Friday, February 24, 2012

Square Foot Gardening: Creating A Kitchen Garden In A Small Backyard

Spring has sprung around the Lowcountry and over the past couple of weeks I have been busy working in my back-yard oasis to prepare for the season of “Easy-Livin” in The Land of Palm Trees. In fact, as I write this blog, you could say that I am already working on that “and the Livin’ is EEEEzzzzzy” theme. With the threat of severe weather arriving early this afternoon, I took advantage of the comfortable temps this morning and got my chores done early, now I am enjoying a wonderful breeze out of the Southwest and waiting to be run inside by the storms approaching from the West.

This week I successfully completed all of my prep work for the two existing small kitchen garden plots in my backyard here at White Gables. After the late fall harvest of my second crop of tomatoes and peppers, lettuce, cabbage and herbs I put the plots to bed covering them with leaves and other clippings from the lawn. Throughout the winter months the yard waste decayed and two weeks ago I added a couple of layers of fully cooked compost from the compost bin in the corner of the yard and plowed the plots under using the roto-tiller attachment on my weed machine. This week I created new crisp edges for the plots and raked and tilled the soil once again preparing the beds for planting.

My backyard is not real spacious; therefore I have had to adapt my gardening style to more of a square-foot approach. We have managed to create a very inviting green space within the confines of our fenced in yard that includes a Southern border planting with tropicals, Jasmine, Confederate Rose, Bay Trees, Rosemary, Oleander and low palms. I am preparing to plant grapes along the western border on the inside of the fence. At my wife’s request, my two sons and I built a foundation rose garden along the garage last year as a mother’s day present, and of course there are the two small kitchen garden plots, one measuring 3 foot by 4 foot and the other measuring 8 foot by 4 foot. That is a lot of green squeezed into a smallish back yard, but yet there is still enough lawn to give me and the lawn mower about a 10 minute workout. I should add that the lawn in the front and side yards take me a bit longer to mow and trim. But you get the idea, square foot gardening is not about bulk but is instead about planning and yield.

The nice thing about this approach to vegetable and herb gardening is that it isn’t extremely time consuming and you can do it yourself with some basic tools, a little bit of knowledge and, of course, permission from your HOA. The first step is choosing a location, one that is sunny at least 70% of the day, but ideally shaded or partially shaded during a portion of the blistering afternoons. Once you have chosen your location, it’s time to remove the sod from the plot. Since you are dealing with small areas, like 3x4, 4x4, or even 4x8 foot squares, sod removal can be done with a spade. I always have thinning or unhealthy areas somewhere in my lawn so the sod that I remove is usually put to use in patching somewhere in the lawn. Our soil is part sand and part clay, not necessarily in that order, so I added a lot of garden soil, manure and compost to my plots during the first 2-3 years of their lives. Honestly, don’t expect your first year of kitchen gardening on a newly prepped site to be the best, but it is worth the effort, especially if you approach it as a work in progress.

I have also discovered a great website to assist with my planning and charting of my gardens. Gardeners Supply Company provides a great planning guide that allows you to customize plans to fit your space. These images are from the website and represent the two gardens that I am growing this spring. For the smaller garden plot I have planned a “Cooks Favorite” garden with onions, peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, spinach and beans. The larger plot will feature a pre-planned high yield garden from the website.

We will supplement our kitchen garden produce with membership this summer in a local CSA (Community Sponsored Aggriculture) like this one from Gruber Farms. We are so fortunate that our local farmers offer this program, it is an excellent chance to support the local farming industry, and enrich your families diet with locally grown in season fruit and vegetables.


  1. Thanks for using our Kitchen Garden Planner. Here's to a bountiful harvest ahead. -David Grist, Gardener's Supply

  2. What could be more English...uh...American than a backyard garden.


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