Introduction: Urban Homestead Garden (squarefoot Gardening Abridged)

About: I run Shellberry, a Journal of Urban Homesteading and Company (
We're turning the concrete jungle backyard of our townhome into an experiment in sustainable urban homesteading. Here's how you can add some OCD (i.e. easy to maintain) gardening space using an adaption on Mel Bartholomew's Square Foot Gardening practices (build up, don't dig down and organize in sq. ft.).

Super easy, lots of fun.

  • NOTE!!!! Before anyone comments about pressure treated lumber...READ THE INSTRUCTABLE, we already advise against it in there and just because the wood LOOKS like treated lumber to you, doesn't mean it is. It's poplar. Poplar and a non-white balanced cheapo camera!!! Leave it alone or offer to buy me a better one. And YES, I totally abuse my kids. We've already dealt with THAT too in the if your comment isn't about the topic at hand or not a question, with all due respect....keep it to yourself. Thx.

Step 1: Planning and Materials

Bartholomew's plans call for 4'x4' boxes with space for walkways around the edges. This makes the perfect size to reach the garden from all sides. Not having the luxury for space, we cut this down to 2'x4' boxes since we wouldn't be able to access the back of the box. So adjust your materials accordingly if you go full size.

MATERIALS we needed for 2 2'x4' boxes:
- 3 pieces of 1"x6"x10' lumber*
- screws (we used 2" decking since we had some laying around)
- covering for the bottom (we used old window screen, but plastic, fabric, plywood would work too)
- industrial screws
- String
- compost, newspaper, potting soil of choice (See Bartholomew's site @ for his super mixture. This should probably vary depending on what you will be growing though.)
- Plants and/or seeds

- Saw (we used a jigsaw since we are masochistic...I mean live in a townhouse and don't have the room for a table saw)
- Industrial Stapler
- Electric Screw Driver

  • bonus for reclaimed lumber, but sadly since the building slump hit our area pretty hard and we haven't had any hurricanes (knock on wood) recently, recycled/reclaimed lumber is hard to come by. Use poplar if you can afford it, some plants dislike pine and pressure treated could release chemicals into the soil (or so I heard).

Step 2: Playing With Wood

You'll need to cut your wood. We had lots of innuendo in this project, it started here with the getting of the...well, you get it. We needed two 2' cuts and two 4' cuts per box. Plus we were making 1'x1' extenders to grow potatoes in.

The theory is, start the potato plant on the same level as all the other plants and as the sprouts break the dirt level, keep adding more dirt in the extended. So instead of only having 6" of growing room, an additional extender increases the space by 6" and with two additional, we'll have 18" of dirt for the potatoes to grow through.

So in total we had two 2'x4' garden boxes and 4 1'x1' extenders, for a total of the following cuts of wood:

Four 2' pieces
Four 4' pieces
16 1' pieces

Step 3: Screw It

Put your pieces together with..screws! 3 in the sides of the main boxes and two each in the sides of the extenders. Bartholomew suggests alternating which ends meet at each side so you have a consistent 2'x4' interior

Step 4: Staple Your Screening

Staple your screening (or plastic, materials or whatever you are using (use small nails if using plywood)) along the bottom edges of your main boxes to hold in the dirt.

Step 5: Fill 'er Up

With newspaper, compost, leaves, and other organics. See the great composting instructables for more.

Step 6: Gettin' Dirty

Dump in your potting soil (or special mix of your liking) and spread around.

Step 7: Measuring

Mark off 1' increments along the edges of the garden. You'll be using these to lay out your squarefeet pods.

Step 8: Create a Grid

Staple your string or nail your recycled wood (Bartholomew suggests recycled venetian blinds) along the marks you just made to make a grid.

Step 9: Planting and Maintaining

Now that you have 1' sections, you can get to planting.

Plant according to your plant's directions, for example if you are suppose to plant every 12" apart, place1 plant in each area, 6" apart = 4 plants/area, etc.

Comparing 4 plants in a 1' square area compared to 36" needed for row gardens plus the space for walking between the rows...this method seems to be a great idea for gardening, plus if you ad a plywood bottom and legs, you can bring the planters up to wheelchair height.
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