This is a beautiful little design based on the idea that planting in rows (for the gardener, not the farmer) is for the birds. In short, it wastes valuable soil space and makes way more work. And who wants that? So instead, you cordon off your garden into chunks. In his book, aptly entitled "Square Foot Gardening", my buddy Mel uses 4x4 foot beds. Mine are 4x8. The basic idea is that you don't want your bed wider than 4 feet, so that you can reach into the middle easily (unless you have arms built like an orang-utan, in which case go as wide as your hairy arms can reach).
Then you divide up your bed into square foot sections. Dear Mel has already gone through the hard work of figuring out how many plants you can put in each square foot. So in a traditional garden, you would make a long furrow, dump in a random amount of carrot seeds, then thin the extras. In Mel's method, you make 16 little holes in the ground, put one seed in each hole, et voila! Perfectly spaced carrots.
It's amazing what you can fit in 1 square foot. You can also fit 16 beets, 9 beans, or 1 tomato or broccoli plant. Large plants like zucchinis tend to be little piggies and require at least 4 per plant. Technically in my 3 beds I could fit 1536 carrots. With that, my night vision had better be laser-sharp! Or 96 tomato plants. Bring on the salsa!
Here are 4 benefits of square foot gardening.
1) It looks spiffy. Maybe that's a little obsessive, but it really looks way cuter when all the cockleshells are neatly lined up in rows!
2) Less weeding. Because there's no transition space (like paths), there is little opportunity for weeds. And I've found the weeds that do make it through are easy to pull out because the ground isn't compacted from being walked on.
3) Less seedling wastage. As per the earlier thinning example, you don't waste as many seeds. Also, this makes it easy to decide exactly how many seedlings to start or buy. I know I have 96 squares, so I can plan accordingly.
One thing I do differently from how it's normally practiced, is that I don't use a permanent latticework to make the squares. I like to be able to incorporate compost and dig up stuff easily in fall, which is a job fit only for the truly insane when you have to do it one square at a time. So my magnifique husband put together this little setup:
I have to re-string the twine every year, but it only take 10 minutes.
And that's the square foot garden. You can officially say you know what it is now!