Starting a garden is something Hubby and I have been keen to do for a while. We started out with a few patio planters, growing tomatoes and herbs. But now that we have a house with a small yard — it is time to expand! I started studying up on gardening methods, keeping in mind that living in Arizona has its pros and cons for gardening. Obviously, it is HOT here, so controlling the moisture and type of sun your garden receives is key. It is also important to pick the right type of crops, as well as hardy varieties. I talk more about the seeds I decided to use in my post A Garden is Born, but essentially I decided to go with varieties from Native Seeds in Tucson – they have a lot of local, hardy varieties that tend to do well here in the low desert.
Why Choose Square Foot Gardening?
Reading about different gardening methods, I found one called “square foot gardening” (SFG). Besides being a strategy for growing more in less space, it is also supposedly fool-proof (!!!). These both sounded good to me! I want to be successful in my gardening venture (obviously), but I also want to do my best to grow as much of what we eat as possible. Given the great weather here in Phoenix, a well-planned garden can theoretically provide a year-long harvest of fresh produce. That is my goal! Fresh veggies all year-long. YUM!
Square Foot Gardening was pioneered by Mel Bartholomew. I purchased his second edition book All New Square Foot Gardening II on Amazon, to use as a reference and guide.
The dirt mixture used is one of the components that makes this method fool-proof. You no longer rely on the quality of the dirt in the ground, or amending in the right nutrients to help balance things out. Using a raised bed enables you to fully control the dirt your plants will be growing in. This means they have the BEST nutrients, which is also part of why you can grow MORE in a small space.
Each garden box is laid out in a grid, one “plot” is one square foot. A common box dimension (and what I decided to start with) is 4′ x 4′. Divide this into square feet, and now you have 16 plots for veggies. You only need 6 inches of depth for this method to be successful. Mel will recommend one 4′ x 4′ box per adult for a salad/day during the growing season, another 4′ x 4′ box per adult for dinner veggies/day, and a third 4′ x 4′ box per adult for any canning or preserving. For children, downsize to a 3′ x 3′ box for each of these instead. But the good news? You can start small, and add to your garden over time.
For Hubby and I, I decided to start with two 4′ x 4′ boxes. We’ll see how that goes and then expand up as necessary. You can read about the garden boxes we built here, and about the full garden enclosure we built here.
The dirt mixture used in a SFG is 1/3 each peat moss, vermiculite, and compost. If you are not using homemade compost, then the compost should be a mixture of 5 different varieties. You want to be sure you have a diverse family of microorganisms to help your garden thrive! I do plan to try starting our own compost system, but first things first – get the garden growing!
As the season goes on, I plan to add some trellises to help some of the larger/vining plants fit in their space, and I am also working on some plans for covers to put over the boxes. These will help protect against animals (for us it is usually squirrels and birds), sun, and frost. I’ll share updates of those additions once they are ready to go.
Some Useful References
I wanted to include a few of the useful SFG references I have found during my research. Maybe you’ll find these to be helpful for you as well, particularly if you find yourself living in the Phoenix area. Our growing conditions and seasons are certainly different than many other parts of the country!