Rachel H Kay Blog

Year Five, Intercropping, Core Gardening & Square Foot Gardening: Part Two

Now that I’ve discussed crop rotation, and gone into more detail on companion planting and intercropping, I can now explain core gardening and square foot gardening. These are two new things I’m trying this year, but I think they will really help with those hot summer days and a more bountiful harvest.

Core Gardening

I learned about core gardening a bit late in the year last summer, so I decided to look into it a bit more, and incorporate it into this years garden beds. The purpose of core gardening is to keep moisture around the roots of plants, which means you don’t have to water them as often. This is really great for those hot summer months when plant watering can feel like a chore.

In order to integrate core gardening into your garden beds you dig a ditch in the middle of your garden bed, making it the entire length of the garden bed. You fill it with straw, grass clippings, or leaves, and then cover it with soil, compost, and whatever else you add to your garden beds to grow your plants. You can plant your plants in rows around the ditch, and you can also plant plants on top of it.

What happens is the straw, grass clippings, and leaves slowly break down, providing constant moisture to the plants roots. This is really helpful in dry, hot climates. I’m in zone 9, so our summers get really hot, up into the 100s. Especially during June and July. My hope with using core gardening is that I won’t have to water my plants during this time every other day. Maybe I’ll be able to go a week in between waterings, while my plants continue to thrive.

Since this is something new that I’m incorporating I’ll have to learn as I go, but I’m very excited to try this out. Because I have limited growing space, my garden beds are in different areas. Some in the backyard, and some in the front yard, and then along the side of the house. If I can limit how often I need to water my garden beds, that will really save me some time and energy.

I’ll post about how this goes as I begin to incorporate this into my garden beds. For now I have to wait to even get the soil set up for new plants. We’ve had a lot of rain lately, which has saturated the ground. Especially along two of my garden beds which are on the side of our house. That areas tends to flood a bit, so I put down stepping stones so I can get around my garden beds after a rain. The problem is, with all the rain, and cold weather, it isn’t drying up anytime soon, and some of those stepping stones are muddy, making them slippery. Plus, my normal time to get out there during my kids spring break is supposed to bring even more rain. That puts a damper on things. But as soon as we get a bit of a dry spell I will be out there getting the soil ready.

Square Foot Gardening

Square foot gardening is used to grow more plants in the space you have. Each section is divided into square sections that are 1 square foot, or 12 inches all around. The results are a simple and orderly gardening method that helps you have a more bountiful harvest. Then when you incorporate companion planting, and intercropping, and organize plants according to their growth height, you can get a lot in a small space.

My garden beds are all different sizes, they’ve been built to work with the space I have. The two garden beds I’m going to use square foot gardening with are the two beds I have on the side of my house. By using this method I can get more plants growing and be able to work around the issues I have with these beds. One of these two beds was one of the first raised beds we built when we were first learning to grow our own fruits and vegetables, so it’s a smaller bed, slightly under 4ft by 2ft. Because of its smaller size I’ve had trouble figuring out how to incorporate more plants into it, especially when one side of the bed has a hyssop plant that comes back each year, which I don’t want to get rid of. The other garden bed is around 6ft by 3ft. It was our attempt to build a larger bed with the hope of growing more plants. The problem is, the run off from the roof when we have a heavy rain now takes over a lot of the front of the garden bed, so I can’t plant fruits or vegetables there. This is where square foot gardening will come in handy. I can mark off the area that gets drenched with roof run off during rain, and still be able to get plenty of plants in the other areas.

The way I figured out my plans for each of these two garden beds is simple. Each section is 1 square foot, which is 144 square inches. 144 square inches is 12 inches. So, each square can be measured as 12 inches wide and 12 inches long.

How Many Plants For Each Section

Depending on the plant, and its plant spacing, will determine how many plants you can have growing in each 1 square foot section, or combined square foot sections. For example, tomatoes need lots of room to grow, so they need two square foot sections each. But leaf lettuce doesn’t need that much space, so you can get four plants in 1 square foot section. However, with head lettuce and cabbage you can only have one plant in each 1 square foot section.

In order to calculate how many plants you can plant in each square foot section you look at the plant spacing for that plant. For example, if you have a plant that only requires 3 inches of plant space, then you can get 16 plants in 1 square foot section. But if you have a plant that requires 24 inch plant spacing, then you need two 1 square foot sections for that one plant. While I was researching I found a lot of helpful sites, but this one in particular helps to narrow down plant spacing. If you’re still stuck, you can always Google “how many “plant name” plants per square foot”, and you should be able to find an answer.

Plans For 4ft by 2ft Garden Bed

This garden bed is slightly under 4ft long, it’s closer to 3ft 9 inches. My son put this garden bed together himself a few years ago, which is why it isn’t exactly 4ft long. But I work with what I have. My idea for this garden bed is to have two rows, that’s about as many as I can split this garden bed into. The back row will be divided into two large sections, about as close to two sections of 1 square foot as I can get, and will have my melon plants in each one, with petunias around them.

The front row will be divided into three sections. The two sections on the outside will be 1 square inch, but the middle section will probably only be about 9 inches across, since this garden bed is slightly under 4ft long. The first section has the hyssop plant, the middle section has a cabbage plant that I’m still harvesting leaves from, then the third section will have Thyme.

I have a Thyme plant in my other garden bed which I will transplant into this one. I’m also not sure how long the cabbage plant will continue to thrive. I’ve never gotten a cabbage head due to the heat we get here, but I am getting really large leaves that I can cut off and give to the gerbils and guinea pigs. It really grew during the cooler days we’ve been getting in February and now in March. Since I usually shade my garden beds in the afternoons in June and July it might continue to thrive a bit longer before I lose it.


I ran into a bit of an issue incorporating this idea. I have an orange bell pepper plant from last year that wintered over quite well. But the way it began growing it needed support from a bamboo stake. It’s already blooming, so I can’t transplant it. I don’t want to risk it. So I’ve changed my plans for this bed. The back row still has the two sections for the melon plants with the petunias around them, but I’ve moved the Thyme plant to a small section next to the melon plants so that I can leave my bell pepper in the third section in the front row. It’s going to be a tight fit, but we’ll see how it goes. At the moment my Thyme is not happy with the move, so I’m not sure if it will thrive or die off.

Plans For 6ft by 3ft Garden Bed

Since this garden bed is larger I have more to work with, despite the front section that gets drenched due to roof run off. I’m able to get three rows out of this garden bed, which definitely helps. Each of those rows will have  six, 1 square foot sections, but the back row will have three sections that are made up of two 1 square foot sections. In the back row there will be a tomato plant in each of these larger sections, and petunias and nasturtiums around them for pest control.

The middle row, which will remain divided into six sections that are 1 square foot each, will contain hyssop, borage, bell peppers, and for now my endive, which is thriving in the last section so I’m leaving that alone for now. It does keep trying to bolt, but I just cut those off and feed them to the guinea pigs. Once the endive is finished I may plant some summer lettuce there to replace it.

The front row, which will also be divided into six sections that are 1 square foot each, will contain my largest hyssop plant, it’s the one that grew back really quickly, and it’s already taking over that area. It seems to be shadowing the other 1 square foot section next to it, so I may not get anything else around there. The middle section will be the rain section, which will span two of the 1 square foot sections. I’ll put small garden stones, probably river rock, to help catch the rain that falls from the roof, and hopefully prevent it from damaging the other sections. I’d like to plant some milkweed here as well, provided I can find some for a reasonable price. Then in the final two sections I’ll plant celery. I may have to grow this from seed, because I haven’t found a celery plant in my area.

Building The Square Foot Frames

After a lot of research I decided on the simplest, and least expensive method for building the square foot frames for each of these two beds. I went to Home Depot and found a 6 pack of 6ft bamboo stakes for pretty cheap, and bought some garden wire, an inexpensive option was the Vigoro 100ft plastic twist that came with a cutter.

Once I had my supplies, all I had to do was measure my garden beds, cut the bamboo for the shorter areas, and secure it all together with the garden wire.

For my larger garden bed, since its 6ft long, I didn’t have to cut two bamboo stakes, I just needed to cut the ones that would divide the three larger sections in the back row, the 6 square foot sections in the middle row, and the two square foot sections on each side, with the one large section in the middle for the front row. See the example above, hopefully it will help you figure it out. I figured the easiest example to show you would be my larger garden bed. The green boxes indicate where I wrapped the garden wire around the bamboo stakes to secure them. What I like about this method, besides saving money, is that I can reuse these each year, rearrange, etc. since they are held together with garden wire instead of nailed together.

I'm trying my best to improve my garden, grow more fruits and vegetables, and ensure I have a good harvest from each plant. Some years have been more successful than others, but I learn as I go. This is what I'm trying out this year to see if my garden is more successful using these methods. I'll continue to make updates on what is working and what isn't. Usually the hardest part of this season is June and July, because those are the hottest months, and the heat and intensity from the sun does have an affect on whether my plants actually fruit. Try these methods out, see how they work for you, and feel free to comment and let me know if any of these methods or other methods worked for you.

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About Me

Hi there. I'm Rachel Kay, a Web Developer, Illustrator, & Designer, whose hobby is to be creative and artistic, while freelancing as a Web Developer building creative, modern websites.