Tips for Starting a Small Square Foot Garden

August 22, 2013

How to grow a vegetable garden in a small space. 

You don't need a ton of outdoor space to grow a vegetable garden!

When I blogged about my desire to grow a garden years ago, many of you were so helpful and I learned a ton.

A few years ago I started a small garden. I used the square foot gardening technique...loosely. I say loosely because I didn’t segment the garden out like a true square foot garden. I just kind of planted stuff in there and hoped it would do well.

And it did. :) 

That’s when I learned that you don’t have to have a large, perfect spot to make food grow. 

It needs water and light and the space doesn’t matter as much, in my opinion.

Since then we had the new paver patio with fireplace put in, so a couple years ago I moved the garden to the only good spot we had left -- right next to our air conditioner:

square foot garden

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It wasn’t ideal and I didn’t know how everything would do. Before this everything had been in full sun. This area gets morning and some afternoon sun, but not the super hot late afternoon sun and it’s actually done really well.

I could have DIY'd the garden set up, but it comes in a cedar raised garden kit at most hardware stores and it was super easy to put together:

square foot gardening

The garden kit is 4 by 4 feet and it takes about eight bags of Miracle Grow soil to fill it up. 

I have taken it apart and put it away for the winter and I’ve left it out – it’s cedar so it holds up fine to the elements – at least for the next few years.

We back up to land with woods and a creek so we get a lot of wildlife. TONS of bunnies. Because of that I knew I wanted something to deter them from eating everything and I use that lattice stuff. I found it in the dumpster years ago. (I didn’t DIVE in the dumpster – just picked it up off the top.) ;) And I’m kind of surprised but it works great. I actually think having it by the air conditioner may help too – the noise maybe?

So there’s some things I’ve learned over the past years that I thought I would share. I’m not an expert by any stretch but I’m learning more every season.

I planted a strawberry plant and blueberry bushes years ago. The blueberry bushes need to be planted in multiples because they cross-pollinate. But the bushes didn’t do well – we needed to move them and never replanted them. Each one only produced a few blueberries total. 

Now I know I should have been more patient. I think they just needed a few years to get established. 

And the strawberries are one of those I think I’ll just keep going to pick somewhere else:

strawberry plant in garden

By this time of year the plant is big and kind of sprouting out – I didn’t realize strawberry plants did that. It shoots off and plants itself in another spot, so I think in a warmer climate it would kind of take over. But for years now it’s only produced maybe a handful of strawberries each year. I know that would increase over time too, but I’d rather use the space for something else.

I like my garden foods like I like my flowering plants – producing all season instead of once. Strawberries produce for one month and then they’re done. I’d rather have more room for my beloved cukes:

growing cucumbers

I don’t know what kind I got this year but they are long and skinny. I prefer a chunkier cucumber but these still taste great. A few folks warned me years ago about the cucumbers – they said they would take over the garden and they are right. :) 

Thing is, they are vine plant, so yes, they do go everywhere, but they don’t hurt anything. At least in my experience, they mix in with the other plants but not too bad.

I lean some of the lattice up against the house so they can work into that. It’s kind of cool to see how they grab on to stuff:

cucumber vine

They do pretty well in this spot but I think they prefer full sun. My first year growing them it was out. of. control. there were so many. It was awesome. :) Then the first year I planted them on this side of the house I didn’t get one cucumber – but it was a super hot summer and it turns out it had something to do with the bee population. Crazy, but they weren’t being pollinated by the bees so they never produced.

This year they are doing much better, just not producing a ton like that first year. I don’t know if it’s having less sun or just the version I got.

My other favorite garden plant is tomatoes. This year I did three versions – regular tomatoes, romas and cherry:

growing cherry tomatoes

The cherries always do well for me and this year they are mad crazy good. Like, I can’t even keep up. But I use them all the time – salads, in my eggs, for caprese salad…I love them.

The Romas are doing incredible too – they just started maturing a couple weeks ago and they are coming so fast I can’t keep up:

growing roma tomatoes 

roma tomato plant

My only disappointment this year is my regular tomatoes – I got a container plant this year to try to fit more into the garden and I should have just done a regular plant. I got two little bitty tomatoes off of that all season. There aren’t even anymore coming – kind of a bust. Next year I’ll just go with a regular plant.

There are seasons to what you plant too...early summer crops and late summer. If you love lettuce you’ll want to grow that early. It does better in the less intense heat of the early summer months. I’ve done a few different lettuce varieties and they all do well. When they start to mature they do so fast so it’s kind of hard to keep up.

I planted three arugula plants this year and with all of the rain we got in May and June they exploded. I didn’t even get that much off of them because they went to seed so fast. (That means they grew flowers, which often will change the taste and make them bitter. Same goes for many herbs like basil.)

Some of the late summer bloomers are melons – this year I couldn’t find any watermelon so I went with cantaloupe:

growing cantaloupe

I looked for weeks to see something and finally a few weeks ago this showed up. Man, these are sloooooow. It hasn’t grown much in the past week or so. But I’ll keep an eye on it – I’m not sure it’s going to get much bigger really. :)

In my little garden (I think it’s about four by four feet?) I’ve had ten plants growing this summer. As I mentioned, the arugula is now gone but everything else is still there. This year I planted my herbs in a smaller container by the back door so I’d have more room here. I do have my rosemary planted in the bigger garden though, and even with the cucumber vines all around, it does great.

A few years ago I picked up this square foot gardening book (affiliate) after many readers recommended it to me:

square foot gardening book

If you are new to gardening it is a wealth of information! Before I heard of this method I thought I needed a huge spot to grow my own food, but it’s so not the case. Many plants you can grow in containers too and they will do really well (tomatoes, strawberries, herbs), so space shouldn’t hold you back! My garden isn’t pretty, but it produces. That’s what matters!

As far as keeping them alive – just water them when they look hot and wilted. Other than watering I don’t do any upkeep with my garden at all. I don’t even mulch which I probably should. Pretty low key, just how I like it!

Do you garden? Do you use the square foot technique? What’s your favorite thing to grow?

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  1. My husband and I use the square foot gardening method and love it! So much so that we built 4, 4x4 beds out in our yard this summer and have 4 1x4 containers that we built last year on our patio. We even have an entire bed dedicated to tomatoes and it's awesome! We get heirloom tomatoes from a local horticultural society so it great to be able to try so many different tomatoes. My favorite part is how much food you can grow in such a small place - I think this would be perfect for more urban settings.

    For your strawberries, try a different variety. We have an everbearing variety of strawberries and we get them all summer long (and we live in Michigan). Not a whole lot at a time and they go in waves, but they come in until from the beginning of June until the first frost.

  2. I love this. I actually checked this book out from my library about 3 weeks ago. It's in heavy rotation in the request queue. I am hoping to try this out next year. Thanks for showing how it worked for you!

  3. We have this book and have done square foot gardening for about 8 years now. We will never go back to traditional row gardening. You already know that square foot gardening cuts WAY back on weeding, which my hired help (i.e. children *wink*) give a big shout out to! The thing we are finding this year is if you don't put in lots of new compost each year, your plants will suffer. We have 6 boxes that hubby made out of treated pine years ago when we started SFG. This year we switched to vinyl boxes. Love them! But anyway, we just decided to recycle the "old" soil mix to top off the new vinyl boxes. We haven't added new compost for the last couple of years which is a no, no. In the last box we completely ran out of our old mix so we bought something called Miller's Mix. Holy cow that stuff is amazing! Hubby planted corn in the Miller's Mix box and the same time he planed a few squares of corn in one of the other boxes. The Miller's Mix corn is over our heads now and the corn in the "old mix" box is only up to our hips. We have tomatoes in that old box as well and they are STRUGGLING! If you can find Miller's Mix where you live, I highly recommend it. We'll be replacing all our old stuff with the Miller's next year. Have fun with your garden!

  4. I have a pot of basil, does that count?

  5. Great job! You've done really well and I remember when you were thinking about having a veggie garden. I built a 6' x 4' raised bed a couple of years ago. Last year my tomatoes got blackspot and didn't produce well. This year I forgot the soil had been contaminated with it and with the amount of rain this year, blackspot again! Currently have plenty of green tomatoes due to lack of real heat this summer! Next year moving it and adding all new soil and compost! Will also build a couple more beds and go for a big variety of veggies.

  6. I love gardening. Even so much that I moved my squares to a community garden. There goes nothing beyond fresh, organic veggies from your own garden. Yum!

  7. The strawberries might produce better if you cut back those 'runners' when you see them sprouting. That's what the farmer I got my strawberry plants told me to do when our were growing busy but not producing. It forces them to put their energy into bearing fruit rather than 'growing.' Did the trick for us - we now have lots of berries coming in!

  8. I have built several elevated 4'x6' beds using cedar; I decided to elevate because we have a whole burrow of rabbits living under our deck, and they have eaten all of the rosebushes and other small plants all over our yard. I do square foot gardening in the beds, and find that it works fantastically well! That said, I have tried beets now for a couple of years, and they just don't grow very large. But peas, lettuce, carrots, and onions have all done well. I also have several containers in which I've grown peppers, zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, and yellow squash. This year, the zucchini got powdery mildew so the yield wasn't as good, but the rest do pretty well as long as it doesn't get too hot outside. I never gardened before I started with the raised beds, and now I love it! Square foot gardening is the best!

  9. Hey SUNSHINE ..I am a new fan of square foot gardens.. OMGOODNESS Can we say LOVE ..WHY yes we can sister.. LOVE it and going to do one this weekend.. YOU have inspired me ... HUGS and have a blessed weekend.. KEEP those awesome posts coming ....

  10. Here is a tip for your strawberries- when they spread out and shoot up a new plant, you have to clip that little arm that connects one plant to another. It's usually red. Just clip it out so the plants aren't connected anymore. They drain each other of nutrients and then they can't produce berries. That should increase your yield!

  11. I have used square foot gardening and love it. Makes me want to get back to gardening again.

  12. My husband planted the tops of pineapples right into our landscaping, and guess what? They are flourishing! Talk about patience....each one will produce 1 pineapple every 2 years.

  13. I have been thinking about putting in some containers areas on the south side of my house near our air conditioner as well. Maybe I will get started next spring. This weekend I am hoping to wrap up a few indoor reframing projects - nothing major. That pineapple idea from Joyce sounds pretty cool.

  14. I'm new to growing veggies - last year was the first time we did it. My dad built me a cute little box for the backyard and I was super surprised that I didn't kill anything ;) This year we tried zucchinis for the first time and oh my do those suckers grow like crazy! I'm having a hard time coming up with recipe ideas. Wonder if that trellis idea would work for keeping chipmunks out? - those little dudes are so cute but they drive me bonkers!

  15. I will have to check out this book. I have been trying to find a good book to help me on my garden journey. This is my first year planting a garden. I didn't make it for spring so I planted a fall garden.

  16. This is Awesome! I've never been one for gardening and, with a big family in tow, I'm all about efficiency; but this looks like a lot of fun for a summer project!


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