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Make a Square Foot Garden With Your Kids

Gardening with kids is easy, right? You're outside, they have dirt to play with, and everyone is excited about helping. But flash forward 20 minutes: Dirt is in their hair, teeth and eyes; everyone has ditched you; and the dog is eating the Brussels-sprout plants. You need a plan. Square Foot Gardening to the rescue!

Square Foot Gardening was developed by Mel Bartholomew in 1981. Devotees around the world love it for its simplicity and family-friendly approach. It's more low-maintenance than your average garden because it requires less watering and no weeding. The squares make it easy to plan and share ownership. Did I mention no weeding? Let's get started.

If you want to chicken out, most hardware and home improvement stores, such as Lowe's and Home Depot, carry ready-made raised-bed kits. And all products needed are sold at squarefootgardening.com. But if you're up to the task, find a sunny spot, and then follow Mr. Bartholomew's three simple steps:

Step 1: Build a Box
When choosing your box size, remember that 4 feet by 4 feet is standard. But if you have young kids participating, you'll want to make it 3 feet by 3 feet for shorter arms to reach across.

Materials needed:
4 pieces of 6- to 8-inch-wide non-treated lumber; you can have it cut to whatever length you choose
Power drill
12 3-inch wood screws
Roll of weed barrier
Staple gun

Steps:

  1. Assemble the box by arranging the lumber in a square and fastening with three screws at each corner
  2. Stretch weed barrier over the box and staple it to the lumber to hold it in place
  3. Flip the box over so the barrier is on the bottom

Step 2: Fill the Box
You can buy premixed Square Foot Gardening Soil at stores like Lowe's or Home Depot. If you want to mix your own, you will need 8 cubic feet (for a 4-feet-by-4-feet bed) of 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 vermiculite and1/3 compost mix.

Steps:

  1. Mix well if not premixed
  2. Fill box

Step 3: Make a Grid and Start Planting
On a 4x4-foot frame, the grid divides into 16 easy-to-manage 1-square-foot spaces for up to 16 different crops. The grid can be cut long enough to fit across the top of the box or cut shorter to rest on the soil inside the box. Leave the grid in place all season.

Materials:
Grids can be made from nearly any material: wood, plastic strips, tomato twine, etc.
Power drill or screwdriver
Rivets or screws

Steps:

  1. Fashion a permanent grid that divides the box into 1-foot-by-1-foot squares
  2. Use screws or rivets to attach grid members where they cross and to the box
  3. Plant!

Making it Fun for Kids

  • Taste test: Before you choose which vegetables and herbs to plant, take a trip to the grocery store and bring some of the front-runners home for a taste-testing party. Everyone gets to pick a favorite.
  • Nature tech: Older kids will love this online resource that helps you plan your garden virtually.
  • Measurement lesson: For younger children who may not grasp the concept of measurements, read How Big is a Foot by Rolf Myller or Inch by Inch by Leo Lionni.
  • Garden duty: Keep a garden job board of things that need to be done throughout the season, such as watering, harvesting, washing vegetables or finding recipes to make from your bounty.
  • Pint-size tools: Everything is more fun when it's your size. Check out this site or your local hardware or gardening store for tiny tools.

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