Square Foot Gardening and Seed Staggering
Square foot gardening is a way to use a small space to maximize planting.
Larger beds are broken up into 1 foot (30 cm) squares that help make planning easier.
Square foot gardening works well for raised beds and mounds because it’s a gardening method where you do not walk onto the soil. When we walk on the planting area it gets packed down and needs more tilling. When we use square foot gardening we stay outside of the bed when caring for the plants and enjoy the life of no till gardening.
How to Make a Square Foot (30 cm) Bed:
1. If you have access from 2 sides make your beds 3 feet or 1 meter wide.
If you have access from only 1 side you can only make the beds 2 feet or 60cm wide. You then measure out 1 foot (30 cm) squares. Some people mark these physically on their beds with twine or sticks.
Note: originally this concept was a 4×4 foot (1.3 x 1.3m) garden plan, but I like the 1 meter measurement because it’s closer to the length used in mayan gardening. I live and grow on Mayan land and often learn from the local community about how to grow MILPA, the food for a family. Meters are the way we talk here in the Yucatan, but the square foot method works well for both feet and meters when we work with 3 feet intervals. This is why I choose to always make beds 3 feet (1 m) wide in all my spaces.
2. You should organize your space so the beds are arranged to run long ways East to West. You can make beds as long or as short as you want, as long as they have a full 1 foot (30cm) repeated. I’ve seen square foot gardening work in large urban farm production sites with beds 12-20 feet (4-6m) or longer. My beds are all only 3-5 feet (1-1.5m) long and because I use blocks I can add or subtract for them anytime I want.
3. Most importantly when planning square foot (30cm) spaces make sure you plan to plant your tallest vegetables on the North side of your bed, or else they will shade your smaller plants.
What Fits in One Square?
1 tomato, eggplant, pepper, pumpkin, squash or cucumber
2 basil, calendula, celery, corn, kale, parsley, chives
3 bok choys
9 beets, cilantro, onion, dill
Almost as important as how you plan your square foot garden is how you plan to stagger your seeds.
Staggering is when you plant your seeds at different times to elongate your season and harvest.
There is nothing worse than having all 100 of your tomatoes ripe at the same time, planning how you stagger your seeds will help keep your kitchen stocked for more months. In the Yucatan we can easily plant seeds until February or March. After March it gets a bit harder to germinate due to our high temperatures but it isn’t impossible and if you keep the seeds moist and shaded you can sprout most of the year. Only during the heaviest rains in July and August do I have a really hard time sprouting, but basil and stronger greens like spinach as well as a number of flowers and of course corn, pumpkins and squash all sprout well even during the rain.
Planning your Stagger
I usually plant 5 tomatoes in September, and 2-3 more each month thereafter until February.
I also start with around 10 lettuces/leafy greens and plant 5 more each month until February.
For melon, pumpkin and squash, I plant 1 each month the entire year. Sometimes grouping like pumpkins in pairs or triples. For example butternut squash June-August and then local patty pans September-November or something like this.
For eggplant we don’t eat too many, and I plant 2 in October and then 1 more each month thereafter until they won’t sprout.
For Spicy peppers I plant them as I need trying to keep 3 alive at a time. They live 1-3 years and sometimes more when properly cared for.
Corn gets planted only 1 time the year in June and the Mung beans my preferred legume to grow gets planted 2-3 times the year in April, June, and August.
My Seed Stagger Example:
I seeded for beds 1-3 in September and transplant the seedlings in October
I seed for beds 4 in October and transplant in November
Beds 6, 8 and 11 had MILPA when I started in September and I harvested them in October and immediately composted for 1 month under cardboard.
I seed for bed 8 in November and transplant in December (this is where planning your first few months of seed staggering is important to know when a bed’s expected harvest date is, how long it is direct composting for and when you can plant in the bed again. Bed 8 will have to be composted ASAP once harvested. If all fails bed 7 is mostly dormant right now, I only have a few herbs growing in it. I could plant it early if I had to.)
I seed for bed 6 in December and transplant in January
I seed for bed 7 in January and transplant in February
I seed for replacements in February and transplant in March
In March I take a good look around my garden and see what greens need replaced or what beds 1-3 are doing. In March and April some of my first September seedlings will be dying off or producing seeds, especially the lettuces and first tomatoes.
With good planning by March, everything is more or less full and I won’t need to see any more seedlings. This is good because March is when temperatures start to rise and it’s harder to germinate seeds. (don’t forget this is also when we also put up sun shade, check the Yucatan planning calendar to learn more.)
In June I plant corn, beans, amaranth, squash, and melons.