This year is my second gardening season. As a successful graduate of the “first time gardener” club, I’ve learned how to:
- kill zucchini
- kill yellow squash
- kill grey-striped fruit flies
- make homemade ketchup
Yep, that first year learning curve sure was steep!
There was no real goal to last year’s garden, other than to “plant some stuff and see what happens.” This year though, I have a game plan and it includes facing the challenges of gardening head on… with you along for the ride.
Our first challenge: My gardening space is limited.
Possible solution: Urban square foot gardening.
Now, when I say my space is limited, I’m not kidding. Here’s what I’m working with:
- one raised bed that’s 8’x4′ (Tutorial: How to Build a Raised Garden Bed for Under $15)
- five 22″ round containers
- two oblong baskets that are meant to hang over a balcony railing (leftover from our apartment days).
I might be able to fit one more 8’x4′ raised bed in our teeny tiny townhouse backyard, but it would honestly make the yard feel cramped and a bit overwhelming… and being a novice gardener is overwhelming as it is.
The premise of square foot gardening is simple: You divide your space into square feet and plant a certain amount of plants (depending on the size of the plant) within each square foot. For example, bell peppers (that grow up and out) are one per square while carrots (that grow up and down) are 16 per square.
It’s really the perfect solution to maximizing small gardening spaces!
Urban Square Foot Gardening – Setting Up the Space
Before you begin, you need to have dedicated of gardening space. This can be a small backyard, a patio, a deck, a balcony… anything really. It just has to be dedicated to gardening because once you put dirt there, you’re kinda committed.
Step 1: Divide your space into square feet.
Use a tape measure (or ruler, if your kids hid the tape measure) and starting at one end, mark off every 12 inches. Repeat this on all sides of the gardening space so your lines can be as accurate and straight as possible.
Note: When I got to the end of one row, I was three inches short of another foot. I went back and re-measured at 11″ instead of a full 12″. Only time will tell if this makes a big impact on my garden overall, but hey, lessons gotta be learned somewhere!
Count up the number of squares (and half squares, if you have them) and that’s what you’re working with.
Step 2: Decide if you really want to go through with it.
Before you do anything else, consider your square footage and think about what you want to plant. Is it enough space? Do you need more? Do you really want to plant that much?
You’re investing more time and effort from this point on, so just be sure you’re still on board before you start marking stuff up.
Step 3: Mark off your feet.
Put a nail, screws or some other type of attachment at each 12″ spot you marked off, driving it deep enough to be sturdy.
Now, depending on your circumstance and what you have on hand, nails/screws might work for you. But I have two kids who like to help me in the garden so I chose to use industrial staples instead so there wouldn’t be anything sticking out to cause injury.
Step 4: Mark off your squares.
Using twine, tie one end to one nail and the other end to another nail at the opposite side of the bed. Make sure it’s pulled taught enough to be straight, but not so tight that it breaks! By the time you’re done, you should have several squares in your urban garden!
Urban Square Foot Gardening – Choosing Plants
Choosing what to plant in your garden is a combination of four things:
- What you want to grow
- What you like to eat
- What grows well in your area
- What will grow in the space you have
I can’t help you much with the first two, but I have some resources to help you with numbers 3 and 4.
What Grows Well In Your Area
You can choose your state, or enter your zip code. Personally I recommend zip code to get the most accurate information, especially if you live in a microclimate (like we do).
Once you know your zone, check to see what plants grow best in your area using The Old Farmer’s Almanac. Put “plant hardiness zone ___” into the search bar and it’ll show a list of what grows best in your area.
What Will Grow in the Space You Have
Considering what you came up with #1-3, use
this page to see how many plants you can plant in your garden. If you don’t see your plant listed, try searching “[plant] square foot gardening” and see what you come up with. Most likely someone out there somewhere has tried it and has shared their results!
Urban Square Foot Gardening – Map Out Your Garden
Before you plant anything, or even buy plants or seeds, map out on paper what you are considering growing. This way you can maximize your space but also consider things like:
- how much sun each plant needs
- whether one plant will provide shade for another plant (that might need full sun)
- if you have enough space to grow what you want
- if you’ll really eat all the yield from a square foot
- whether you want more or less squares filled with a certain plant
Ready, Set, Plant!
Get your plants and lay them out in your bed, just to make sure they’ll fit and you’ve got what you need. Make adjustments as needed, plant them accordingly and let the fun begin!