May 2, 2001 | By: Aimee D. Heald

Square-foot gardens can provide food for a family, education for young and old, and an aesthetic landscape around the house. They are a simple solution for gardeners with limited amounts of growing space.

Recently, Deborah Hill, Extension specialist for the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture led a hands-on square-foot gardening workshop at the Kentucky State University Research Farm. KSU sponsors a series of sustainable agriculture workshops for small farms called "Third Thursday Thing" each month.

"A square-foot garden is an easy kind of garden that will give you pretty strong production in very small areas," she said. "They can be done in urban areas and even by people with disabilities because you can raise it up to waist level."

A typical square foot garden is a four-foot square, meaning it contains 16 one-foot squares. The gardener plants seeds or small plants in each square according to a self-designed pattern. Many use wooden stakes as dividers to form a grid that allows plants in each square to have enough growing room and separation from other plants.

"You can do gardens smaller than four-by-four," Hill said. "A three-by-three will give you nine squares and that's a good size for children to reach across."

Hill said the point of the small gardens is to make them small enough for the gardener to get around it from the sides, since walking on the garden could damage the delicate mixture of one-third compost, one-third vermiculite, and one-third peat moss.

"The peat-compost,-vermiculite mixture is very nutritionally rich," Hill added. "Roots need air and water and this mixture holds water and it is very light so it doesn't pack down around the roots."

Linda McMaine, Mercer County., produces market vegetables in Salvisa, Ky. She thinks the concept of square-foot gardening is great for smaller growers.

"The advantages of this would be having more control over pests," she said. "They are easier to water, easier to keep soil in proper condition and just easier to manage."

A four-by-four square-foot garden will provide salads for one person for an entire growing season.

"Spring crops like lettuce and onions would work well," McMaine added.

If you are starting one of these gardens from scratch, you need to put down several layers of newspaper or cardboard, soak them thoroughly with water, then cover with the soil mixture before planting. Although Hill said the light soil mixture will make weeds easy to control, the paper and cardboard will really help as well.

"You can even grow things that climb, like peas and beans, vertically in a square-foot garden," Hill laughed. "You could even grow pumpkins or watermelons as long as you aren't trying to get the state fair champion."

To find out more about starting a square-foot garden, contact Deborah Hill 859-257-7610 or your county Extension office.


Deborah Hill 859-257-7610