3×3 bed: a how-to

I’ve never paid much attention to square foot gardening, despite Mel Bartholomew’s book being the bestselling garden book of all time.  Until now.  I recently bought his book, read it all, and decided to build our next set of raised, edible beds along the square foot model.

Although his basic idea is to build a 4×4 bed, he recommends 3×3 for children.  Pictured below is a 3×3 frame made from cedar wood.  I purchased pre-cut pieces that fit together with little dowels (Amish-made, a closeout item on the SFG website) in the interest of time and simplicity.  I’d like volunteers to build 6 more of these, so I wanted a model.  Needed: four 3 foot, 6 inch boards and something to attach them at the corner—nails, screws, corner fittings, etc.


Then I gathered “hardware cloth” (a wire mesh sold in rolls of 1/4 and 1/2 inch squares), wire cutters, gloves and a staple gun.


I cut a piece to cover the bottom of the frame and stapled it every inch or so along the perimeter.  Take that, gophers.

Then I made an “exclusion device.”  I bought four 3/4 inch pvc pipes.  I had the nice man at Home Depot cut them into thirds.  I then had two of the thirds cut again.  I bought 8 elbow pieces and four connectors.  Then I told my oldest boy there was a project in the garage that would draw upon his long history of lego-building.


I also bought white duct tape (weatherproof) and repurposed some infernal bird netting (pictured above, bottom right corner.)  I taped a panel of netting from one side over the top to the other side, and then cut pieces to size on the remaining sides.  This is to keep out birds, cats and gophers.  It is easy to lift or tip back for access.


Students filled it with store-bought organic compost.  (Apologies to Mel–he insists on a particular formula, but I think I met the spirit of the law by buying super high-quality, blended compost.  Doing all the mixing from scratch at school was just a bit much that week.)

The square foot method goes like this:  Think of plants as S, M, L and XL.  In each square you can put:

One XL plant, like broccoli or a cabbage

Four L plants, like swiss chard

Nine M plants, like beets


Sixteen S plants, lilke radishes or green onions.

You can mix it up with squares planted with different size plants , and then simply replant each square as it produces.  (Google square foot gardening images, and you’ll get an abundance of photos, charts, and diagrams.)

We planted spinach, so we put nine seeds in each square, in evenly-spaced rows of three.  Each row has a different variety so kids can see them growing side by side.


Our hope is to build more of these to put in the last remaining sunny strip in the garden. I feel hopeful about them because they are small, manageable and unintimidating, and the concept is easy to get one’s mind around–therefore, potentially increasing the number of classes growing edibles.

TRUTH:  I am neither experienced nor skilled in the “construction” side of gardening.  Doing a simple building/maintenance-type errand at Home Depot usually makes my hands go all clammy.  Because I hope to not only promote gardening at school but also in my community, I wanted to do the whole thing by myself to prove….if I can do it, so can you.  (It’s true!)  Reading Mel’s book will give you all the info you need.  (All New Square Foot Gardening, 2013.)

Do you have experience with square foot gardening?  Do tell!

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