If you're looking for a way to get more out of your gardening space, you may want to give the Square Foot Gardening method a try. For many gardeners who grow in raised beds, it is a preferred method because it allows you to effectively use every square inch of gardening space.
The Square Foot Gardening method was created by Mel Bartholomew, and outlined in his book "Square Foot Gardening" in 1981 (which was updated and re-released in 2006 as "All New Square Foot Gardening"). While you should definitely get your hands on a copy of the book, I will outline some of the basics of the method here, so you can decide if this is something you'd like to do in your own garden.
Bartholomew highly recommends building raised beds. These can easily be subdivided into square feet, making garden planning easy. Perhaps even more importantly, raised beds allow you to fill your garden with high-quality soil -- essential for any vegetable garden, but even more important for intensive methods like this one.
The easiest way to build a raised bed is to build it out of wood (cedar is a nice option. I've built all of mine from pine, and they've lasted nearly ten years here in Michigan. Just don't use pressure-treated wood.) However, you can also build them with bricks, cinder blocks, or other stones. It's really up to you; just pick something that is strong enough to stand up to the elements and that fits with the overall style you'd like in your garden.
NEVER Step on the Soil!
So, you've got your raised bed, and you've filled it with plenty of good soil and compost, maybe some composted manure. Bartholomew is adamant that you should NEVER step on your soil. If you've built a raised bed, and it's no more than four feet across, you really won't have any reason to. I agree with him on this. Stepping on your garden soil compacts it, destroying the nice, fluffy texture you've worked so hard to build. If you've built a large raised bed, one that you can't reach all the way in to, consider laying a board over the top of the garden bed, and walk on that.
Divide Into One Foot Squares
You could, of course, just measure out squares and start planting (and I've done that, as well) but Bartholomew recommends marking out the square feet, using twine or thin pieces of wood, so that you keep your grid nice and even. You could also outline each square with pebbles, or sticks, or whatever else you can come up with. The idea is to keep your squares separated, so that when it's time to sow a new crop in one square, you have a nice space marked out for it and won't have to guess where one square ends and another begins.
Plant, Ignoring Row Spacing
Now it's time to plant your plants or sow your seeds. And this is where, as a young gardener, I fell in love with Square Foot Gardening. Bartholomew says we should totally ignore row spacing on seed packets. Just look at the recommended space between plants, and plant in each square according to that spacing. This saves SO much room, and you can fit a lot more into a bed than you may have thought.
And, because you've planted into this nice, organized grid, when one type of plant is finished producing, it's very easy to just pull it out, amend the soil in that square (add a bit of compost), and plant the next crop. This helps ensure that your garden stays productive all season long.
It's a pretty straightforward method, and one that works well. I use it in several of my own raised beds. It also makes for an attractive, organized vegetable garden, and, if you're into lasagna gardening, it works very well with that method as well.. So if you're looking for a better way to organize your veggie garden, this may be just the thing!