Man in Overalls - What Can You Grow in a Square?

"So, I want a garden, but I was wondering if you could build and plant it using the principles of Square Foot Gardening?" Well, "um..." I squirmed. What was Square Foot Gardening? This was back in 2009, just as I was putting on my Overalls. Carol, a friend and the customer asking the question offered, "I've got a copy of the book. I can lend it to you to review, and then when you come tomorrow, you can put it into practice. Does that work?" Sure thing. 

So, I read it. It took about 6 hours that night, and I was a convert. Mel Bartholemew, its author, made me smile with his writing, and his story captured my heart - plus, his intensive gardening style matched my inclinations, so it was a good match.

When he first started gardening, Mel saw on a seed packet that he should plant lettuce every 6in in the row, with rows 18in to 2ft apart. So he did. And it worked. But, in the middle - in the open row, the pathways- he grew TONS of weeds, so he thought, "Well, if I grew lettuce every 6in in the row, couldn't I just plant two rows, 6in apart? I mean, lettuce is generally round, so it grows the same in all directions, right?" He tried it, and it worked, but still - in the open pathway rows- he was growing weeds. After all, he'd cultivated it and watered it: something was going to grow there! So he tried 3 rows right next to each other, then 4 rows, and so on, and it kept working. He just kept adding tight crop rows and pushing that open pathway row further and further apart. He came to realize the limiting factor was how far you can comfortably stretch to reach the center of your garden bed. And that's how he came up with the idea that garden beds should never be more than 4ft across or 2ft from an accessible side. So, instead of 2-3 rows of lettuce in a 4ft space, according to Mel, you can fit 8 rows, with no pathways between rows because you can just reach from the outside of your bed. Not to mention, now you barely have any weeds because there isn't any light for them to grow. Yeah, that's better.

To make the numbers simpler, you can swap out all the spacing in inches and more simply think, "4 heads of lettuce per square foot." So, rather than having to carry a ruler to the garden to measure every seed drop, you can group veggies into groups by how many grow well in a square foot. For instance, kale, collards, and mustards all need one full square foot. You can fit 4 turnips or 4 lettuces or 4 beets in one square foot. Or, in the same space, you could grow 9 onions or 9 garlic. And do you know? You can fit 16! carrots or radishes in a square foot!

These days, our crew lives on the periphery of orthodox Square Foot Gardening practice because we just draw the square foot grid in the soil (we don't actually install it, physically, like I did with Carol's garden back in 2009) - and sometimes - having those spacing guidelines so firmly in our minds- we - gasp! - just wing it. But, when you're getting started or ever need a baseline to fall back on, Square Foot Gardening is a terrific gardening system. And that's why I hold onto and widely share the resource I adapted from a partner in Michigan over a decade ago named "What Can You Grow in a Square?" It's a cheat sheet on both what you can grow here in N Florida in our main seasons seasons as well as their square foot gardening spacing requirements. Take a look. That way,  you won't have to stay up 6 hours tonight reading the book. :)

By the way, the Square Foot Gardening system is actually more than just spacing guidelines, and the book is worth a read. It's on my short list of garden book influences, so while I'm at it, I might as well share the names of a few other favorite gardening books as well: Down to Earth Gardening Down South, How to Grow More Vegetables, Weedless Gardening, and Permaculture: Principles and Pathways. My own practice as a food gardener is not quite a copy of any of these but has been nourished by their words & wisdom.  

Here's to the hope that my own words & stories will nourish your grocery growing journey. In that light, if you're not aware, we have a host of helpful downloads and how-to videos which you can today or in the future at www.Overalls.Tips.

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