Building the raised beds inside the greenhouse.

Drip irrigation serves as the grids.

Another school program featuring Square Foot Gardening is Excelsior Academy, located in Erda, Utah. The name of the SFG group is “Greenthumbs.” According to its sponsor, Brad Hendershot, the Greenthumbs Program built a brand-new four-season greenhouse over the winter, complete with four 8 ft. x 4 ft. raised garden beds. In November, the students spent a month learning all about the SFG method, and then they planned out their beds. Now that the new greenhouse is finished and they’ve built the raised beds, they are thrilled to be growing vegetables, flowers, and herbs using the SFG method. Hendershot has constructed a program to teach the Greenthumbs students aspects of the SFG method in the form of distinct mini-lessons, including:

  • What is SFG and how is it different from traditional row gardening?
  • What is Mel’s MixTM, and how much will it cost to fill a 4 ft. x 4 ft. raised bed?
  • How do I determine plant spacing?
  • What is companion planting?
  • What is the difference between cold- and warm-season crops?
  • How can I extend my growing season?
  • What crops can be started indoors and later transplanted, and what crops should be sown directly?
  • What is a spring planting schedule and why is it important to create one?
  • How can I plant my bed to ensure a staggered harvest?
  • What is vertical gardening and which plants require a trellis?
  • How do I provide optimum care and nutrition for indeterminate tomatoes in a SFG bed?

These lessons take about 10 to 20 minutes to teach, and the students spend the rest of the 46-minute class period getting their hands dirty in various other ongoing agriculture/horticulture projects. After they have been taught the basics, each student must design his or her own 4 ft. x 4 ft. SFG bed using the principles they learned about in the mini-lessons.

Additionally, the students create a spring planting schedule to help them plan when and what to plant for their home gardens in the months to come. There is a written exam on the SFG method. Once students have demonstrated mastery with the basics of the SFG method, they take over the responsibility for the raised beds in the greenhouse. They will then make their own decisions about harvesting and replanting individual squares according to SFG best practices.

During the summer, the beds are outfitted with a drip irrigation system that doubles as the garden grid (which is the black ½-inch tubing in the photos). The drip system is set up on a timer so the beds will be watered daily. SFG instructor Hendershot comes into the school once a week during the summer to sucker the tomatoes and perform other basic maintenance.