Is a 5ft bed hard to work in?

prairiemoon2 z6 MAApril 4, 2014

I'm trying to squeeze every square foot of gardening space out of a small property. I've been working on a layout for new beds all week and driving myself crazy with indecision. I am used to working in 4ft wide beds.

I keep trying to fit four beds with paths in the layout and I realized yesterday that I would get more square footage if I reduced the number of beds to three with one less pathway, if I changed the width to 5ft. Or I could fit the four beds better to go with 3ft wide. I just hate to build a wooden raised bed for only a 3ft wide space. Seems a waste. I'm 5ft 6in tall, and 4 ft is comfortable. Not sure how comfortable 5ft would be. I don't want to have to get into a bed to work in it.

So anyone have any experience with 5ft wide raised beds?

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Natures_Nature(5 OH)

You sound just like myself my friend! I needed to squeeze every drop of production out of my land! If you could do four foot comfortable five foot is just another literal stretch away. I got a 5x75' bed, it works, it's not impossible to reach the center, it isn't just a reach away neither, you do have to bend a bit, of course. I'm about 5' 6", the five foot beds fit me just fine, even if it didn't, i would break my back stretching the extra foot to get the production, but that's just me. I would say if you are really anal about space efficiency, go with the five foot beds. It's only another foot difference than what your used to..

You could make small model of a five foot bed, just like a rectangle structure of wood(think raised bed), if you see you could reach across it comfortably, make it five foot, if not, make it four.

Now keep in mind, i don't have my beds encased in wood like a normal raised bed, just mounded soil. The higher(deeper) the raised bed, the harder it is to reach in the bed. If you have a foot tall raised bed, I could reach three feet across comfortably for example, if i had a two foot high raised bed, I could only reach about two foot. The wood impedes you from kneeling and bending over to get to the center of the bed.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 9:36AM
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aftermidnight Zone7b B.C. Canada

I think it comes down to what you can reach comfortably, I used to be 5ft 6in tall myself when I had raised beds, mine were all four ft wide. I've shrunk a bit over the years LOL. Can you reach in 2 1/2 ft comfortably, If so and it was me I'd go for the 5 footers. If you think it's going to be hard on your back it's not worth it, stick with the 4 footers, I'm with you on the 3 footers, wasted space. 4 footers seem to be the standard for most people, the most comfortable to work with, but when it comes down to it it's what YOU will be comfortable with.


    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 9:49AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

NNature, yes, my beds will be 12â high. I donâÂÂt have a back issue, thankfully, and IâÂÂm pretty conscious of how I move, but I am not a spring chicken any more and my DH helps in the garden and he does have a bad back. But he rarely plants the vegetable beds, and there is no weeding with mulched beds.

Annette, I think IâÂÂve been shrinking too. [g] ItâÂÂs tough to get old. Glad you are in agreement about the 3 footers, that makes me feel IâÂÂm not off track with that idea.

Now IâÂÂm wondering, if I might make one bed a five footer only. I have one long 20ft long bed that IâÂÂm planning on putting Asparagus and Tomatoes in and rotating with Beans and Peas. If I put the tomatoes in cages in the 5ft beds, reaching into the middle of a 5ft bed might be less of an issue. And with beans and peas, I plan on growing them on a wire over a wood frame, A Frame. So I could use 3ft of the bed for the beans and have 2 more feet in front to plant something else. Actually, that would make two 5 foot beds.

Any thoughts on that idea? Or a better crop to grow in a 5ft bed?

    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 10:11AM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

I think 5' would be uncomfortable for most to work the center effectively. It isn't just reach it is digging for planting, weeding, ability to examine for pests and disease, to supplemental feed, to harvest, etc.

Could it be done? Sure. Comfortably? No unless you ended up walking or kneeling in the bed sometimes.

So how wide are the paths you are leaving? Can they be reduced? And don't rule out a 3" bed either. You can grow a lot in a 2' bed too.

Plus raised beds don't have to be just long rectangles. Other shapes like alternating inverted triangles and L shaped beds can wok better in some layouts.


    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 10:14AM
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For me, yes. I am 5' 5" but have slightly shorter than normal arms, and 4' is my limit - 4.5' for any length of time makes my back hurt although I can reach it. Placing a board that you can sit or lean on across the top of the bed while you are working may increase your ability to reach the center of a 5' bed, however, since you have raised beds. I found that 4' was great for two tomato or pepper plants, and DH made an onion planter and various support structures that fit a 4' bed, so having a 5' bed would have been less efficient use of materials for us. Can you use a row of pots or in ground planting for that extra foot? Can you change path layouts to allow an extra bed such as having wheel-barrow width only on every other path so that all beds are accessible by wheelbarrow from one rather than both sides?

    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 10:17AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Dave, yes, youâÂÂre right, itâÂÂs not just about planting. Although I donâÂÂt weed, but I do have to examine the plants up close, harvest, etc. With the 4ft beds, I havenâÂÂt had to step or kneel in my beds at all which is one reason I like the raised beds.

My paths now are 2.5ft wide and IâÂÂve found that comfortable to work around the beds. I wouldnâÂÂt go down to 2ft. Yes, other shapesâ¦IâÂÂve been trying different shapes.

Babs, I thought of placing a board across the bed to get into the middle, but I think thatâÂÂs only going to work in the spring when the crops are low to the ground. ThatâÂÂs good to know that working the 5ft bed makes your back hurt. I wouldnâÂÂt want to deal with that on a regular basis.

Okay, well, that answers my question. I can fit the 4ft beds. It just means cutting into the lawn a little bit more than I wanted. But I guess I just have to bite the bullet. I could also go with three 3ft x 12ft beds instead of the 4ft x 12ft beds and that would bring me closer to the line of lawn that I didnâÂÂt want to go past.

IâÂÂm going to forget the 5ft bed idea. Wood is expensive. I donâÂÂt want to build the bed and then regret it. I had thought I might try the 5ft bed and then I could always cut it down to 4ft, but it would be a lot of work to save a few feet of lawn.

As always, very helpfulâ¦.thanks!

    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 11:02AM
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theforgottenone1013(MI zone 5b/6a)

I'm 5'11" and have mostly 3' wide beds. Partly because of the space I had to work with and partly because I try to use scrap pieces of wood to make the beds. 3' wide beds work just fine and I'm happy with them. I have a couple that are 4' wide but I wouldn't want any that are 5'.


    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 11:21AM
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centexan254 zone 8 Temple, Tx

My larger bed is 6 feet wide. I do not have a problem with the width at all. Though I am 6 foot 2 inches tall. I keep the plants that need the least attention in the center. Things like rosemary, and I am going with a couple of other low demand plants in the middle. That way I do not have to trample the garden to get to them.

I am sharing a pic of it note the rosemary in the center. Last year when I bought, and planted it in June it was in a 4 inch peat pot, and around 4 inches tall. It has grown since. I have not done anything to it with the exception of digging it out when I tilled. I trim off a few sprigs for cooking when the need arises. I am going to plant some other kind of low need herb in the center as well.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 3:27PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Thanks Rodney, I am leaning away from the 5ft beds, and still considering the 3ft beds. You make a good point, that if you can find wood that doesn't cost you anything or is inexpensive, you build the size you can. Last time around, I had leftover pine to use up and only had to buy a little more. I've been asking on Freecycle all winter for leftover wood, but nothing.

That's another way to do it centexan. I guess I am increasing the size of my vegetable garden to produce more of the vegetables that we use, so that would seem to waste the opportunity if I just used it for filler. I have herbs, but I grow them in my perennial beds. It is a very good idea though. And your bed doesn't really look that large. If you said it was a 5ft bed, I would have accepted that.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 5:07PM
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centexan254 zone 8 Temple, Tx

The rosemary in the middle serves the same purpose as the basil I am going to plant in the center does. It is a great for keeping bugs away. The bugs have not gone near it. The only pest problems I had last year were SVB that attacked my pumpkin vines. Though the pumpkins were in the lower corner. I had some Swiss chard planted in the middle as well. It was tasty. The last frost we had killed the remainder of it.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2014 at 6:38PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

You can also lay down concrete blocks (12"x12") as stepping stones.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2014 at 10:26PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Centexan doesn't everyone have trouble with SVB. You are making very good use of your bed and I agree with adding herbs to confuse the pests.

That would be another way, Seysonn. thanks.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 3:44AM
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Thyme2dig NH Zone 5

PM2'. I have 6' beds in the front. I put small flat stepping stones in opportune places to step one foot into the bed to reach in a little bit farther. I hadn't found that to be a problem with veggies getting trampled. Same as Seysonn mentioning the 12x12 blocks. They even make 6x12 if you want to take up less space. It was fairly rare that I needed to get my whole body into the bed, but rather if I could step in about a foot I could then reach in far enough with the 6' width.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 8:26AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Are those the beds that have the obelisks in them? They are about 6ft square then. I'm sure that would work in my beds too. I guess I'm just thinking that if I've increased the 4ft bed to a 5ft bed to gain more growing space, that taking up the extra foot with a stepping stone, sort of defeats the reason to increase it to the 5ft size. Plus, now that I decided to go with the hardware cloth, it comes in 4ft by 25ft rolls and would be much simpler to cover the bottom of a 4ft wide bed. So I came to a final layout this morning and I'm not going to worry about the lawn. DH is not concerned so, out with the old and in with the new. [g] I have some lawn in the front that needs a patch and I should be able to move some of that out there too. I also shortened the width of the plot to 19ft so when I walked it one last time this morning and measured it out, that piece of lawn that is going, doesn't look as big. It'll be fine. Now that I've made up my mind, I'm excited. I'll have more than double the square footage. Thanks thyme2!! Good suggestion!

Thanks everyone, love to hear how everyone else is setting up their vegetable garden.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 10:44AM
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Hi pmoon,
We have plenty of area for raised beds but chose to build 6' wide raised beds (5' bed after mounting the seat boards) because we felt the width is the most economical and useful - IMO we were right. We love the width! We do like the 5 1/2" seat board though that narrows the bed to the 5' bed but makes working in the bed more convenient and comfortable. We do not have the space problem though - so you may want to leave it off and just build your bed 5' wide. We have 5 raised beds that are 6' (5' net) x 16' and also plant a garden that is 50' x 50' and a raspberry garden that is 50' x 50' and a 16' x 28' Greenhouse and are still thinking of adding more raised beds!

This post was edited by Hudson...WY on Sun, Apr 6, 14 at 14:44

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 2:05PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Nice photos, Hudson. Sounds like you have a great garden there. Good size beds. On that 16ft length bed, it looks like you braced the frame in two places, is that right? We have a 20ft and a 16ft bed in our plan and I was thinking of putting in the 4"x4" blocks to stabilize it but why did you decide to add the brace? And doesn't it get in your way when you're working in the bed?

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 5:14PM
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nancyjane_gardener(Zone 8ish North of San Francisco in the "real" wine country)

I started with an 8x8 bed (before I started reading here) and quickly realized that wasn't right so I built a path halfway through. Perfect!
All future beds were 4x8 or 3x6, depending on what wood was available!
Now, a few years later and with back problems, I'm not quite as obsessed with if I step in the beds or not! LOL!
I'll drop a home made stepping stone here and there in order to reach things. That way, I'm still stepping in the garden, but not stomping down the perfect soil! ;) Nancy

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 9:36PM
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Hi Pmoon,
The 2x4 brace was temporary - I did use 1/2" threaded rod at the ground level (in the photo) in two places and removed the 2x4 - but it was probably over kill. The threaded rod installed 12" below the top of the raised bed does not get in the way of tilling or planting - but like I said - it was probably not necessary with the 4x4 posts buried about a foot into the ground. These were the first raised beds that we built and I wanted to make sure the sides stayed vertical. I use a couple of 12" x 30" ramps to drive my TroyBilt tiller right into the bed and till it every fall and spring for annual beds - works great !

    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 1:30AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Nancy, that sounds like a good compromise for you. Back problems, sorry to hear that. My DH is going to PT right now for the same. He is really good about body mechanics now after so many years of dealing with it, but sometimes he does everything right and can't figure out what set it off.

Hudson, Yes, we have the 4x4 posts for support along the long sides of the beds. Quite a setup you have there, must grow a lot of produce.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 2:37PM
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This is what I do in this case: Let's say I have a bed 5'X10''.
I plant my rows in parallel with 5' side. When I need to reach the middle of the bed, I take a 2''X2''X6' wood stud and lay it between rows on top of my 10' boards(like a bridge from one long side to anther). It is not enough to walk on it, but it is enough to put one foot there and get some support when leaning to the center of the bed. But it is only working with with short crop - like cabbages, carrots, beets and so on. With peppers and tomatoes I always make narrow beds to be able to reach the middle from pathway.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2014 at 12:00PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Thanks for sharing what works for you. That's another good idea. Lots of good ideas from everyone. Very resourceful.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2014 at 4:12PM
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