Drawback to square foot gardening – weeding

I’m not talking about the weeds in the lawn, I’m talking about that ground cover growing under my garlic stems.

If I were growing garlic in a traditional row-based garden, I would have the rows and plants far enough apart that they could be weeded with a long handled hoe.  Raised bed gardening, and especially square foot gardening, places the plants in such a tight arrangement that they usually have to be weeded by hand.

I’ll probably spend 30-45 minutes on my knees getting these weeds away from my 96 garlic plants. That’s the price I pay for having a compact garden plan.


13 responses to this post.

  1. I found that to be the case in my garden as well. I used to broadcast carrot seeds and then have to weed them meticulously. Once I got them weeded and thinned, I would mulch them heavily and that pretty much took care of the weeds. It doesn’t look like you have a lot of mulch on this bed. Once you get these weeded I would recommend mulching all around the garlic.

    The good thing about the tightly compacted square foot method is that once plants have developed, they tend to crowd out the weeds.


    • I have to admit, I had this garlic bed mulched pretty deep, but it was with hay. I think that’s where all these seeds came from! I couldn’t find any straw last fall, so I’m paying for my mistake now.


  2. Hey Jimmy,

    Were you using Mel’s Mix (1/3 peat moss, 1/3 vermiculute, 1/3 blended compost) and did you lay down weed fabric? If so, there shouldn’t be any weeds in the garden – unless weed seeds blew in from somewhere else. Glad to see you’re SFGing though and we’d love to see any more pictures – I know Mel would especially. If interested, send them to askmelsfg@gmail.com

    Kevin from the Square Foot Gardening Foundation


    • “Nope” to all questions. I built this particular garden bed in the spring of 2009 and filled it with black dirt hauled in from the county nearby. I believe I used a weed fabric the first year, when I grew tomatoes in that bed. These garlic bulbs were planted in November and then covered with a thick layer of cheap hay, which is the source of my weed seeds.

      I didn’t ever claim to be SFG’ing the exact way the Mel advises. I would love to have you look through my posts for the last few years. Enjoy.


  3. Goats take care of the weeding… Unfortunately they will also take care of your gardens. We have a huge dear population that looks longingly over our fence at our gardens. It looks like you guys are doing okay with yours. Are you also raising any livestock?


    • Absolutely no livestock at the time, but for the last couple years I’ve been looking at designs of buildings that look like simple sheds from 3 sides, but actually house 4 chickens. It’s not even technically against any regulation to have chickens in my yard unless the neighbors complain, but as with children, adults are sometimes best managed with a policy of “Out of sight, out of mind.”


  4. If you have grass that you mow, it is wonderful “mulch” that replenishes the soil as it decomposes. We put down grass clippings and it works really well!


    • I am definitely going to do that over next year’s garlic when I plant it in the fall. I might try to mulch this garlic yet this year as well…I’ve already hand weeded it three times.


  5. Posted by Jenny on May 18, 2012 at 3:49 am

    Did you put weed fabric down at the bottom of the garden bed? Newspaper also works.


    • For reference, this bed is a few years old now, and has been used for other crops a few times.

      To answer your question, No, I didn’t. I don’t believe that putting a permanent weed barrier is a good idea in a raised bed, because MANY plants send down tap roots far longer than the depth of the bed. In the case of this bed, I prepared the ground down to a depth several inches into the subsoil, just in case the garlic feels like sending roots down that far.

      I did put down some compostable barrier when I first made that bed, but that was 3 years ago now and it has collected lots and lots of new weed seeds.

      Basically, any cardboard or newspaper that I used to kill the turf when I made these beds years ago has long since been eaten by worms or microbes.

      Does the offical, trademarked version of Square Foot Gardening talk about what to do when your raised bed is 3 or 4 years old? Would Mel have you replace your dirt with fresh Mel’s Mix every year? I honestly don’t know.


  6. Most plants do NOT need a depth over 6″. If you want to grow things like carrots, parsnip, etc., build a small box to add depth to that part of the bed. Did you divide you bed into 1 foot squares? The basic bed is 4’x4’x6″. Makes 16 1ft squares.
    Try http://boyslife.org/hobbies-projects/funstuff/7222/plant-a-compact-vegetable-garden/ OR squarfootgardening.com


    • I have read all about square foot gardening, and tried it in many different ways over the last 5 years or so. The difference between me and Mel is that I’m not an expert yet. 🙂


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