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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

11 Tips to Consider When Designing a Raised Bed Vegetable Garden

Raised bed garden with tomatoes
During my quest to make my raised bed vegetable garden layout more efficient and easier to maneuver through I've learned some helpful raised bed garden tips that may help gardeners to avoid the same mistakes I made when planning and setting up my first raised bed vegetable garden layout. If you keep these ideas in mind while you are designing your raised beds you can make your gardening experience as good as it can be. Here are 11 tips for planning your best raised bed vegetable garden!


11 Tips and Ideas to Consider when Designing a Raised Bed Vegetable Garden


  1. Set up the raised bed garden the right way in the beginning!

  2. Plan your raised garden bed exactly how you want it because it can be difficult to move later. Trust me, I know! Make it adaptable so that you can add more raised beds as you need them. There is never enough space in the garden and you will eventually want a larger garden. Make sure the raised bed garden is expandable as you may want to add more raised beds later.


  3. Make each vegetable bed a separate box garden.

    Originally I connected a few beds together and discovered that it was a pain to move around. When I attached the beds together I found that I either had to climb across them or make a long trek around the beds to get to the other side. Smaller unattached beds will allow for greater mobility. A 4'x8' is probably as large as you need and a 4'x4' box garden works very well. Follow the next tip and you will be on the right track! Square or rectangular beds are a simple and efficient use of space.
  4. Leave a space of at least 2 feet between beds for easy access.

    Larger spaces might be better for wheelbarrow access or (if needed) handicap access. Your vegetable garden's raised bed arrangement should make things convenient for planting, harvesting, and cleanup. You want a garden that is comfortable to move around which makes your time in the garden much more pleasant! 
  5. Consider the best materials for building your raised bed.

    Designing a Raised bed vegetable garden
    Over time the initial costs of the materials will even out. Stone will last as long as you could hope for but it is initially more expensive. Cedar will last much longer than other types of wood you will pay more for it. Using cedar might help your beds last 3-6 years as opposed to 1-2 for pine. I'll be replacing the pine wood I used next year. The one advantage to pine is it is cheap. Using a food safe wood sealer on the wood can help your beds last longer. How you build your raised garden beds depends on two things time and money. If you can afford it and can move stone works great because it lasts with wood you will eventually replace the raised bed. Consider alternative materials like metal for your raised beds.  Here's one raised bed I put together this year: sheet metal raised beds.
  6. Level the soil underneath the raised beds.

    A slight slope isn't a big deal but you definitely don't want your soil to flow out of the raised beds. You can also adjust for the slope with the construction of your raised beds. Just make the low end of the raised bed higher.  Don't let a sloped property discourage you from making a raised bed garden.  Raised beds can in fact be a solution to problem areas!
  7. How to execute and install an irrigation system.

    Drip lines are relatively cheap to install but soaker hoses work well too (Links to Amazon). Whichever route you take place the water line underneath your mulch, this will keep it from evaporating your money...oops, I mean water! Using a sprinkler will send water into the air which will evaporate and allow water to rest on the leaves of plants which can contribute to fungal diseases.
  8. Sunlight!

    Position the garden to maximize the amount of light it will receive. Most vegetables like full sun and will thrive in open areas with plenty of exposure. Find a location that gets a minimum of 8 hours of light, but for most vegetables the more light the better.  For those vegetables and plants that may prefer less sun consider interplanting taller vegetables as shade cover or use a trellis with a vine vegetable like cucumbers to cover the more sun sensitive plants.
    Summer squash blossom grown in raised beds

  9. Plan what kinds of plants and vegetables you want to grow ahead of time.

    This will help to determine how much space you need. Consider making a layout of each vegetable bed to help plan it out. Graph paper works well for a quick and easy sketch garden plan. Consult the back of the seed packets for space recommendations.  Proper spacing of your plants can reduce fungal diseases and make it easier for harvesting your vegetables.
  10. Consider companion planting your plants to maximize space.

    Many plants have repellent properties to ward of pests and others help enrich the soil with nitrogen fixing properties like members of the legume family. Herbs make good companion plants as do many flowers. Some plants may be used as a trap crops to catch pesky bugs like aphids then maybe either removed from the garden or treated with insecticidal soap. Flowering plants attract pollinators which are always helpful! Companion planing isn't going to protect your plants 100% but it will significantly reduce your crop losses due to insects.  I think it's an essential part of any garden plan!
  11. Arrange the raised vegetable beds to make them suitable for crop rotation.

    Plants need different nutrients in different amounts and a heavy feeder in one year needs to be replaced by one that nourishes the soil. Crop rotation will help improve the sustainability of your garden. Make sure that you plan ahead for a good crop rotation and never plant the same bed with the same vegetables the following year.
  12. Compost!

    Putting your compost bin near your garden will make things much more convenient. Your vegetable garden will produce waste material which needs to be dealt with and composting is the best way to do it! Using soil high in organic matter (like compost) helps your raised bed provide all the nutrients your plants need. Organic content allows the roots to gather available resources like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium much more easily. Plus it holds water well which reduces your irrigation needs. If compost isn't convenient consider other organic matter that will break down fast like grass clippings, leaves, or straw as amendments. If it's convenient animal compost is great to use in the garden too, just make sure that it is completely broken down. Never use chicken manure directly on the garden as it will burn the plants.  Compost bins are easy to put together with some old leftover pallets, wire mesh and posts, fencing materials or can even just be a pile in the corner of the garden.  Turn your compost periodically and continue to add new green material to keep the bin composting.
    Picture of compost bins made from fence panels

  13. Whether you have been gardening for a while or are just now starting your first vegetable garden I hope you can find these tips useful! If you have questions please leave a comment below or ask on the Growing The Home Garden Facebook page!


    For More Raised Bed Vegetable Garden Tips 

22 comments :

  1. Good tips Dave especially the one about the materials used. It always seems that quality takes more effort - and usually costs more.

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  2. Some kind of fence around it, if only for aesthetics. Also the orientation of the beds. I like mine east/west. I really liked the style of your beds last year even if they didn't work out. .

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  3. I used cedar boards on my raised beds and have gotten at least 5 or 6 years out of them, but they are starting to rot. I'm thinking about digging deep into my pocketbook and getting some of that "engineered lumber" or whatever it is called, that they use for decks.

    Carol, May Dreams Gardens

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  4. Dave,
    All great thoughts to keep in mind. Think I will clip this list to use in future gardens....it all makes sense right now.. but oh how the memory fades.
    Janet

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  5. I'm sure many would find these tips helpful and for me too, when I have a place have raised beds on ground!

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  6. Good points Dave and when I plan my vegetable garden ---I am working on Mr I to take charge of them--I will heed your advice! I do think that the connected beds looked attractive, but I see how they would make it difficult to get at the plants.

    gail

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  7. Sound advice Dave. This is a well timed post since I am getting ready to build my raised veggies in the next week. Thanks for the great tips!

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  8. Excelent tips, Dave (which I've cut and pasted into a text file for future reference). I'll look forward to your photos in growing season.

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  9. The engineered lumber an above commenter is talking about is called trex, though if you search on craigslist you can often find free bricks. I'm thinking of trying that route out next.

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  10. Good post Dave. I tried raised beds once but the roots from neighbors pine trees eventually won out. They also have wild honey suckle that is invading my garden/yard. So that is the reason I garden in large nursery tree containers. Also I have a couple half whiskey barrels. Not to mention the fact I can't get down on the ground so I have to have it up off the ground.

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  11. Hi Dave,
    I read your blog last year when I was first considering building my raised beds. It is a learning process isn't it? I used cedar and I'm happy with them. I definitely recommend two feet (at least)in between. It is really important to me to get around in my garden with ease. Plants always grow over the edges.

    I recommend planting a perennial hedge near your garden especially if it is out in the open. It will help with attracting the beneficial bugs and placed correctly can also help with wind.
    I am doing more companion planting this year than last year. It is an age old method that works with nature.

    I have an automated irrigation system. I made the mistake of planting my pole beans too close to one of the rotating sprinkler heads last fall. They got pummeled each time the irrigation ran. This season I've planted lower growing veggies near that sprinkler.
    Meems @ Hoe and Shovel

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  12. My brother built a new home and he and his wife went the raised veggie garden route. He used 2x12's and lined the inside of the boxes with the black plastic dimpled material that is used to wick water away from foundation walls. I figure that since the outside of the boards will dry out quickly and the insides have these liners that keeps wet soil off them and allows all other moisture to wick away, that his beds should last a dozen years or so.

    Mike

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  13. We are building similar raised beds in our new garden this year and the one thing we are having to consider is keeping gophers out so we are lining them with chicken wire that we will also run up the sides and staple to the boards. We are thinking we will dig down about 6 inches to give us deeper root protection from gophers.

    These are all great tips!

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  14. Has anyone here come across information or somebody that has built a rooftop raised bed vegetable garden? Our property is urban and space constrained, but we have a flat roofed detached garage that is about 300sf. We'd like to know about how best to build the garden beds, protect the structure, and any other advice.

    DC

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  15. DC,

    That is a very interesting question. I've never done it but have seen several articles on the subject of rooftop gardens. One article discussed a rooftop garden that was nearly a farm - I think in New Jersey. I can only give you a few tips but it can be done.

    First make sure your rooftop is capable of holding the increased weight of the soil/beds/plants and foot traffic. A qualified engineer/home inspector might be able to evaluate your roof and tell you how to shore it up enough to suit those needs.
    Keep water access in mind.
    Make sure your roof is very waterproof. You may want to install a drainage system to take excess water away from the roof.

    There are probably other things to think about but I would say the most important is to make sure your roof can hold the weight. You could start small with your garden and use Earthboxes or pots for your vegetables.

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  16. I'm building my first raised bed today using standard pine boards. I couldn't afford cedar, and I definitely didn't want treated lumber.

    What I'm trying is "sealing" the boards with olive oil to hopefully get a little extra life out of them. I'm just using a cheap extra virgin olive oil and nothing else.

    Great site!

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  17. Hi, I am doing a presentation on raised garden beds and composting. I have copied your article, noted you as the author and included your website for reference. I found the information to be the most complete reference for the beginning gardener. I hope this is okay with you. Thank you for the site. It is most informative.

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  18. I am just in the process of creating a raised bed. What is the best depth of soil for this?

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    Replies
    1. I think the answer is that it depends. If the soil underneath isn't too bad to begin with then you can get away with a shallow raised bed. If you're having to garden on top of near rock the taller the raised bed should be. The taller the raised bed is the easier it is to reach your vegetables which helps for handicapped or older gardeners who may like the easier reach. In general I would start with a raised bed at least 6-12 inches tall if you have reasonable soil underneath or go about 18-24 inches tall if you have mostly rock or very, very poor soil.

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  19. I can't wait to move to the suburbs and start my own garden!

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  20. I use concrete blocks. Easy to move and last forever. you can also plant inside the holes of the blocks also. We have a garden at the bottom of our hill. Pain in the butt to drive down and work in the garden.
    We are going to put more raided beds in the back yard and plant everything except corn. Getting too old to go up and down the hill. This will make it easy to maintain the beds.

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  21. I hate the work associated with making raised beds in the first place. However, it does make things easier in the long run. For me, using my favorite garden tools- a good fork and machete work well in getting a design to look as I desire it to. I use marigold to line the edges sometimes.

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Dave

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