Raised Beds for Vegetables~ Best Size??

clare2008March 11, 2009

We built some raised beds last year for our new vegetable garden and had great success.

The vegetables just kept producing!!!

My question is that we found the size somewhat too wide at 6 ft.The length was fine at 12 ft. What are others experiences with various sizes of raised beds for vegetables?

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RuthieG__TX(z8 TX)

The problem with a six foot wide bed in my case is that I can't reach the middle. I choose not to step into my beds to keep the soil loose so for me the idea size is 4 feet wide. I read that it was easily managed so I went with the 4 feet and couldn't be happier. The one bed that I have that is wider, causes me issues so what I have learned to do is plant something down the center of the bed that I won't have to fuss a lot with. Like beans that I intend to let dry on the vine.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2009 at 10:42AM
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clare2008

Thanks for the tip!! I agree, I prefer not to compact the soil on our beds.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2009 at 10:53AM
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crystalgeorgia(GA/ 8)

Can you post pictures of the raised bed please? Is the bed store bought or from an onlone source or did you create it yourself?
Thanks

    Bookmark   March 11, 2009 at 11:28AM
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jonnys(9 Orlando Fl)

Usually 4ft is about the largest you want to go without stepping in it. Me being over 6ft, it still is a reach sometimes to the middle, but as long as you have ample room on the other side like a path or something, you should be fine. My raised bed is 4x8 and it works nicely for me.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2009 at 12:00PM
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farmersteve(N. AL Zone 7)

My beds are 5 feet wide and a bit over 24 feet long. As mentioned, 5 feet is on the edge of workability. I am 6" 1", so I can mange. When I was planning my beds, I knelt down on the floor to see how far I could comfortably reach. 36 inches did not seem too distressing, so I went a little short of that and doubled it (30 inches from each side = 5 foot wide beds). There are still times when I wish they were a little narrower, 4 or 4 and a half feet. As I get older and less flexible my attitude may change. However, there are also times when I wish they were wider (but that's just because I am greedy and want to fit in as many tomato plants as I can).

I think that most people would work well with 4 foot wide beds and the materials bill works out best that way since the boards that you buy (if you frame your beds with wood) are 8 feet long (2 end pieces when cut in half).

Steve

    Bookmark   March 11, 2009 at 12:11PM
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gardenlen(s/e qld aust)

yep the best is around 1 meter (3 to 4') wide and find up 6 meters long.

len

Here is a link that might be useful: lens garden page

    Bookmark   March 11, 2009 at 2:09PM
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justaguy2(5)

Mine are 3' wide and I still prefer reaching into the middle as little as possible. I must have some stubby little arms :)

While it requires more materials, a really neat thing some have done with their raised beds is make the tops into a bench that can be sat on. Makes it more comfortable to reach in while sitting instead of standing over or kneeling.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2009 at 2:12PM
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wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

My beds are unbordered and about 8 feet wide...love them. The ground is very loose.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2009 at 2:41PM
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clare2008

Wow.. Thanks again to all who have seeded my brain with some great points.
It does help to get others experiences and what works for each..
To CrystalGeorgia, We made the beds from thick plank cedar(white cedar I do believe; not the western cedar!!) and doubled up on the height. We supported the length (12 ft) and the height (18 in or is it 24? anyways...) with crowbars on the outside of the structure.. Big old nails at the corners. Doesn't seem like we'll need corner braces. It has been just a year thou..
Sorry no pictures yet, but I will work on that.
The soil is loose and triple mix (compost, manure, top soil). Hope this helps.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2009 at 7:26PM
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veggiecanner(Id 5/6)

my wide beds have no sides and are 3-4 foot wide.
What i usually recomend is if you are using sides that you have to buy material for is to divide your wood so there is no waste. 8 foot wood = 2 4 foot pieces. 10 foot = 3 3 1/3 foot. more cost effective that way.

A few of my beds are up agaist building so they are only 2 1/2 foot wide.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2009 at 12:38PM
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ribbit32004

I have 3 ft, 4 ft and 5 ft beds. 3 ft and 4 ft are PERFECT. It's the 5 footer I'm struggling with. That's the one with a trellis on the back and I'm finding I have to leave space blank if it's not two to three foot in from the sides because I can't reach it. It's a sad waste of space if you ask me. Hubby and I are relatively vertically challenged and certainly not the 6 ft others have metioned. So I'm going to find a neighbor or someone who can reach to hopefully put some marigolds or geraniums in there that I don't have to worry too much about and the space, hopefully, won't be a complete loss.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2009 at 4:23PM
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worldofyardcraft

When I researched the size for mine, I cut newspaper to the bed size of 5ft long x 3ft wide/4ft wide and tried "working" in it. The 4ft was doable but a reach, I went with the 3ft and it's perfect for me. BTW I'm 5'4"

Here is a link that might be useful: My gardening blog

    Bookmark   March 12, 2009 at 6:35PM
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belindach(9A)

I'm 5 foot and the 4 foot wide are fine for me. My beds are behind the garage and about 24 feet long. I have about 500 square feet of raised beds. Everything is inside a fence area to keep the dogs out. My DH ran an underground water line to the area for my soaker hoses. I also have 3 drum compost bins. It all started with one bed and a few tomatoes.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2009 at 7:46PM
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ninjabut(USDA z 8,CA)

My first raised bed, built without researching, was 8x8'.
Then I researched! What I ended up doing, so that I wouldn't walk through the garden compacting the soil, was made a small path with paving stones down the middle of the bed. This way only that small path was compacted. I fluff it every spring.
All other beds since have been 4x8'due to the size and shape of the yard I have to garden in.
Now the EXPANDED garden......We'll see! I have another 1/4 acre to fill (slowly!).

    Bookmark   March 12, 2009 at 8:58PM
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crispino(Boston - 6b)

Hi everyone,

First-time post - I have read many threads in several forums on GW and have learned scads of useful information. Thanks for all the ideas and info.

I have a related question to the original one about raised bed width.

I currently have four raised beds that are each about 3 feet wide, about 15 feet long, and 1 2x6 layer high. I plant one row of veggies down each bed. I've had it this way for several years and have had good success, but I'm always lookin' to get more out of it if I can, you know? I have pretty limited space in my garden.

So my question is, do you think it would yield good results if I were to instead make three beds that are 4 feet wide apiece and an additional layer in height, and then plant two rows of vegetables in each bed? My thinking is that with the additional layer, there will enough extra volume of soil to allow the plants to be productive even though they're closer together. The major benefit of this layout, of course, is that it would allow me to plant six rows of stuff instead of my current four rows.

So, this would be kind of utilizing some of the techniques of square foot gardening but I would still be able to keep a lot of my current layout. I do already have a lot of the stuff needed to get the plants to grow vertically. We are talking a majority of tomatoes and peppers here.

Obviously I wouldn't want to do this if everything is going to overcrowd everything else, but I am thinking that it just might work out okay. But maybe I am just fooling myself. Thus, I turn to all of you.

What do you think? Thoughts on this, anyone? Thanks for any input and/or suggestions.

- Chris

    Bookmark   March 13, 2009 at 3:57PM
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belindach(9A)

I get 2 rows of veg and sometimes 3 out of my 4foot wide beds.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2009 at 4:14PM
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kay____h(5a)

Welcome Chris!! Glad you could join us!

My 3 foot wide beds are planted thick with veggies. This year, the general plan for one 20 foot stretch of bed is a row of potatoes on the west side, butted up against a fence of pole beans running the length of the garden, about a foot in from the west side. East of the fence will be a mix of tomatoes, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and a variety of herbs and flowers. You can plant quite thick.

Just do keep in mind that you should feed the soil with organic material (compost, aged manure, etc) This will feed the plants and keep the soil loose and friable.

Kay

    Bookmark   March 13, 2009 at 9:06PM
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ninjabut(USDA z 8,CA)

It sounds like 1 1/2 ft per row is wasting a lot of space.
You say you have limited garden space. Maybe you should try looking into square foot gardening to utilize your space more efficiently.
You don't say what veges you grow in the rows you state. Some take a LOT of space and some take very little.
Happy gardening! NT

    Bookmark   March 13, 2009 at 9:15PM
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lantanascape(z6 Idaho)

Crispino, you might want to take a look at books like Square Foot Garden and Garden Companions (I think that's the name). The beauty of raised beds is that you can plant intensively and use up all of the space. For instance, you can grow carrots and lettuces in amongst your tomatoes, or trellis beans along the edge of your pepper bed. As for how many veggies per unit area, that depends on the kind of veg.

Most of my beds are 4x12' and I am quite happy with that size. However, I did pull one of my 4x12's out last fall, and am replacing it with planting hills for sprawling plants like melon and squash. I also have a 3'x12' bed that is up against the fence. I find that 3' is workable from one side, but a bit of a stretch to pick vines that are trellised up the fence. I am about 5'10" and might have gone with 2'6" for this bed if I were shorter.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2009 at 12:10AM
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greenbean08_gw(PNW)

Clare2008,
My beds I started last year are 4'x10'. I'm 5'5" and I don't think I'd build them any wider than that. I find I'm tempted to lean a hand in the bed sometimes even at 4'. DH complained about picking bush beans from the middle of the beds but I didn't have a problem picking. I think it's when planting that I try to lean in.

Chris,
I agree with the others that you can plant more in your beds. You can also check out the Square Foot Gardening forum here on GW. I don't have a "true" SFG (they let me hang out on the forum anyway :-) ) but I do plant in a similar way. You might also want to look up info on wide row gardening. High yield or intensive spacing are some other terms for similar methods.

Check out the link below to see pics of my garden last year. I planted a little too much in one of the beds (last year was my first season with raised beds) but overall I was very happy with it.

Here is a link that might be useful: Building the raised beds

    Bookmark   March 14, 2009 at 2:08AM
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clare2008

Wow.. This discussion re. our and others experiences with raised beds is!! and has been so helpful.
It is an amazing resource to have this site. Just wanted to say thanks to all.
Happy gardening. Our ground is still frozen and that hasn't stopped me from thinking "spring".

    Bookmark   March 15, 2009 at 12:08AM
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handh3842(6)

I found a great sale on 10 foot cedar 2x6s. Not knowing anything about the optimal size for raised beds, I decided to get some of the boards cut in half, to 5 feet long, at the store. My plan was to make one 5' x 20' bed or two 5' x 10' beds.

I thought it was a great thing that I had all my lumber pre-cut at the store and I didn't have to cut anything. Then, I read the posts here that say 4 feet is the widest width to use because you only have to reach 2 feet into the bed from either side.

For the last week, I've been wondering if I had to recut the lumber so my beds would be 4 feet wide insted of 5 feet wide. I also plan to put trellises on the north side of the beds, which would make them unaccessible on one side. Thus, even if I went to 4' wide bed, I would have trouble reaching 3 feet across the bed from the accessible side to get to the section that would be blocked by the trellis, unless I made the beds shorter. I've had to rethink the whole thing.

My new plan is to go to four 5' x 5' beds. I will have to cut a few more pieces, but I won't waste any lumber. If I don't have a trellis on one side and have access on all 4 sides, I can reach only 2 feet, [same as for the 4' deep beds] to get to every square foot of the bed except for one square foot in the center of the bed. A 5' x 5' bed has 25 square feet of planting space, with only 1 square foot in the center that is out of the 2 foot reaching range, if you have access on all 4 sides. That means 24 square feet are within the 2 foot reaching range.

Compare this to a 4' X 4' bed. It has 16 square feet of planting area. All of it is within the 2 foot reaching range. However, a 5' x 5' bed has 9 square feet more of planting area, with only 1 square foot that is out of the 2 foot reaching range. Thus, I will have 8 square feet more of easy to reach planting area. I'll just have bend over a little more to get to that square foot, or leave it empty. I won't waste any lumber.

Now, should I decide to put a trellis on the north side and make it inaccessible from the north side, only one additional square foot will be out of the 2 foot reaching range.

[Because you have 6' wide beds, you have a lot more unreachable planting area and should recalculate everything using your actual sizes and costs.]

Here is a diagram of what I've calculated:

2 = planting area within the 2 foot reaching range
X = optional planting area beyond the 2 foot reaching range
T = trellis

EXAMPLE #1:
A 5' X 10' planting bed WITHOUT a trellis that is accessible on 4 sides (50 square feet of planting area, with 44 square feet that is within the 2 foot reaching range):

2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2
2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2
2 2 X X X X X X 2 2
2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2
2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2

Three 10' long pieces of lumber needed.

EXAMPLE #2:
A 5' X 10' planting bed WITH a trellis that is accessible on 3 sides (50 square feet of planting area, with 36 plantable square feet that is either within the 2 foot reaching range or contains vegetables planted on a trellis.):

T T T T T T T T T T
2 2 X X X X X X 2 2
2 2 X X X X X X 2 2
2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2
2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2

Three 10' long pieces of lumber needed.

EXAMPLE #3:
A 4' X 10' planting bed WITHOUT a trellis that is accessible on 4 sides (40 square feet of planting area, with 40 square feet that is within the 2 foot reaching range):

2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2
2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2
2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2
2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2

Two 10' long pieces of lumber, plus one 8' long piece of lumber, needed.

EXAMPLE #4:
A 4' X 10' planting bed WITH a trellis that is accessible on 3 sides (40 square feet of planting area, with 34 plantable square feet that is either within the 2 foot reaching range or contains vegetables planted on a trellis.):

T T T T T T T T T T
2 2 X X X X X X 2 2
2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2
2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2

Two 10' long pieces of lumber, plus one 8' long piece of lumber, needed.

EXAMPLE #5:
5' by 5' planting bed WITHOUT a trellis that is accessible on 4 sides (25 square feet of planting area, with 24 square feet that is within the 2 foot reaching range):

2 2 2 2 2
2 2 2 2 2
2 2 X 2 2
2 2 2 2 2
2 2 2 2 2

If I have two of these 5' x 5' boxes instead of one 5' x 10' box, I will have 48 square feet of plantable area that is within the 2 foot reaching range.

Four 10' long pieces of lumber needed for 2 boxes.

EXAMPLE #6A:
4' by 4' planting bed WITHOUT a trellis that is accessible on 4 sides (16 square feet of planting area, with 16 square feet that is within the 2 foot reaching range):

2 2 2 2
2 2 2 2
2 2 2 2
2 2 2 2

If I have two of these 4' x 4' boxes instead of one 5' x 10' box, I have 32 square feet of plantable area that is within the 2 foot reaching range.

Four 8' long pieces of lumber needed for 2 boxes.

EXAMPLE #6B:

(Same diagram as 6A)

If I have three of these 4' x 4' boxes instead of one 5' x 10' box, I have 48 square feet of plantable area that is within the 2 foot reaching range.

Six 8' long pieces of lumber needed for 2 boxes.

EXAMPLE #7:
5' by 5' planting bed WITH a trellis, where the center is accessible on only 3 sides (25 square feet of planting area, with 23 plantable square feet that is either within the 2 foot reaching range or contains vegetables planted on a trellis.):

T T T T T
2 2 X 2 2
2 2 X 2 2
2 2 2 2 2
2 2 2 2 2

If I have two of these 5' x 5' boxes instead of one 5' x 10' box, I have 46 square feet of plantable area that is within the 2 foot reaching range.

Four 10' long pieces of lumber needed for 2 boxes.

EXAMPLE #8A:
4' by 4' planting bed WITH a trellis, where the center is accessible on only 3 sides (16 square feet of planting area, with 16 square feet that is within the 2 foot reaching range):

X X X X
2 2 2 2
2 2 2 2
2 2 2 2

If I have two of these 4' x 4' boxes instead of one 5' x 10' box, I have 32 square feet of plantable area that is within the 2 foot reaching range.

Four 8' long pieces of lumber needed for 2 boxes.

EXAMPLE #8B:

(Same diagram as 8A)

If I have three of these 4' x 4' boxes instead of one 5' x 10' box, I have 48 square feet of plantable area that is within the 2 foot reaching range.

Six 8' long pieces of lumber needed for 2 boxes.

SUMMARY:

Calculate cost of lumber (depth of lumber determined by gardener):

Cost of a 10 long piece of lumber = La (assume $15)
Cost of a 8Â long piece of lumber = Lb (assume $10)

EX.#1 (one 5Â x 10Â bed without trellis)
44 sq. ft. of easy to reach plantable area.
Cost = 3 La = $45
Cost/sq.ft. for lumber = $1.02

EX.#2 (one 5Â x 10Â bed with trellis)
36 sq. ft. of easy to reach plantable area.
Cost = 3 La = $45
Cost/sq.ft. for lumber = $1.25

EX.#3 (one 4Â x 10Â bed without trellis)
40 sq. ft. of easy to reach plantable area.
Cost = 2 La + 1 Lb = $30 + 10 = $40
Cost/sq.ft. for lumber = $1.00

EX.#4 (one 4Â x 10Â bed with trellis)
34 sq. ft. of easy to reach plantable area.
Cost = 2 La + 1 Lb = $30 + 10 = $40
Cost/sq.ft. for lumber = $1.18

EX.#5 (two 5Â x 5Â beds without trellis)
48 sq. ft. of easy to reach plantable area.
Cost = 4 La = $60
Cost/sq.ft. for lumber = $1.25

EX.#6A (two 4Â x 4Â beds without trellis)
32 sq. ft. of easy to reach plantable area.
Cost = 4 Lb = $40
Cost/sq.ft. for lumber = $1.25

EX.#6B (three 4Â x 4Â beds without trellis)
48 sq. ft. of easy to reach plantable area.
Cost = 6 Lb = $60
Cost/sq.ft. for lumber = $1.25

EX.#7 (two 5Â x 5Â beds with trellis)
46 sq. ft. of easy to reach plantable area.
Cost = 4 La = $60
Cost/sq.ft. for lumber = $1.30

EX.#8A (two 4Â x 4Â beds with trellis)
32 sq. ft. of easy to reach plantable area.
Cost = 4 Lb = $40
Cost/sq.ft. for lumber = $1.25

EX.#8B (three 4Â x 4Â beds with trellis)
48 sq. ft. of easy to reach plantable area.
Cost = 6 Lb = $60
Cost/sq.ft. for lumber = $1.25

Obviously, the lumber is cheaper if you go with one 10 foot long box instead of 2 smaller boxes. However, since Example 1 and 3 cost the same per square foot, you will see that you get 4 extra square feet of reachable area and 6 extra square feet of optional planting area with example 1. Examples 5 Â 8 cost about the same per square foot due to a coincidence in the hypothetical cost of the lumber in this example. You should decide what size to build based on the usable area in your yard and the actual cost of the lumber. In my case, I already bought the lumber, so itÂs all the same to me.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2009 at 3:31AM
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granite(z6 NC)

Handh a few well-placed small pavers here and there and you'll be able to reach the center of your bed without problem. Alternatively, heavily mulch that center 12" lane and use it as a little walkway and/or as an irrigation path for your hose. You could also place a few concrete blocks and a board in the center and use it for containers. Some plants are so large that they will use the full big box without problem (melons, squash, etc).

    Bookmark   March 15, 2009 at 1:07PM
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handh3842(6)

Granite, Also, if you have neighbors that are a bit sensitive to what your yard looks like, you could also put a brightly colored continuous blooming flower in there to dress it up. It would help to use the same plant and color in the center of all the boxes to give it a more coordinated and uniform appearance. A few strategically placed vining vegetables around the perimeter and your neigbhbors would think it was a formal garden.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2009 at 3:16PM
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crispino(Boston - 6b)

Wow, sounds like I've been way too conservative in my planting. I was going off of what it said (on average) on the backs of the seed packets for my tomatoes and peppers (which is the majority of what I plant). Thanks for your responses - you've definitely convinced me. This year I'm going to make three beds and go with two rows in each bed. Kay, we do have a compost tumbler in full swing (get it?) so I'll be able to put in some good organic material - thanks for the tip.

If I can remember to do it I'll post some pics of the transformation and the progress.

Thanks again all. I think this is a really useful discussion.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2009 at 12:13PM
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lantanascape(z6 Idaho)

Chris, with the raised beds, I think in terms of planting in "blocks" instead of in rows. I promise that this approach will totally revolutionize your garden! ;) Forget about the row spacing on the backs of the seed packets. Those are not geared to the intensive raised bed method, which is much more productive.

For instance, with my 12x4' beds, I think of them as 3, 4x4' blocks, or even 12 2x2' blocks, depending on what I'm growing. I then take advantage of the growth form of things like peppers and tomatoes by planting them staggered within the block to use all the space, instead of having neatly spaced "rows".

So a 4x4' block of peppers (with lettuce or carrots growing in between) might look like this:

X..X..X..X
..X..X..X
X..X..X..X
..X..X..X

The only thing I grow in a row this day is pole beans, since they are trellised.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2009 at 11:32AM
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glib(5.5)

I second the stepping stone fix. You make the beds you can make, and then if you want to step in you put some large pavers in there. I have a few beds accessible from only one side, and they are closer to 6 than 5 ft. One 8X16 paver here and one there, and you can get to the second row of tomatoes with some ease. But that will work only with large plants. For small, oft-harvested plants, such as lettuce and carrots, 3 is best and 4 the max. I also have a stepping stone in the middle of the narrow, two side beds, for when I want to cross without going around.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2009 at 10:25PM
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crispino(Boston - 6b)

Hi all,

I started rebuilding my beds this weekend and actually remembered to take a few pictures.


This is the original layout - four beds, each almost exactly 3 feet wide and about 15 feet long. The sides are one 2x6 high.


Katja is helping.


The boards have all been removed.

So, in place of the current setup there will be 3 beds that are four feet wide apiece, with another level of 2x6 in height, and more heavily planted than before. Pretty much everything I've read on this and other sites says the new layout will work well, so I'm optimistic.

I'll update with a few more pics when I get the new beds built and in place.

Hey lantanascape (and anyone else who wants to weigh in),
Thanks for your info. So, just to clarify on the planting plan you posted, all the X's in your plan would represent pepper plants? So you're saying that, on average, you'd be successful with 14 pepper plants in a given 4x4 plot of planting area? And you would have carrots or lettuce in between them? This is fascinating to me and I'm excited to give some of these techniques a try - I'm just wondering how, in your example, the sun is supposed to get to the shorter plants once the peppers start to grow up? Also, would you plant tomatoes with the same spacing or spread them out a little?

Thanks again for the info and these forums. They're great.

- Chris

    Bookmark   March 23, 2009 at 2:03PM
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irene_dsc(5)

Chris -

Dumb question, but how close together are your beds? From the picture, they look really, really close - can you actually walk in between them?

(Fwiw, my beds are 4'x12' or 3'x12', but I left fairly wide aisles in between.)

    Bookmark   March 23, 2009 at 4:20PM
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belindach(9A)

I keep about 3 feet between my beds buy my yard is larger. I don't see a problem with narrow walk ways assuming you can kneel and reach across.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2009 at 4:51PM
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zebraman

Hey Clare2008; I am 6'3" tall and I can easily reach into the center of a 5 ft wide bed.What ever you can easily reach the center of is the width for you. Length doesn't matter.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2009 at 7:52PM
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crispino(Boston - 6b)

Hi irene_dsc,

You can walk between the beds. The paths between them are about 16 inches across. It does look really close in the pictures, now that you mention it - I think part of that is because I had already started taking the first bed apart when I took the pictures and the wood is leaning toward the second bed, making the path look narrower than it actually is.

One of the nice things about redoing the beds this way is that with only three beds (and thus two paths) I can actually make the paths wider and not lose any space. While 16 inches is enough, a little extra elbow room never hurt.

- Chris

    Bookmark   March 23, 2009 at 9:37PM
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