriculture, and ecology and yet still somehow manage to end up harvesting a few edibles over the next 6 months. I encourage you to follow along at home and see if you can out-do us: all you need is a little sunshine, a few feet of space, and the ability to ignore Facebook long enough to pay a small child to build you a functional garden box.

^ Above ^ is Lil Prob Bob Jr. planting teh veggies! LOL gardeners.

4 thoughts on “Square Foot Gardening for Dummies

  1. Planter looks great…in order to make it last longer…would you think it may be an idea to put some corner braces on the legs…with all the weight in there with soil, plants and water…?
    Your plants look great…Mel was certainly onto something…

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