How to make a square foot garden

planting squaresAs part of Midleton Transition Town's activities, Natasha Harty frequently demonstrates how to make a square foot garden. The square foot garden was devised by Mel Bartholomew in the US. For his original design see
Natasha explains … The square foot garden is a real gem of a little garden. Once you have some planks, nails, bamboos, a few bags of potting compost or top soil, some seedlings and seeds, and a place to assemble them, you have a small easy care garden in an hour or two, where before there was no garden at all!
I supply most of the materials at cost, and build the garden, on condition that the new owner of the square foot garden invites their friends and neighbours to come and join in making it.
square foot gardenBelow I have adapted Mel’s instructions for Irish materials…

How to make a 3 ft x 4 ft Square Foot garden (square foot gardens should be at most 4 feet wide, but can be as long as you want) ...

  • Find a sunny, fairly level site. It can be on a hard surface, like gravel or concrete, or on lawn. It must be big enough that you have space to walk all round it, or to push a lawn mower round if on lawn.
  • Find some planks approximately 7 inch wide. For a 3 ft X 4 ft garden either the sides or the ends will need to be longer by twice the thickness of the timber. For example, if 1 inch think timber, add 2 inches to either the 4 ft or the 3 ft lengths, so that your bed will be an even 3 X 4 foot rectangle.
  • Nail your timbers together to make a 3 X 4 ft frame.
  • On a hard surface place the frame in position, and skip the lawn instructions.
  • On a lawn, place the frame where you want the garden to be. With a spade cut all along the outside edge of the frame. Lift off the frame and skim off the top sod. This is easier if you cut it into squares with the spade first. Place the frame back into the skimmed off area, making sure it sits down all round, and fill the upside down sods back inside the frame.
  • Sprinkle over the optional extras, like a bucket of sand, worm or garden compost, horse manure etc. Add in the potting compost or topsoil, or a mixture of both, and rake the surface flat. For some extra fertility, and a smart looking finish, sprinkle a layer of Billy Wigham’s Gee Up on the top.
  • Cut bamboos to size, for a 3 X 4 ft bed you need two 4 ft and three 3 ft bamboos. These can be laid in place 1 foot apart and tied together securely where they cross. If you have a drill they can be left a little longer, and slipped into holes in the timber 1 ft apart and a little above the soil level.
  • Plant the seedlings. Four lettuce plants in one square, 9 onion sets in another, 1 parsley plant in a third, .. a pinch of rocket seed, radishes, thyme and chives….
  • Most times your garden will grow. Just make sure it has enough water in dry weather.

If you run into problems, ring me, and I’ll suggest ways of keeping the soil fertile and combating slugs. Alternately, go to for lots of instructions and photos.

~ Natasha Harty, EcoQuakers Ireland Tel 021 4652 429