What’s in a square? Looking at Square Foot Gardening

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In my last post I alluded to a term known as Square Foot Gardening, referred to as SFG for short.
It’s a very clever, practical method of gardening pioneered by Mel Bartholomew in the early 80s and aims to combine various organic gardening methods with a strong focus on rich compost in closely planted raised beds (great for apartment dwellers with limited space).

The basic method looks to break down vegetable growing into ‘bite sized’ chunks by subdividing a growing space into a series of 1 foot x 1 foot squares (30cm x 30cm) and using a knowledge of plants and their requirements such as plant spacing, details the number of plants that can be grow per square. For instance a square could contain a single tomato plant, 4 herbs or up to 16 radishes.

The idea is that these smaller beds are easier to arrange, manage and offer higher yields in smaller, compact spaces.

In the attached image you can see how I’ve adapted these methods to my own 600x600 (60cm x 60cm) planters, which are essentially four 30x30cm squares.

I’ve incorporated general SFG principals but rely on my own aesthetic judgement for planting the various plants. In this case the planter contains 4 lettuces, 6 beetroots, 2 swiss chards, 8 carrots intercropped with 8 radishes, 2 spring onions, 1 rocket and 1 mustard plant. Additionally I’ve added a single flowering marigold as a companion plant, providing 2-3 months of salad greens.

This concept has been taken a step further by Lolo Houbein who has authored One Magic Square expanding the idea to a 1m x 1m square offering several suggestions for various seasonal, compact gardens. The book has been re-written and adapted to the South African climate, published by Jacana Media and is an invaluable resource if this method of organic gardening appeals to you.

Matt Allison is a Cape Town based eco-advocate and urban farmer who's rethinking food one meal at a time. Find out more from him at www.imnojamieoliver.com