Square Foot Gardening: How to Get Started for $50 (Infographic)

My 2008 post, How to Build a Square Foot Garden, was a big hit with other first time gardeners. Since spring is really just kicking into gear, I thought we’d revisit the square foot garden with a graphical step by step. Along with updated materials and construction diagrams, we’ve also added a plant list, extra tips, and some new options to try out. What’s great about square foot gardens is that they are such a warm and easy introduction to growing your own food. Here’s hoping our graphic brings out the gardener in you!

gardening infographic


  1. Jason,
    Question. Do you garden this way? Do you get rid of your soil after each plant is done as mentioned above? What do you do with that soil? I am just thinking that it does not seem that green or wallet friendly to throw out the soil? Am I wrong?

    • You’re very right, the system described here is anything but frugal or sustainable. Beds can be amended each growing season with home-grown compost (the bagged stuff from the hardware store is crap), and peat moss and vermiculite (more typically found in potting mixes) may serve some good for water retention but, as noted by another commenter, are unsustainable and unnecessary imports to the garden. No comment on the math.

    • He’s not saying to get rid of the soil, he’s saying to top off the soil if it’s low when you pull out the old plant.

      Actually, the Square Foot Gardening book says to just add a trowel of compost when replanting, not of the whole soil mix.

    • Ugh I hope not. If following Square foot gardening, you’re supposed to just toss on another shovel full of compost to keep the container full. Also, some plants can keep going, so don’t uproot all of them

    • I think he’s talking about just the dirt that was around the root ball of the plant. The dirt I take out gets tossedd in the composter to help my other materials break down, so it actually gets re-invigorated and isn’t wasted.

  2. Love this idea! Going to get the materials and build. I’ll blog about it and link back to you when it’s all ready to go!

    Thanks for the inspiration and info!


    • Just be sure to realize the soil mix is a 1:1:1 ratio. So depending on the size of your garden 1/3 should be peat, 1/3 should be vermiculite, 1/3 should be compost. You can reduce the amount of peat and vermiculite and have more compost and it should work fine. This is by volume, not weight.

  3. Why do you use a container, and not just use the soil in your yard – maybe mixed with some compost or fertilizer. I am just asking – why is that more frugal?

    • Because they are specifically doing a method called Squarefoot gardening. Look into it, but the vermiculite and peat moss break up the compost and hold water extremely well.

      However, the calculations on the info graphic are wrong. You want a 1:1:1 RATIO of Vermiculite, Peat Moss, and mixed compost (pretty much as many different kinds except Cow manure compost that you can find) and fill the top of the container.

      It makes for some extremly aerable soil which is great in areas with a lot of clay.

    • Generally speaking garden soil is not recommended for container gardening. It’s too heavy, and gets compacted too easily in containers.

      Some gardening experts recommend using a soil mix for raised beds, because they say it is easier and faster than amending the soil in your garden, which can take years of work to really get it going.

  4. Along the lines of being green–neither vermiculite nor peat moss are renewable resources, and as they are “mined” either from deposits or peat bogs–removing them from their respective areas has an environmental foot print. Raised beds are not always the best option in every area and for every purpose. They do provide good drainage in high rainfall areas, and they warm up quicker in the spring. But they require more water in dry areas and seasons, and they freeze much more quickly in the fall. One of the best uses is to eliminate gophers–for that you need a bed no more than 3 feet wide, which must be underlain with aviary wire or hardware cloth.

    • While mined, the soil is supposed to be re-used (considering the peat and vermiculite take a long time to breakdown). You are just supposed to toss another scoop of homegrown compost onto the garden after you pull the plants. Re-using mined materials is still green.

      • Saying that peat moss is a “green” material because it can be reused is like saying that paper made from wood from a clearcut forest is green because it can be reused and recycled.

        The extraction method used is highly destructive. I have seen first hand what peat extraction looks like and it broke my heart. A beautiful, productive ecosystem that took 10 000 years to develop destroyed in the space of a few years. That’s not recoverable on a human time scale, and is therefore not sustainable.

  5. A blueberry is not a small plant, it is a bush! Also the boards will cost more than that. Raised beds are the way to go though, they make your yard look neater and keep everything contained.

      • actually blueberries arent mentioned at ALL so I dont know why people keep talking about them

        • Folks were commenting on a previous version of the infographic which did suggest blueberries (now changed to radishes), and which some websites are still using with a link back to this site.

  6. Two thing are sure. Vegetables grown in the mix described will NOT be nutrient rich. And second, this is a very unsustainable system… way too much input from outside the natural gardening system. It is no where near the way Nature operates. A load of top soil is a much more sustainable way to start. Make your own compost, etc…

    • Untrue. Read the squarefoot gardening book or do more research online on the process. Obviously the amounts of topsoil above are incorrect, it should be 6-8″ of a mix of 1:1:1 of peat, vermiculite and compost. Creates a very loose, but nutrient rich soil.

  7. You are right. This is just not the way to garden. Hardly anything would even grow in 2.5 inches of this potting mix. This whole endeavor sounds real suspicious. Beware of gimmicky stuff like this…

    • I think the infographic needs some tweaks. The 1:1:1 should be a Ratio, not just the total amount (so in a 9cu ft garden, you want 3 cu feet Peat Moss, 3 cu feet Compost, 3 cu feet Vermiculite. The Vermiculite and Peat Moss hold water like sponges and the Compost provides nutrients. I err on the side of more compost because it’s cheaper.

      • Oh! and I put fabric on the bottom of the bed too, keeps out the critters and in Ohio, the ground is so clay like the roots would have a hard time popping through. So far, nothing (except carrots and potatoes) has suffered.

  8. This infographic seems to be created in haste. You mention (8) 1″ screws, but utilize 12 to secure lines for the grid. The depth measurements for potting is awkward. I’d still give this a go, but not until researching better data.

  9. Great looking graphic! I’ve been researching build a garden like this myself. You mention using 1 cubic foot of each of the 3 soil items. Spread 3 cu ft of soil over a 4’x4′ grid, and you only have a hair over 2″ deep soil if I’m not mistaken.

  10. Hi FD – great to hear from you again and strangely enough, I just did a Square Foot Gardening Project on my Friday night radio show a couple of weeks back…this is a brilliant addition…I’ll do it tomorrow.

    Wishing you well from across the pond, T x

  11. Although our patio garden is not square footed, we harvested Egg plants and chilies already. I thought this infographic was more powerful than your previous hit article on the same subject..

    You made it look so much easier.

  12. This graphic is so pretty, but there do seem to be some miscalculations and errors… 🙁

    I concur w/ some of the other posters: the peat moss et all isn’t sustainable. We’ve been doing the Mittledier method with peat moss and sand for years with really excellent results but are going to be moving to the Back to Eden methods – if you haven’t seen the film, it’s free to watch at http://www.backtoedenfilm.com – I just saw it last week and wow, totally life changing. Lots of Biblical references but the science will be fascinating for the irreligious as well. No watering, no fertilizing, no pesticides! You can use existing boxes, containers, or your own patch of dirt. Can’t wait to try it.

  13. I didn’t see a reference to blueberries..? Blueberries are perennials. This works best for me with regular annual vegetables.

  14. I think this is great! One can save additional money if they consider the following. The raised bed need not be made of virgin wood but rather by discarded chucks of stone, rock, or riprap. A concrete/stone masonry wall is impervious to insect and mold damage too. A recycled bottle wall is kind of nifty I think.

    Also we have a community wood chips pile and I find that this soil amendment is sufficient when combined with natural soil and vermiculture compost (worm compost) made from kitchen scraps. Be careful about expensive soil amendments. Are they critical when so much is available with composting?

    Seeds may be salvaged from last year’s plants or friends’ gardens. Always save your seed. Grow seedlings from last years seed in yogurt cups.

    Consider heirloom varieties that are good open-air pollinators and produce consistent crops in your local area.

    Learn the seasonal crops. Consider a Spring and Fall garden if your area permits year-round planting.

    Build a gardening community and trade crops you may produce excess of.

    Consider fruit trees and other perennials to get more produce for your garden bucks invested. Perennial fruits and nuts are the key to making a little money from your yard.

  15. I made my first square foot garden this spring and use the 1:1:1 mix to a depth of 6″. We have been eating salads from it for two weeks. In fact the herbs, spinach, and romaine salad with radishes that I am eating for lunch is from my new garden. We have also had beets greens, kale, and broccoli.

    Veggie gardening is new for me. I am trying it as a way to cut down on the cost of organic produce. It has been a great boon for our family this spring as our CSA doesn’t start delivering until the 2nd week of June.

    I hope by Fall I’ll have figured out a way to extend our garden harvest into the cooler months.

    The best things about this square foot garden is it is near the house- so very convenient to care for- and it is encouraging to a beginning gardener!

  16. I have grown tomaotes in 3 inches of “mel’s mix” and 4 -1 ft squares. I am talking plants over 5 feet tall with tons of tomatoes. There are some plants that don’t do well or aren’t worth doing in a squarefoot garden like corn. I have found corn does better and is actually easier to grow right in the ground. But for the most part I love square foot gardening.

  17. The squares are spaced by seed spacing on the seed pack, so anything that has a spacing of 3″ or less would be a “very small” like carrots, radishes, mustard greens, etc.

    I have found my square foot garden dot net blog to be very helpful. There are also growth charts based on region. 🙂

  18. I started my Square Foot Garden 3 years ago with 10 4’x4′ beds. I have had huge success by following this method. I have also moved twice since I started with my SFG. I have moved all of the boxes, mix, and plants both times. Now, I am in a permanent place and have expanded my garden to include two large border beds, 4’x50′ on the long side and 4’x20′ on the short sides. It creates two open sideways U’s around the 10 4’x4′ beds . I have eliminated the grids, but continue to follow the rest of the SFG rules. I recommend this method to everyone who asks how I am getting such a huge harvest.