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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Vegetable Garden Layout Using Raised Beds

Last year we designed, built, and grew our first vegetable garden in our new home. The garden was made of two large beds that were subdivided into 3 smaller conjoined beds in an "L" shape. Unfortunately the vegetable garden layout we designed was built more around aesthetics than around function. Since then I've realized something: When designing vegetable gardens think function first aesthetics second.

The Raised Beds

The raised beds we were gardening in were all made of non-pressure treated pine as it is a cheap material devoid of the dangerous chemicals that can be found in some pressure treated lumber. The pine will eventually disintegrate but that will take a couple years and I can replace it with better materials as I can afford (i.e. cedar or redwood).

What I Didn't Like About The Raised Bed Layout

I don't like two things about my initial vegetable garden design. First of all it impaired my ability to move around the garden easily because there isn't enough space between the raised beds. Secondly the garden design was an inefficient use of space. Putting the raised beds into an "L" shape left some spaces that could have been better utilized. When planning a vegetable garden design always try to maximize your space. We'll dress up the outside of the garden along the fence and it will look great, the veggies can just be themselves! After all, it's what's on the inside (of the garden) that counts.

Our Vegetable Garden Layout

raised bed vegetable garden layout
The vegetable garden layout I have planned now will require some initial work for me but should payoff by saving me from some work in the future. My new garden design will make a more effective use of space in the garden. All the beds will be rectangular and will be spaced 2 feet from each other. The 6'x10' beds on the southern side (top of the plan) will be used for corn and beans this year and may be turned into raised vegetable beds next year. For now I'll just turn the soil, add compost, and plant in the existing ground. Down the center of the garden will be a 4 foot path through the raised bed area that will allow me to bring a wheelbarrow through easily. We'll eventually put a fence around the garden with two gates but I'll save our fence ideas for later.

The Garden Paths

I know many people object to using gravel for garden paths but I can't think of a better way to cover the walking areas inside the vegetable garden. The main disadvantage of gravel in the garden is that it tends to end up where you don't really want it (like in the grass, in the beds, in your shoes, etc.). Re-mulching paths each year isn't the best of options and the higher initial cost of gravel will prorate itself over time. I definitely don't want to have to mow in the garden!

The Raised Bed Vegetable Garden Plan

The vegetable garden project can be broken down into smaller parts to make it easier on the budget.
  1. Move the current raised beds and add new wood to create ends for each of the long beds.
  2. Add new wood to the smaller 4'x4' raised beds (currently layout) to turn them into 3'x4' beds. Should be able to make 4 of these sized beds with 2 2"x10"s and the current wood.
  3. Move soil. This takes time and effort but most of the soil is already there.
  4. Install the fence. I can't wait for this project, but I may have to as it will cost some dough. Too bad its not the other kind of doe as I seem to have those to spare!
  5. Lay a weed barrier for the gravel paths between the raised beds.
  6. Put in the pea gravel for the paths.

Looks like I have some work to do!


Before you begin building your raised bed vegetable garden here are 11 Things to Think About when designing a raised bed vegetable garden!
Look here if you are curious about the benefits of gardening in raised beds!

27 comments :

  1. A perfect orientation for your veggie garden in my experience. East/west is great. I am not a fan of gravel but I think it would be good in a veggie garden with raised beds. It would help keep you from getting muddy for sure. Okay if I add you to my sidebar for a veggie post?

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  2. I have no experience with veggies but your design looks neat and how about using cement tiles on the walking areas? I like how your organize everything. I'm learning a lot from you.

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  3. What a massive veggie garden, and so well laid out. I don't have one for several reasons. 1. Clay soil and late springs 2. Away so much in summer and veggie gardens don't thrive on neglect. 3. Hubby keeps saying he wants one but doesn't like to help with weeding. 4. Lots of fog and lack of heat units in summer means things like tomatoes, peppers, corn don't do at all well here. 5. I live in an agricultural heartland with lots of farm markets and farmers' markets where I can source fresh food regularly.
    But that being said, I DO plan to put in some veggies this year, in a raised bed; things that do well in a cool damp climate. So I'll glean some wisdom from your posts.

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  4. That looks like a terrific layout.

    A word on the gravel--if you get angular limestone gravel (as opposed to so-called "pea gravel), it packs down nicely and has less tendency to scatter about.

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  5. The design looks wonderful, Dave.

    I long for a veggie garden, but we don't have a fence or raised beds in our budget. Our HOA restricts the fencing, too and it wouldn't be high enough to keep the deer out.

    Cameron

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  6. Looks like a good plan. I've found that in my garden 3' is about as wide as I like for beds because I can reach all the way across from one side - although it's a stretch.

    I do mow the paths in my garden, and for me it works great, but I've arranged it to make it possible to do so.

    Make sure that you really know you won't be moving things again before you add that gravel.

    What did you use to make the graphic?

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  7. I did not realize you were unhappy with your garden lay out last year. You had such growing success though. Glad you have come up with a new plan. It looks like a great idea. And on the gravel, make sure you place it where you want it to stay as it is not easy to remove once in place over time. I use the stepping stones as they can be moved around with design change...

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  8. Tina,

    The garden does get a good deal of sun throughout the day. It definitely has the east to west sun angles covered. The gravel would be the best thing and it should stay out of the raised beds. Besides even if it did enter the beds it might just help improve drainage!

    Chandramouli,

    Thanks! The tiles would be a good idea to add. I could do that in combination with the gravel.

    Susan,

    The angular limestone gravel sounds like a good idea. It would stick in place better than pea gravel.

    Cameron,

    You could do a small raised bed and put a wire cage around it. It wouldn't officially be a fence.

    David,

    3 feet across is a good width. That's one reason why my 4'x4' beds are going to be 3'x4' or 2'x4'. You can get to the center of 4' beds if you use both sides but you do have to walk around the whole thing.

    I don't plan on moving it again but the gravel will be the last step. I use a program called Corel Draw. I have an older version (8) that I play with and edit textures to try to simulate the grass and dirt areas. It works pretty good for what I need.

    Skeeter,

    I was very happy with the production of the garden just not the arrangement. Stepping stones for the whole area might get pricey but maybe a mulch/stepping stone combination might work. I may have to rethink that gravel.

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  9. Dave, It's exciting to hear your garden plans...and I know that you will have another successful vegetable garden. I haven't one for several of the reasons Jodi mentioned...absence, having to have a raised bed means higher cost and being too far from the hose in order to be in a sunny spot. Maybe someday in the meantime I love seeing everyone else create their gardens and grow their food.

    gail

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  10. try using pennyroyal for your pathways. Its pupposed to keep away ants (and thus aphids), it is a low growing groundcover and it smells lovely when you step on it

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  11. I stumbled onto your site last night...what a lovely surprise! I'm just N. of Nashville and am planning my first veggie garden for this summer. I have plenty of space, desire and commitment but I fall short in the experience dept. I plan to use a couple of raised beds this year but finances will require the majority of the garden to be planted directly in the ground. Because the area has existing groundcover(grass/weeds), I've been told I need to spray heavily with round-up before tilling. Please tell me there is a better way to get started! Thanks in advance for any advice.

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  12. Sasartore,

    I would hesitate before using something like Roundup. I just don't trust those chemical sprays. They are kind of like nuclear bombs, maybe that's an exaggeration but there are other ways. I would use the newspaper method and cover the ground with wet newspaper then add sterilized soil on top. Another way would be to get black plastic and cover the ground. The sun will heat the area underneath and should kill off most of the weeds. Then till the area up a bit and the dried weeds will decay and hopefully improve your soil. They may come back in time but if you you pull them while they are small they are easy to get, especially after a rain. A high concentration of vinegar can be used to kill off weeds. It's non-selective and may raise the acidity of the soil but not too much.

    The black plastic method is probably the easiest way to go but you could mix the newspaper and black plastic method for some added insurance! I hope that helps. Good luck with your new garden!

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  13. I have a very similar set up but the edges of each bed hold down weed cloth in the paths and I have bark over those. This works beautifully for me. I love your blog and I must say that yours has been an inspiration for my own. Thank you and keep up the good work.

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  14. I am new to Middle Tennessee. I live in the Spring Hill/Columbia area and want to try my hand at gardening. The biggest issue for us is the question of rodents and deer. What type of deterrents should we use? Fencing for the deer, etc? What is most effective. I would love to be successful with the garden and not be let down and not be so frustrated and not want to continue because it gets destroyed. Any advice is appreciated.

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  15. Hi Cinnasue,

    Welcome to Mid TN! Deer and rodents can be a problem, particularly rabbits. We have a small family of rabbits that lives around us as well as a groundhog and occasional forays by deer. The best deterrent of all is a fence of some kind. I've been using a 3' tall coated wire fencing that you can find at the Big Box stores. The deer could hop it in a heartbeat but so far haven't. It may be enough to deter them. The fence effectively keeps out the groundhog and all but the smallest of rabbits (the babies don't seem to do much damage anyway). A 50' roll costs about 40 dollars or so. In addition to the fence you could try some deer repellent products. I've been tempted to try them but never have so I can't vouch for the effectiveness. I have found that cayenne peppers chopped up and mixed with soapy water then applied with a spray seems effective. I guess the deer don't like spicy foods! Unfortunately that has to be reapplied after rain. Good luck with your garden! Also you may want to consider joining a local garden club to see what advice other gardeners may have.

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  16. Hi Dave! Thanks for the input on the garden. We have "city" water here and we were wondering if the chlorine levels in the water are ok for watering the garden. Have you had any problems with the water that is supplied? Thanks!

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  17. Hi Jennifer!

    I've used the city water here to irrigate the garden and haven't seen any problems. Ideally it would be best if the chlorine wasn't in the water but it didn't effect our garden at all. I do supplement the garden water with a plastic container that collects rainwater but that is a very minor contribution compared to the tap water. Ideally if you let the water sit for 24 hours the chlorine will fade but that's hard to do and maintain water pressure for drip irrigation or soaker hoses.

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  18. Beautiful vegetable garden layout, wouldn’t say it’s any less aesthetical than the last year’s! When designing a garden layout, it’s important to remember that you can make the beds as long as necessary, but shouldn’t make them too wide (3-4 feet is about right) so that you will be able to stand next to them when working. Great job!

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  19. Hi- I'm a beginner gardener. Would you mind posting what plants you will be putting in each bed so I can get an idea as to combinations that would work well together?
    Thanks!
    Ellen

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  20. Hi -
    I just ran across this article after finding your site about propagation.

    Nice garden layout!

    I'm on my 3rd year of doing veggies in raised beds, and I too was not sure about using pressure treated wood. The first year I went with untreated pine (1x) and it rotted by end of second season.
    Then, I discovered linseed oil (lowe's / Home depot, etc) !!
    I have replaced all my beds with 2x untreated pine, but I have put 2 coats of linseed oil on all sides first.
    Now, they bead water better than my deck with it's chemical water sealer!

    This is an all natural oil - from the flax plant (flax oil / seeds, etc), so it will not hard the garden plants.

    I'm on the first season with them, but I expect it to last at least 5 - 10 years before replacing the wood again.

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  21. Nathan,

    That sounds like a great suggestion! I'll have to look into it for our replacement beds when the ones we have give out. The cost of adding linseed oil is still probably less than cedar.

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  22. Came across your blog today -- great data. We recently moved to southern Indiana, to a home with an already established 40x40 garden. I think your lay-out is great. I understand your placement of the corn to the south, so as to not block the sun. My question pertains to placement of the other crops: do you put small veggies on the eastern and western sides, with taller ones in the middle, or do you go from small to larger east to west (or vice versa)??

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  23. Hey Dave,

    This is my first year doing a veg and herb garden on a big planter box. I made mine out of cedar planks and corner posts. I want to know what are Andes soil options b/c i don't like/trust the soil under my box. Are there any good organic options other than composting? I live in the Dallas/fort worth area in tx, so I have all of the major stores and some minor nurseries at my disposal. Thanks.

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  24. Hi Jared!

    I'm curious about why you don't trust the soil. Is it just poor soil or has there been some sort of containment present? In the case of poor soil the raised bed is a good way to go. You have several good options. If you have farmers nearby you may have an ample supply of cheap or even free manure. Chicken manure can be used right away and needs composted. Often this time of year farmers have quite a supply that has aged well over the winter. You can find mushroom compost bagged at all the major stores and it works really well. I like the lasagna method of filling beds with everything from leaves to grass clippings in layers. Many of the nurseries will sell you a grow mix or will carry bulk compost that can be used for your beds. I hope that gives you some options!

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  25. Dave, thanks for the reply. I don't trust the soil b/c it has had clovers, weeds, dandelion (all killed by ortho for southern lawns), and has a thick clay-like texture. It will be hard for anything to grow coming out of that. I would much rather plant on/in something new. My son and I built the box 2'x6'x2 so we'd have a lot of space, no bending over and a lot of dirt to play with. I'll check the manure and compost options. I also like how the lasagna method sounds. I think I'll do it. I have gotten coffee grounds to use as organic material in the soil, so I'll have a couple layers of that. I'll let ya know how it all turns out! Thanks again.

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  26. Another great thing about having a raised garden is that you can interplant. You can plant bush beans with corn for more efficient planting. You can plant peppers and tomatoes together. You can plant radishes and cabbage together..etc etc. There are alot of plants that are beneficial to each other. One year I layered several layers of newspaper and layed straw over top of it for my walking areas. By the end of the season I could add my newspaper into compost heap and take the straw and bed my animals for the winter!

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  27. A great way to keep deer away from your garden is to use human hair. Just stop by your local salon or barber shop and ask for it. My Grandmother used this technique and she had one of the most beautiful and prolific gardens. Just place a hand full of human hair in a plastic milk jug and attach to a wooden stake or whatever of your choosing around the perimeter of your garden.

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Dave

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