After 8 years of gardening on a budget, here is what I like and don’t like about the square-foot garden method, and why you should (or should not) try it!
If you like this post, you might like our pallet garden tutorial and why you should NOT plant a garden!
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I’ve planted some amount of our food for 8 years now. It started with a few hand-me-down pots and dollar store potting soil. Eventually, we moved to a huge recycled pallet garden. Now, in our HOA neighborhood, we grow our food in a tidy square-foot garden.
If you are considering growing your own food, first read this. If you’re still interested, here are my thoughts on the square-foot gardening method.
Since I grew up around gardens, I’ve seen many different kinds. For me, the question is always about to follow through. We all get excited about our garden in the spring when sunshine and higher temperatures call us outdoors. But then comes mid-July, when it is hot as Hades and I want nothing to do with weeding and replanting for the Fall.
Garden on a Budget
My question is always this: how can I make our garden as successful as possible in our present circumstances? If I spend our hard-earned money on anything, I need to know it will be worth it. Will my harvest get choked out by weeds because my millennial heinie was too tender to brave the heat?
I also don’t want to start from scratch every Spring. When I was growing up, there was always a huge debate about when we were going to till the garden. Would we do it by hand this year or borrow a friend’s motorized tiller? Could we do in time to get the Spring garden planted? It was an investment of time and finances.
Knowing how excellent I am at procrastinating, If possible, I need a garden method that works with my current situation: minimal gardening tools (no tillers or hoes), spotty weeding motivation, full work/life schedules, and very little space.
Square-Foot Gardening answered all my needs.
The book itself is a quick read and the best I’ve ever read on growing things (honestly, I lost interest and didn’t finish any others – and this coming from a girl who consumed Herodotus’ The Histories in high school). It is a little cheesy in parts, but the author, Mel Bartholomew, makes his point clear: If you are lazy, short on time, space, or on a budget, this is the gardening method for you.
Are you a lazy gardener too? Here are 8 more tips for minimal effort gardeners like us.
What I Love About Square-Foot Gardening
Like I said, I never use a tiller or a hoe. I rarely have to weed, and when I do, it’s over in a few minutes.
While it costs more to set up than just digging up some dirt and seeing what happens, Mel Bartholomew is very budget-conscious and shares a lot of creative and simple ideas to save you money.
This method makes it very easy to have a successful garden that yields a generous harvest, and it’s easy to follow through with the maintenance in mid-July. The fact that I won’t waste my money and burn out partway through the Summer makes this garden method even more budget-friendly to me.
If you have never had a garden before, you might need an easy win. I know I did. I wasn’t sure if I could really grow a whole garden of food.
This method will give you that. Even if you decide to try other methods over the years, you will learn a lot and might even fall in love with gardening by starting with a square-foot garden.
That being said, I started with a pallet garden because I needed something super cheap and simple when I first tried it at a home we rented (with the landlord’s permission of course). If you don’t want to buy wood or build anything, check out how we made our pallet garden here!
No Feeding or Soil Conditioning
I know very little about either of those words because the square-foot garden doesn’t require anything except a scoop of compost every time you plant new seeds. Easy.
(Quick note: If you like tomatoes, here are some easy hacks for getting the most out of them.)
Naturally, our HOA in the home we now own wanted a garden that looked nice and stayed tidy. A pallet garden didn’t fit the bill, but a simple 8 ft. by 4 ft. raised bed did.
I built it myself in one afternoon with nothing but a drill (Home Depot cut the boards for free) and a staple gun. Couldn’t believe how easy it was.
Because the squares are clearly marked and the maintenance is minimal, I give each of my kids a few squares to tend every year. This helps them learn about and love gardening, and it means less weeding for me – win!
What I Don’t Love About Square-Foot Gardening
While it’s not very expensive, I will never be enthusiastic about buying dirt. The year we built the garden, we certainly didn’t save money by growing our own. However, this year and every year we live in this home will increase the savings.
Literally, I can’t think of anything else I don’t like about this garden. While it is smaller than I would like, that’s more because we live in a townhouse and I can’t fill the entire common area with garden boxes (although I have considered starting a community garden).
Whether you are a beginner gardener or a seasoned one looking for an easy win, I can’t recommend square-foot gardening enough. Over the years, I’m sure I will continue to experiment (maybe Back to Eden next?), but for now I can’t imagine being happier with my little slice of grow-your-own paradise.
What You Can Do Now:
Are you growing a garden? What is your favorite method?
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We tried raised bed gardening a few years ago when we moved into a house with a big enough yard. I am not the most committed gardener, but my husband was so it was successful in that our plants grew. Unfortunately, our dog loved the plants too. She ate or dug up most of the plants! She’s a Lab, what can I say?! After 2 years of fighting with her, (she always won this battle) we finally gave up. Since then, we’ve filled our front porch and sidewalk with pots and grow our plants in the front yard where the dog can’t get to them. It’s just enough plants to keep our 8 year interested in gardening and eating fresh vegetables.
Aw man, it’s so disappointing when that happens. But I’m glad you found an alternative! I love labs, but they can be tricky!
We REALLY liked SFG when we tried it a few years ago! Can’t wait to try it again…major medical issues (and the many, many resulting appts) for 3 in our family are the reason we haven’t had time to do much of any type of gardening since. I’m even considering becoming an SFG instructor later when I get more time.
Thank you for this list of reasons to do it, and a reminder of why we enjoyed it so much. And you’re right– it IS very kid-friendly!
Thanks, Kimberly! I’m sorry about your medical issues. It’s so hard when you’re in the thick of it.
Hi Steph, I echo all that you have said here. We started our gardening in a HOA neighborhood once upon a time and it was the answer to a lot of things for that situation. We have since gone on to acquire more property (lots more) and no longer have these restrictions, yet I still do a LOT of raised bed gardening. It is just so productive! I posted an article about how great it is for beginning gardeners, with a lot of complementary points that your readers would appreciate. It’s here: https://lawnlifestyles.com/raised-bed-gardens-best-choice-for-beginners/
Thanks, Willow! This is great.