Effect Of Aele Width On Effcentuse Of Space

Aisle Width

If you're going to have nine4'x4'(16squarefeet) planting squares, here's how aisles of different widths would affect the percentage of your overall garden space devoted to growing.


Growing Space/

Efficiency of


Garden Space

Space Used

1 2"

16 sq. ft. x 9=144 sq. ft.

14' x 14'= 196 sq. ft.



16 sq. ft. x 9=144 sq. ft.

15' x 15'=225 sq. ft.



16 sq. ft. x 9=144 sq. ft.

16' x 16'=256 sq. ft.


As the aisles become wider, the proportion of the space devoted to production decreases rapidly. You should find a balance between comfort and efficiency that suits your situation.

As the aisles become wider, the proportion of the space devoted to production decreases rapidly. You should find a balance between comfort and efficiency that suits your situation.

If you have limited space for a garden, or want to have the most efficient layout, the width of the aisles is important. But since you're not improving the soil in the aisles, the main effect will be on ease of use and attractiveness.

This square is right for one broccoli, cabbage, corn, eggplant or pepper plant.

Four Swiss chard, head lettuce, or parsley plants will grow in this square.

Spacing here is for spinach, leeks, chives, turnips, parsnips, peas, beans.




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Grow beets, carrots, onions, and radishes with this spacing.

Grow beets, carrots, onions, and radishes with this spacing.

Plant Spacing

Plants can be divided into four easily remembered sizes. I think of them in terms of shirt sizes: extra large, large, medium, and small.

Extra large plants go one per square foot. Plant them in the middle of that square foot, in a saucer-shaped depression.

Largeplants go four per square foot. Use your finger to trace two lines in the soil, dividing that square foot in half each way toget four spaces.

Medium plants go nine per square foot. Divide the space into thirds each way and you'll have nine squares.

Small plants go sixteen per square foot. This is just as easy to divide. Divide the square in half each way, then take two fingers, spread them apart about three inches, and poke four holes in each quarter of your square foot.

No rulers, no measuring, no division, no mathematics — you can do all your spacing by eye. The nicest part is that if you make a mistake, you can rub out your marks with your hand and start all over again.

Templates ,

Many people have designed templates or other devices to help them in spacing their plants. You don't really need them, but it adds a little fun to gardening.

In the cash garden, since you're planting more than just one foot at a time, you can build a small frame that will fit across one bed. Use molding, then staple string across to indicate the divisions. If you build two such frames, divide one with string to give a division every six inches (four plants per square foot), the other every four inches (nine plants per square foot). That makes it very quick and easy when you're doing a lot of planting, which you will be doing in the cash system. You just lay the frame down on the bed, poke your holes in the center of each space, and drop in the seeds or plants.

Make these templates for quick and easy planting. The one at left divides each square foot into four spaces; the one at right divides it into nine spaces.

Another handy spacing material is wire fencing. It comes with many size openings, including six-inch and four-inch squares. By applying a little spray paint to sections of the fencing, you can indicate twelve-inch squares, and the subdivisions will be the wire itself. Sometimes you can cut a few wires to give just the right spacing. This can be done for an individual square foot, or for an entire one-by-four-foot area. The fencing is self-supporting and needs no frame.

Those who are planning a large garden may want to make these spacing devices two by two feet, or even four feet square. These are harder to handle, though. The smaller ones are probably all you need for any size garden, because they are so simple to lift and move.

These spacing devices can be hung from nails on the garage walls. In order to make sure they don't disappear in the garden, paint the frames with bright colors, just as you do tool handles.

Too Crowded?

Many people, especially those accustomed to seeing wide spaces between garden rows, believe the spacing in a square foot garden must be too crowded. However, they are overlooking one important factor. When you provide the perfect soil mix, moisture and nutrients will be available to your plants at all times. This means that the roots won't have tospread out lookingfor these essentials. Thus, your spacing can be as compact as possible, as we have it in the square foot system. We don't crowd the plants but we don't waste any space, either.


Plants do best when they have a continuous supply of moisture. Notice that I didn't say water. There's a big difference between water and moisture in the soil. If your soil is filled with water, it plugs up all of the open air spaces, driving out the oxygen. The roots will suffer if this condition remains too long. Of course, with your perfect soil mix, this won't happen, because all of the excess water will drain away, yet all the organic matter or humus in the soil will retain moisture, allowing the ¡~!;;n roots to take it up when it's needed.


  • Use the cup and bucket method for maximum efficiency.
  • Always have a few buckets of water sitting in the sun to warm up.
  • Install shutoff connectors at end of hose.
  • Never water from overhead by using a sprinkler or handheld hose.
  • Water the soil root area, not the plant tops.
  • Plant in a shallow saucer depression to eliminate runoff and waste.
  • Water in the morning or late afternoon, not the evening.
  • Spray seed plantings daily. Don't allow the surface soil to dry.
  • When filling your buckets, lay an extra length of hose coiled up in the sun so the water will warm. (Watch out — it can get too hot.)

Watering the square foot garden is very simple. The system recognizes that plants do better with warm rather than cold water. This is particularly true if you're adding a water-soluble fertilizer. The nutrients dissolve much faster in warm water and are more readily available.

The easiest way to water is to let several large pails of water stand in the sun to warm. Ladle out one to three cups of this water for each plant. Using this method, you get closer to your plants. You see how they're growing, whether they're ready for harvest, if any bugs are bothering them, and whether the plants are growing well. How many times have you gone into your garden and found the beans overgrown and no longer producing, or filled with bugs and beyond saving? Watering this way, you'll notice early on when a plant needs help.

How often you water depends on how dry the soil is, the weather, the time of year, and your area of the country. In general, you'll have to water at least once a week, and probably twice during warmer weather. In southern parts of the country, you'll have to water three times a week. Transplants should be watered lightly almost every day, at least until they start growing. You can usually tell they're growing from the color and the erectness of the leaves. You'll also see new green growth starting as soon as the roots have acclimated themselves to the soil.

Bill Kulkman's eggplants grow up through the mesh and need no other support.

To make these supports, 8 feet of fencing is needed for the 18-inch support, 10 feet for the 30-inch support. Arch the support for weather protection, bend it flat across the top for plant support.

Supporting the Plants

While you're watering you'll notice whether your plants are getting large enough to need support. Since your soil is so loose and easily worked, the plants will be less able to support themselves than they would in poor, heavy soil. This is not a disadvantage, it just means that you have to provide support. The square foot support is easy and practical to install, particularly if you have wooden borders. You use the same wire fencing you used for your spacing devices. Choose one with openings you can put your hand through. Tack it to one border board, arch it over your plants, and nail it to the board on the opposite side. The openings in the fencing will be large enough to allow you to reach through to work on the plants, which can grow up through the mesh. You'll never again have to worry about finding your pepper plants blown over after a heavy storm. The wire fencing must be put on when the plants are about half grown, before they need the support.

This same wire framework, only a little higher, can be used as a support for all sorts of garden protectors. For example, in early spring, you can attach clear plastic to the frame with clothespins and you'll have a miniature greenhouse.

In the summer you'll do just the opposite. You'll cover the wire frame with shade cloth to protect your plants from extreme heat. Using this method, you'll be able to grow lettuce through the entire summer in just about any part of the country. It's even done in Florida.

If you have a very wet, cold snap, you might want to throw on that plastic cover again to keep out heavy rains. This way you can extend the beginning and end of the growing season several weeks with very little work.

Your wire framework can also be used as a safeguard against pests. By substituting one-inch chicken wire, you can keep out the rabbits.

By making the frame a bit differently, you can move it from one area to another. Rather than attaching the wire to your garden frames, you can make a frame out of smaller wood, say one-by-twos or molding, staple the wire onto the frame, and then use it as a

When transplanting in hot, sunny weather, add a shade cloth to the wire frame, and leave it in place for a few days.

moveable device. Transplants, when they are first taken out into the garden, must be protected from sun and hot, dry winds. It's so easy, once you've planted an area, to move a frame over it and cover the wire with shade cloth.

The plants can still get air through the sides, so it won't get too hot inside, but the frame keeps the wind off the plants. After a few days, you can move the frame to another area. In a large, single row garden, when transplants areset out, they go into shock and appear wilted and almost dead. Although they usually recover, this setback will affect the harvest. Using the square foot spacing and a shade frame will allow your plants to get off to a quick, easy, and healthy start.

Starting Seeds

In order to have a continuous harvest, you will plant on a continuous schedule. But it's very easy. Remember, you're only planting a few square feet at a time. If you have transplants ready, it's very easy to put them in, then give them a drink of water and a little shade. You can either purchase the transplants or start them yourself, and I've developed a seed starting method that is very simple and easy.

As an example, if you want a continuous supply of leaf lettuce, you should plant seeds every week. To have several varieties, start a different variety every other week.

Use inexpensive containers such as margarine cups. Wash and dry them, then drill four drain holes through a stack of them, using an electric drill with a quarter-inch bit.

Fill them with coarse vermiculite, sprinkle on a few seeds, and cover them with a thin layer of vermiculite. Set the cups in a pan with about a half-inch of warm water. The vermiculite will soak up the water and keep the seeds just moist enough tosprout. Label each container and keep the pan in a place where the temperature is about 70° F. around the clock.

When the first sprout appears, put the container into strong sunlight or under a fluorescent light.

Maintaining constant temperature is no longer important. It can drop at night. The roots can be kept moist by keeping the cups in a pan or tray with about a quarter-inch of water in it.

Drill holes in margarine cups, fill them with vermiculite, and set them in a shallow pan with a little 70-degree water in the bottom. Keep it at that level to keep the vermiculite moist.

When you start your seeds, the temperature of about 70° F. is important. Light is not important at this point, but the minute those seeds start to sprout, the cups must be put in full sunlight. The only other important factor is moisture. The vermiculite must be constantly moist, but not sopping wet. Never submerge the cups. Just set them in a shallow pan or tray of water so they can take up moisture constantly.


As soon as the seeds are up, they should be transplanted into four-packs or individual containers. Do not wait until the secondset of leaves branches out, as is recommended in all the garden books. That is much too late. The plants will become rootbound and will go into deep shock when they are transplanted.

Depending on the dexterity of your fingers, transplant them just as soon as you can safely handle them. This is done by digging around the plant with the pointed end of a pencil while holding onto one of the tiny leaves with your fingers. Lift it carefully. If you can take some of the vermiculite clinging to the roots, that is preferable, but not critical.

Have your containers ready, filled with a good quality, moist potting soil mix. Do not tamp it down, but settle it by tapping the containers lightly on the table. With your pencil, poke a hole large and deep enough so the roots of the seedling don't touch the sides. Carefully lower the seedling into the hole. Don't stuff the roots in or let them hang out the sides. They should extend all the way down into the hole. Then gently fill in the hole with your pencil.

Arrange the containers in a tray with a small amount of water in the bottom and place them in the shade for at least a day or two. Once the plants are over the shock of transplanting, they can be brought out into the light, and perhaps on the third day back into full sunlight. Do not leave them in darkness or they will try to grow towards the light and will get very leggy by the end of three or four days.

Remember, your little seedlings are still babies: they need care and protection from the sun and wind, from extreme hot and cold temperatures, and from pests. They need warmth and moisture. Keep a little bit of water in their tray and use a good potting soil mix, which will suck up that moisture.

Giowing Transplants

Your next project is to grow those seedlings into good-sized transplants.

If they have been growing for more than two weeks in the same container, you might add a liquid fertilizer tothe water, particularly if they are the "leaf' type of plant, which needs extra nitrogen.

Don't keep them in these containers too long or they will become rootbound. The standard six-packs will encourage the plant roots to grow round and round, eventually becoming rootbound.

Styrofoam containers with pyramid-shaped holes and open bottoms offer one solution. These are sometimes called speedling trays. When they are suspended in air, so that light and air can get underneath the container, the roots will be pruned by the light. They won't grow out into the light and dangle from the container, but will stop growing out and branch out higher up. This promotes extremely strong root growth in the plant, which will transplant very easily.

These containers can also be watered from underneath by setting them in a tray filled with water for a couple of hours. Then they must be taken out, or the roots will grow out into the water, eliminating the big advantage of this type of container.

Transplants can be raised outdoors in warmer weather. If you don't have a greenhouse, you can set up a nursery area with one of the wire frame covers and have plenty of transplants ready to go in the garden every week.

Assure a continuous harvest by always having seedlings ready to plant.

After transplanting, if it's early spring o^ late fall or you're having heavy rains, put a plastic-covered wire frame over the transplants. This will let in lots of light and air, but will keep the heavy rains off the tender plants. It will also protect them from rabbits and deer and anything that wants to nibble on them.

When setting out transplants, use the "'cup and saucer" method. Form a shallow depression around the plant as you set it in the ground. This allows water to seep down to the roots. Water immediately after transplanting. Some people like to use a manure tea or a weak solution of water-soluble fertilizer.

The next thingyou should do, particularly if the sun is going to be out that day or the next, is to provide a wire frame shade cover.

The best time of day to transplant is whatever time you have available. With the square foot system, it's no longer critical to wait until sundown or to start early in the morning. By providing the shade cover and watering immediately, you can transplant at any time of the day, at your convenience.

Sowing in the Garden

What about those vegetables that are sown directly in the garden. These include the root crops — radishes, beets, and carrots — and vegetables such as corn and beans. Here the procedure is even easier. You divide each square foot either in half or thirds eachway.

Then you make the holes and drop in a pinch of seeds. How many in a pinch? Two or three. Cover with soil and water with a fine spray watering can.

Snip off Extras

Most of them will sprout, and you don't want them to crowd each other. The minute they're up, use scissors to snip off the extra ones, leaving just one per hole. That way there'll be no crowding, and you'll have no trouble distinguishing your plants from any weeds that come up.

Cut, don't pull up, extra seedlings, to avoid damaging other seedlings.

If you see any weeds, pull them up with two fingers. This gives all your plants a much better start, and, again, they will grow much faster than in a single row garden.


One of the biggest advantages to square foot gardening is that the minute you harvest each square foot, you can prepare the soil and replant it. This gives you a continuous crop, and in many parts of the country you can replant the same square foot four or five times per year.

Harvesting is also done a little differently than in a conventional garden. You don't have to overplant in order to ensure a large harvest of every item at all times.

I like to think that the square foot system is more adaptableto our modern way of life. We get out to the garden about every day to see what's ready. We harvest it, and then we plan our meal around that. It's like going to a salad bar in a restaurant. Rather than ordering a side dish or a certain salad, you select what appeals to you, and that becomes your meal. By picking whatever is ready, you harvest it at its peak, its perfect taste and perfect size.

Since we're attuned today to eating more vegetables raw, it becomes even easier to have a variety of raw vegetables from the garden in a salad or as an appetizer.

Cooked vegetables can be either a main dish or a side dish. You can even pickle several vegetables and serve them as an appetizer the next evening. Or eat them as a snack — what could be better for the health of you and your family than to munch on fresh vegetables rather than junk food? You might even get to like them a little better when the harvest varies from day to day, instead of having the same old thing for weeks on end.

Another advantage of this system is that plants harvested before they reach full size don't need as much room to grow. For example, Swiss chard. Many people who read about putting four plants in one square foot, knowing how huge some of those plants can grow, immediately assume they're crowded and won't do well.

One method of harvesting Swiss chard is to keep cutting the outer leaves.

If they harvest continuously by cutting off the outer leaves on the stalks, they will find that the plants do very well indeed in the space of four per square foot.

The same is true of parsley. One square foot of parsley usually produces all that a family can eat, and if you harvest continuously, it produces all spring, summer, and fall. When the cold weather sets in, you can dig up your parsley plants, put them in pots, and move them indoors to become houseplants that will produce all winter.

Harvesting under the cash system is a little different, but only because we're looking for more volume. Under that system we might harvest the entire plant of Swiss chard by cutting off all of the leaves, including the medium and smaller ones. We just have to leave the center of the plant still growing so more shoots will come out. More on this in a later chapter.


With vegetables that are harvested only once, such as radishes and carrots, you'll replant each square foot as soon as you've completed the harvest. You do this by:

  1. Adding a trowelful of compost, manure, or peat moss and a light sprinkling of fertilizer, either 5-10-5 or a prepared balanced organic mix.
  2. Turning the square over with a trowel. Remember, the soil has remained very loose and friable because you never walked on it.
  3. Smoothing it out with your hands.
  4. Deciding what you're going to plant next.
  5. Popping in either seeds or transplants, and watering them.

And that's it. You're all done. It couldn't be simpler, and yet you've harvested, rotated the crops, improved the soil, and made a succession planting, all in a matter of a few minutes. You didn't write out any charts, or study anything, and yet you did all those good things without even thinking about them, because the square foot gardening system is so automatic and so foolproof.

A large mesh makes it easy to harvest tomatoes grown on it.

Vertical Gardening

People ask me, "'Sure, that sounds good for small salad crops, but what about the big, rambling plants like tomatoes and cucumbers? "

Well, they're all grown vertically in the square foot system. Vertical gardening saves twice as much space as the regular square foot garden. The basic theory is that all vine crops, which tend tospread out, can be trained to go up.

There are other reasons why vertical gardening works so well. It's far easier to prepare the soil and water the plants. You have to prepare only one square foot for a tomato plant.

And, finally, you can harvest standing up, with little bending over. That saves the old back.

To use this method, you need a support to hold up the plant, and that's easy to supply. Your frames must be strong and able to hold up all those tomatoes you are going to grow.

Cucumber and tomato plants, when fully grown and six feet tall, have a lot of leaves and fruit. By early fall, when we start getting heavy rains and winds, your frames and the plants are like sails on a boat, so the frames must be very strong. That's why I selected steel posts or pipe. If you feel that you have to provide additional support, tie guy wires to them. Vertical frames can be attached to your planter boxes to provide additional support, as long as the frames are on the north side so they don't shade other plants.

Locate frame 6 inches in from box end, and start the wire mesh about 6 inches above the soil level.

Use steel fence posts, left, water pipe, right, or electrical conduit for supports. Cut a 5%-footsection of 4-foot tomato growing wire to hang between the supports.

To make a frame, use either steel fence posts, threaded, galvanized water pipe, or half-inch, thin wall type electrical conduit with slip fittings. You can buy these either new at a plumbing or electrical supply house or you can find some used at a junkyard.

Make the frame seven feet tall (one foot of that will be in the ground) and four feet wide. If pounding these into the ground will be a problem, plan on two-foot legs that can be pounded into the soil, and five-foot additions. If you use the conduit, bend it with a pipe bender, to avoid kinking and breaking the pipe.

Cover the framework with tomato wire with six-by-four-inch openings (it's sold by the roll in most hardware stores) so the plants can be easily woven in and out of the openings and you can reach through to prune or harvest. Don't put up chicken wire, concrete reinforcing wire, or small-spaced netting. It will lead to a lot of problems later. The plants will not burn on the wire, as has often been thought, and I like to use wire because it doesn't stretch or sag.

Some people put up vertical supports and then weave string back and forth. This is a very tedious procedure, and their frames end up looking terrible at the end of the season.

Your structures can be any height, depending on their strength. The plants will grow quite tall. If you have fairly hard soil and you're going to pound pipe into the ground and tamp around it very hard, you can build your structures six feet tall. The plants will easily grow to that height, and they'll bear fruit right to the top. In fact, in most parts of the country they'll grow up and over the top, and you'll wonder what to do next. You can trim the ends of the plants, which won't hurt them and it will force all the fruit to ripen faster. Or you can let the plants drape over the top and start down the other side.

Any vine crop can be grown this way. That includes tomatoes, cucumbers, pole beans, winter squash, and all kinds of melons, even watermelons. Many melon varieties today weigh under ten pounds, and I've found that they hang on the vine without support.

With vertical gardening, you'll be planting four square feet at once, on the north side of a garden square. To make watering easy, scoop out a shallow depression or trench along that four-foot length. Then plant all of your plants into this trench at the proper spacing, and you'll find that watering suddenly becomes very easy. You won't waste a single drop of water, and it will go right down to the roots. An ideal watering method is to lay an irrigation hose or a drip irrigation system along the trench.

Some plants, such as cucumbers and melons, will climb by themselves. Tomatoes and squash have to be helped a bit. Weave the top of the main stem in and out of the large wire openings once a week.

Weave your tomato vines in and out of the mesh.

In order to achieve the maximum production in the smallest space, prune tomatoes to a single or double stem. This means cutting off all side branches — suckers, as they're commonly called— thereby forcing more energy into the main stem where the fruit will be able to draw on it for development.

This garden can be used for tomatoes, cucumbers, and other crops.

Many people use the vertical garden as a visual border or divider. It can be used as a screen, so you can't see your neighbors behind it, or the dog pens or garbage pails or whatever you want to hide. Or you could put up entire rows of fencing spaced three feet apart and have a separate vertical garden. It all depends on how many vine crops you want to grow. If it's just a few, you can locate your vertical frames along the north side of the garden blocks. In effect, you will be plantingvine crops in the last four square feet of the garden beds. These vines will climb up the frame, and the remaining square feet in each one of those beds will be planted in non-vine crops.

Tomatoes, squash, and muskmelons require a square foot per plant.

Set cucumber plants six inches apart in vertical gardening.















A double row of peas or pole beans can be planted this way.

Cash Gardening Adaptations

Someone starting a cash gardening business will want a much larger garden than the eight to twelve blocks of a typical family garden. And they will want to get the maximum growing space out of their backyard.

For them, we will place those four-by-four boxes together end to end, thus creating a four-foot-wide garden bed of any convenient length. You can still reach in from both sides, because you'll have narrow aisles in between each long bed.

In the past, I've never recommended this, because the minute people see a long bed, they start picturing individual rows running the length of it. Before you know it, they're right back where they started, thinking in terms of a single row garden, even though it's on a raised bed.

By having crops in all stages of growth, there's always a harvest ready.

But we want to get the maximum growing space available and are usually willing to give up the convenience of being able to walk around each growing area. Now we have to walk around a larger area, four feet by twelve feet, for example, but this will give us about 10 percent more growing space with little inconvenience.

The advantages or special adaptations of this bed layout for your cash garden are particularly evident if you live where you have a very short season, a very hot, dry climate, or a very cool, wet growing season. It even has great advantages if you live in the South and have mild winters. With wooden sides on your beds and the proper wire covers, it's possible to grow crops such as lettuce, parsley, and spinach right through ten to eleven months of the year. Think back to the wooden sides and the method of making wire enclosures, then throwing on anything from clear plastic to shade film to chicken wire, to keep out the sun, heavy rains, rabbits, or whatever else might bother your plants.

Long Frame?

Some people, seeing a long bed, consider building a long frame that will hold a cloche or continuous arch cover. This is not advisable, because it's difficult for one person to handle it. If you think in terms of four-by-four areas, you can readily move any of your covers from one area to another.

You can see that the square foot system is easily adaptable to any conditions and any area of the country. People write and say, "We „ live in Arizona. Please give us the special requirements for our area." Well, there aren't any. A plant's requirements are the same, no matter what the area, and the same devices can be used. You just use them at a different time of the year and in a slightly different manner. And, since everyone in the country thinks he has the worst possible soil, the square foot gardening mix will solve all kinds of soil problems, whether it's Georgia red clay, Louisiana gumbo, or California sand.

Square foot gardening is a totally new method with new ideas, and requires that you adopt some new ways of thinking. But everyone can get used to them once they learn the basic system. Then it's just a matter of adapting all the basic square foot gardening ideas to their particular yard, climate, and growing conditions.

At first I thought there might be a lot of adaptation necessary for a cash garden. But aside from placing the squares end to end to eliminate one aisle, there really aren't any special or different things to do.

Of course, you're going to want a much larger harvest for cash than for family, but all that means is you will be planting four orsix square feet of radishes every week, rather than just one, or sixteen to thirty-two square feet of peppers instead of just six or eight square feet.

1 per square foot 16 Plants

4 per square foot 64 Plants

4 per square foot 64 Plants

9 per square foot 144 Plants

16 per square foot 256 Plants

Once you get started you'll see that even keeping records is very simple. If you want to harvest twelve or fourteen heads of cos (romaine) lettuce every week, you'll need to start about twenty-five to thirty seeds weekly, pot up about twenty seedlings, and transplant sixteen of the best plants into four square feet of garden space. Each step happens weekly, so you have a production line going. Since the lettuce will take about six weeks to mature, you'll need six weeks of garden space, or six times four square feet reserved for cos lettuce.

That's all there is to it. It's really very easy and it about runs itself. No need to draw up very complicated plans or diagrams. Just establish the base amount of each vegetable and keep planting, growing, and harvesting.

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