Urban Homestead Garden (squarefoot Gardening Abridged)





Introduction: Urban Homestead Garden (squarefoot Gardening Abridged)

About: I run Shellberry, a Journal of Urban Homesteading and Company (shellberry.etsy.com).
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 comments...so 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 @ http://www.squarefootgardening.com 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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    135 Discussions

    just a little tip for anyone having problems with slugs and snails munching their crop - Put broken egg shells around the edges of your box with something like a hot glue gun. the mix of pointy edges and a porous material means that the slimy buggers dont like it one bit! as for caterpillers im out of ideas unless you cover the area in a fine mesh to keep out all flying critters!

    7 replies

    Ha... one time I had a massive amount of caterpillarsjust as I started my crops... not really sure why, but they died off.

    and you still ate the crop? u werent worried that maybe thats what was killing the caterpillars

    Sorry to say that even the branch which the tent caterpillars infest with their webbing MUST BE REMOVED, CUT OUT AND BURNED. They are a plague and must be dealt with mercilessly. We've only had to remove small parts of trees because we always look up for those things. Sometimes we see bird nests and that makes us happy!

    It was in my tree... from what I saw they were kind of... small... almost like they were cut in half... kind of looked like they were in a spider web or something... No I wasn't worried... if it was toxic then all of the other bugs would have died.

    If the caterpillars were skinny, about 1" long, dark grey or black & slightly striped, they were probably tent caterpillars. They eat tree leaves - don't know if they eat garden plants - and they should be eliminated. What we do around here is wait till dark, when they all return to their webby nest. Then we cut the branch off and burn the nest in the bonfire. If you leave them alone, the whole neighborhood could get webbed up in the coming years, and the trees will be eaten bare and occasionally die from it!

    Crush macadamia nut shells or hazelnut shells (also called filberts) last a long time and deter the tenderfooted slugs and other varmits. Some orchard managers are surrounding the bases of their trees with these nut shells once a year and enhancing the soil via slow composting. A two-for-one effect.

    I wouldn't use treated lumber because it might be treated with poisons like arsenic and mercury to keep termites at bay. You can use terracotta troughs instead.

    2 replies

    Lumber yards label the treated wood with the names of the chemicals. Mercury is not allowed by default in many countries. Not a big concern for a thinking person. Have a nice day!

     Since meeting your instructable, I look forward to April to begin planting. I have constructed 2 square foot style gardens since and wanted to update you. My friends call it a true organic garden because I used some discarded wood shelves from a small home project to make sections and I also used old wine boxes. My only question now is, do you have an idea for a self watering system?

    Again, thank you for the instructable!

    1 reply

    Self-watering in a small space can be done with filled water bottles turned upside down with the neck buried into the soil. Place caps with a tiny hole on them if you feel it's watering too fast. Place bottles between plants in the middle of the grid lines where the lines cross over. Watch for bottles that do not drain and check for soil blocking the drain opening.

    I haven't read the book, but this is really a great experiment. This kind of gardening could make a big difference for potentially millions of people. The challenge I see is nutrient cycle. There is little soil, so it will quickly be depleted by the vegetables growing in it. So the key is recycling to the maximum. That means all (I mean all) byproducts of growing and eating the vegetables must return to the soil. That includes humanure. So the humanure handbook might be a good complement because there are risks in doing this. I could see a container, such as a half barrel used to hold the compost on the balcony, at some distance from the planters. Steve Solomon also has a good organic fertilizer recipe, where you buy bone meal, fish meal, lime and something else I forgot in bulk, and mix it in the right percentage, and then side dress your plants (sprinkle the fertilizer at the sides of the plant). When the season is over, grow green manure in the same soil, to protect it, and capture nutrients such as nitrogen. Because it is small scale, the amount of nutrient going out (vegetables) and going in (manure, water, fertilizer...) must be very difficult to balance. Also, since you don't have must surface, use depth instead to allow your plants to grow generous roots. The way a plant grow is by capturing solar energy in the roots during the day (in the form of chemical compounds, mostly sugar), and draw that energy to grow at night. Plants can't capture sun energy and grow at the same time. So small roots mean small growth. I see soil depth as a crucial parameter of your garden. To simulate the roots to grow deep, water more generously, but less often, to let the water soak the subsoil, and force the roots to go get it downward once the topsoil has dried. Andre.

    6 replies

    Right, infection is a consideration. But a large quantity of heat or time will take care of that. Some people just make a big pile and when they dump it for composting and aging they wait a year from the time they dump it in to a pile. Plant a dated stake in the pile and it's easy to know when it's ready.

    We were worried about this too, I started composting directly on top of the soil, so we don't lose any of the nutrients (see the note on the first image). It is working great. I'm nervous about delving into humanure in such a small space...but I am interested.

    I've read that human urine is great for nitrogen and I threaten my plants I will pee on them if they misbehave :)... the idea of an S/M relationship with my plants is...delightfully intriguing and warrants a blog.

    I've also read that you can use the crystals from disposable diapers in the gardendisposable diapers in the garden as well... and I have my eye on an enviroletenvirolet..maybe for christmas! Nothing says "yay! birth of jesus!" like a toilet?

    It is also great to kill fungus on fruit trees. Commercial growers use a antifungal that contains urea. Urea is found in urine. Just be sure to cut it 1/4th urine to 3/4 water and don't do it during the heat of the day. If you follow this it won't hurt your plants foliage and it will provide an environment that fungus doesn't like. Plus any that drips off provides nitrogen to the soil.

    We use it to control leaf curl on our cherry and apple trees. But even more important are the fungal infected leaves at the base of the trees. Get rid of them, burn them! Ants climb through the fungus and carry it up to the treetop leaves when they are farming aphids. One thing that helps stop ants from wanting to climb the trees is to put a sticky ring around the trunk. Double sided carpet tape works ok and eventually falls off but looks like trash on the ground. Another option which we have not tried is to paint sticky stuff on the trunk. We avoided that method just in case the bark might become damaged in a full ring around the tree.

    That explains the reason our powdery mildew disappeared from our coffee tree as soon as we started potty training our daughter. We've been dumping her training potty on the tree (pee pee only). Now she runs around after she is done wanting to dump her potty on the plants, guests look horrified (the ones who don't know us very well). Lol.