Frugal Living 

Square Foot Garden

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Square foot gardenReaders of Bargaineering probably are aware that my wife and I grow a garden every year. We live in a townhouse without much land so our garden consists of vegetable plants put into a variety of containers. Every year we grow tomatoes, eggplants, peppers (hot and regular), some spices (oregano, basil), and then some random ones we think would be fun.

If I were to do it over again, one option I would consider is building a square foot garden (inspired by Mel Bartholomew’s 2006 book by the same name), instead of buying all these containers. Container gardening is perfectly fine, but the containers themselves are often very expensive and they take up a lot of space. The pots themselves are usually wider up top so you lose a little space in that tapering. Square foot gardening avoids that loss and looks like a lot of fun. In fact, after a quick search I found that fellow personal finance bloggers Lynnae at and Frugal Dad built their own square foot gardens already!

I won’t include a detailed step-by-step instruction on how to build one, visit Frugal Dad for that, but I did want to introduce you to this clever way of efficient gardening and show you this video clip from Mel Bartholomew:

Do you have a square foot garden? What tips do you have for the rest of us considering it or just starting one?

(Photo: serenejournal)

{ 20 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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20 Responses to “Square Foot Garden”

  1. I’m building these as scalable units for my wife as she expands her gardening around the yard. We live on over an acre but this is a great way to keep the weeds out, I can weedwack right around them no problem. We added one extra feature because of all the wildlife. I sunk 4 pieces of rebar at each corner extending up about a foot above the edges. Then using black plastic flexible pipe like you’d use for irrigation systems we made arc’s over the garden. Then it supports her netting to keep the wildlife out.

  2. Jim says:

    Ooooh that’s definitely a great addition, clever idea!

  3. Liz says:

    My one piece of advice is to start small and add to it every year if you haven’t gardened before. I have a garden 4’x16′. I started with a 4′ square and added 4′ every year. That way after the first year I only had to dig a 4′ section that had not been tilled before. The other benefit of starting this way is your maintenance (watering and weeding) doesn’t seem as overwhelming. If you are very organized, you can stagger the plantings even in a single square. That didn’t work for me. One thing to mention, when you plant a big plant (think zucchini) don’t place that plant in the middle of the 3′ section allowed. The plant will grow towards the sun. I made this mistake. The 1’x3′ section away from the sun became a weed hangout.

  4. DFBC says:

    Square Foot Gardening is awesome for small space gardening. I was skeptical about it at first, thinking that you wouldn’t be able to fit many plants in a 4’x4′ area. I was wrong! It was hard to believe that so many vegetables would fit, grow, and be productive in such a small area.

    For those that live in an apartment and only have a small patio area, I would suggest trying the Topsy-Turvy upside grower as well. It is great for growing tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers. The really neat thing about this system of growing vegetables is that there is absolutely no weeding needed, and it only takes a few minutes to set up. You can purchase them at Home Depot and Walgreen’s for around $10.

    • superch665 says:

      Regarding the Topsy-Turvy upside-down grower, you can also make these yourself using a bucket or crafting your own out of wire and fabric/plastic. Just need something to hold the dirt with an inch or so hole in the bottom for inserting the plant in the bottom, and someway to hang it. For all those DIY’ers out there, maybe something to try.

  5. hoosierbee says:

    I started two 4×4 beds this year, and it’s working well so far. I don’t know if it’s better than what we had before, but it looks organized.

    It’s not entirely weed free though- I’ve found a few grasses and whatnot popping up. It could be from some torrential rain/wind/storms we’ve been having, or from growing up from the ground beneath. But I’m happy with it so far.

    ( for pictures)

  6. Pots (though expensive) are good if you’re lucky to only have a deck or small concrete patio to grow anything on. I will try a square foot garden once we move – it wouldn’t make since to start now since we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the fruits of our labor. I will keep this post in mind!

  7. Jim says:

    True, true, a deck is better than nothing. 🙂

  8. The square foot garden is a great way to get a lot into a small space. We did something similar before we moved to our current house. Now we use more containers. Yard sales are a great source of interesting containers for practically nothing.

  9. Jeff says:

    This is one of the best books I have read on gardening. I bought it for my brother for Christmas (of course I skimmed through it before I bought it) and ended up buying myself a copy also. This is my first year with it and I have already harvested Peppers and Beans. The tomatoes are close and it is only June! Mel’s Mix is easy to make and really makes the plants happy! Everyone has at least one square foot somewhere. Well worth the time and effort.

  10. jgirl says:

    I live in the southwest where we have 4 mini growing seasons throughout the year. We were eating collards from our square foot garden in February. This will be our 4th year with it. I’m a beginner gardener, so it’s been a learning experience. Mel recommends planting flowers in there too. I didn’t and without bees my non-hybrid tomatoes didn’t get pollinated until one of my other veggies grew flowers. I just wish we had another one. I think that would pretty much feed the 2 of us all the veggies we need. I think square foot gardens are wonderful.

  11. Caitlin says:

    I don’t currently have a Square Foot Garden, but I have plans to build one, once we have a fence up around our yard to keep out the neighbourhood critters. I read the book a couple years ago, and have been dying to try it ever since!

  12. I grew up on a farm, and we had monstrous gardens (8 kids = lots of people to pull weeds). The lower garden was just potatoes. We also had a small apple orchard (10-12 trees?)

    I got burned out on gardening at a young age – I’ll pay for my veggies 🙂

  13. Money Funk says:

    You know, I saw this idea in my Sunset magazine. I quite like it because the space would fit in my yard perfectly. Perhaps I will have one cultivated for lettuce in the fall. Thanks for mentioning a great idea! 🙂

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