Square Foot Gardening Plans, Layouts, & Tips: a Metaguide

Compost: the Workhorse of Mel’s Mix

compost“Mel’s Mix” is the recommended soil mix for a square foot garden: 1 part vermiculite, 1 part peat moss, and 1 part compost. The first two items can be purchased at most garden supply stores, and don’t need to be amended or replaced: once they’re in your beds, they’ll stay useful as moisture retainers. Compost, however, is a bit more challenging, as you need to add it when you pull plants out, prepare beds for a new planting season, etc… it’s the element that provides nutrition for your plants. Mel recommends mixed compost: that is, compost with at least five different types of materials in it.

The best way to get mixed compost? Make your own. New to making compost? Check out these resources:

  • Composting overview: Treehugger’s slideshow “8 Ways to Compost and Which One You Should Try” provides a great overview of common composting methods.
  • DIY Outdoor Composters: If you don’t want to use the pile method (which can get a little unwieldy), there are plenty of plans out there for DIY compost bins. Some of the best come from Compost Bin Plans (a collection of Youtube videos on DIY bins), the Happy Housewife, and Instructables (a tumbling composter… a bit more difficult).
  • Worm Composting Bins: Don’t want to compost outside (or don’t have room)? A worm bin is great for indoor composting… if you do it right, the worms won’t get out and it won’t smell. One of the best resources for making and maintaining a worm bin: the Whatcom County (Washington) Agricultural Service’s Cheap and Easy Worm Bin page (yeah, it’s not pretty, but the information’s great).
  • Bokashi Composting: This Japanese method technically isn’t composting; it’s a fermentation process. One of the main upside: you can deal with any kind of kitchen wastes in a bokashi bucket… including meat and dairy. It also works faster than typical composting methods.Β Compost Guy’s page on bokashi takes you through the entire process.

Buying Compost: OK, don’t want to collect and compost your own organic wastes? You can purchase compost from garden and home centers, nurseries, and other places that sell gardening supplies.

  • What kinds of compost can you buy? The official Square Foot Gardening Forums has a great (though long) post on buying compost (as well as the other ingredients for Mel’s Mix).
  • Mixed compost: Most commercial brands are single material compost… a few small companies like Ecoscraps do sell mixed compost.
  • Don’t step in the “biosolids”: Because that may be a code word for “sewage sludge.” There’s debate over the safety of such material in commercial compost, but if you’d rather avoid it, Rodale has a helpful article on how to spot commercial compost with biosolids.
  • Municipal compost: If your town, city or county asks you to separate yards waste or other organic wastes from other trash, they’re probably composting it. You may be able to get compost from them for free or cheap. Some worry about the presence of plant disease and/or synthetic chemicals in municipal compost: this thread at GardenWeb provides a good overview of some of these concerns.

The Layout of Plants in Your Square Foot Garden

This is the part that I always find challenging each year: how do I arrange plants so that they’re not overcrowding each other, filtering sunlight, or even competing with one another. It’s been a learning experience… for instance, I struck out twice with cantaloupe because I planted something in front of it that limited the cantaloupe plant received. Some guidance I’ve found here:

  • Plant multiple beds?: So does Tim of Tim’s Square Foot Garden (a huge site on the topic). He has diagrams of how he arranges plants in multiple beds from season to season.
  • Using companion planting?: That’s my experiment this year: arranging plants so that they benefits one another’s growth. As ziggy’s already noted in an earlier post, Wikipedia has a great chart of companion plants… but if you want to figure out how to make that work in a square foot garden, check out Emily’s companion planting tool at My Square Foot Garden.

There’s a lot here, but surely more good information out there for setting up your square foot garden. Got a favorite online resource? Share it below, and I’ll consider adding it…

Image credit: normanack at Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license

Enhanced by Zemanta
  1. Skot

    Love it!

    Started using SFG a couple of years ago. Since then I’ve moved onto Permaculture, but still use many of the philosophies to produce a ton of veggies from small spaces.

  2. ambikahealing

    Hello! I have been gardening in the high country of Breckenridge, CO at 9,600 feet for 3 years now. I do a raised bed garden because the soil is so important–I use a mix of top soil, compost, and horse manure–and the rocky soil in the mountains here are not ideal. The raised bed design allows me to have better soil, and in addition, I build a cold frame which protects my plants from the occasional hail storms that we get in the summer. The cold frame is made inexpensively using pex tubing, commonly used in plumbing, and painter’s plastic. It helps hold in the heat during cold nights as well, as it is common for us to get a frost into the months of June. The cold frame helps to extend the growing season, but you have to water almost daily because it does not allow any rain water in.

  3. Terri

    I love the whole square-foot gardening idea. I’ve used in with small gardens and large, and it always increases my productivity. I didn’t realize that there was an updated version of the book. Must buy!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *