Square Foot Gardening is Anything but Square

For the past three years I’ve been utilizing the square foot gardening techniques outlined in the book, All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew.

I plant my vegetable garden in raised beds which are ten feet long and five feet wide. Ideally, a square foot garden should be planted in a four by four raised bed to allow for easier access to the plants, but I had these raised beds already built long before I switched to the new system of planting.

The concept of square foot gardening is that you can more efficiently use the space in your garden by planting each individual foot separately in an organized pattern. For example, you may plant one cabbage in one square foot, four lettuce, nine spinach or sixteen carrots in another.

As the plants mature and are harvested, the square can be replanted with another crop. So a radish square may become a lettuce square in it’s second go-around.

The look of the square foot garden is what initially attracted me to it, but I did some math and calculated that it also saves space and produces more. Weeds are easy to keep at bay because they fall outside the pattern of the plants and can be easily identified and plucked.

Every year I enhance my soil by adding a combination of vermiculite, peat and compost. The raised beds tend to settle with each season, so I add the mix to compensate.

I made the grid in my garden using recycled blind slats from the ReStore, and I use a set of cardboard stencils to plant my seeds; a quick and tidy method. In some of the squares I plant flowers to add some panache.

Conveniently, when you are ready for more space you can simply add another raised bed wherever you like. A four-by-four raised bed near the back door is ideal for an herb garden.

Setting up the Grid

Early in the Season

Further Along in the Season

Enjoying the Fruits (and Veggies) of my Labour


Building a Rotating Composter

Commercial rotating composters are costly, but effective. I have one that I bought from Lee Valley Tools and it works great. Unfortunately they sell for $185, so adding a second one was over my budget.  

I also have a standard square wood-slat composter that I never remember (or should I say bother) to turn with a pitchfork because it’s difficult to do. Some of the material in that compost bin has been there for eight years. It was when I bought my first compost drum that I really began to take full advantage of the medley of leaves, grass and kitchen scraps around the house and yard.

I decided to make my own rotating compost bin with the goal of keeping it affordable and humble. I did some research and found plans for a number of rotating bins on the internet, but I was particularly inspired by one that I saw in person when on a garden tour last fall in Edmonton. It was simple, inexpensive and, according to the owner, effective.  

To make the composter, I used repurposed 2×8 preserved wood that I had on hand and an olive barrel from The Italian Centre Shop which cost $23. I also bought four tie plates at 87¢ each and four joist hangers at $1.17 each.  

I cut the 2x6s in the dimensions as shown below. I’m not sure the precise angle of the cut, but I designed it so that the legs would be 40 inches apart (outside measurement) at the bottom. 

I put two legs together as shown and screwed a tie plate on each side to hold them solidly. I then stood the legs up and used a level to place the joist hangers six inches from the bottom of each leg. I then used 30 inch cross pieces of 2×6 lumber to attach the two sets of legs together.  

I had some 2 inch PVC pipe on hand, so that’s what I decided would serve as my bar. I know I’ll have to reinforce the PVC eventually, but for the time being I thought it would do. (I replaced it a few days later when I found a discarded metal bar of the same size.) 

I cut two 2 inch holes 20 inches from the bottom of each side of my barrel. The barrel was 40 inches in total height with the lid, and I wanted to have the barrel well-balanced when it is rotating. Once the holes were cut, I inserted the PVC pipe and placed the barrel on the stand.  The notches hold the pipe in place.

The next day I decided to make it into a double composter, so I built another set of legs and added a second barrel. Now I should have lots of composting space for the year. If not, I know where to find another barrel and where to buy some more tie plates and joist hangers.

Using the barrel is simple, and when it’s a quarter full it spins with almost no effort. It’s wise not to overfill the container (keep it under half full), as I imagine it becomes more difficult to spin as it gets heavier.

I leave the lid off so that oxygen can reach the amalgam of yard and kitchen waste, although if it rains hard I like to cover it up. I might need to put a small drain at the bottom front, but for now it seems unnecessary. I try to remember to spin it every day (with the lid on of course) and I hope that in a few weeks I’ll have some great compost.