please help me figure out the best raised bed layout for my yard

canokieApril 6, 2014

Hello everyone,

My goal is to have at least a couple hundred square feet of raised beds so I can grow as much of my own vegetables as possible and maybe even some berries.

My challenge is my back yard. It is about 50' wide and about 21' deep (from the back of the house to the back fence. From the 6'x12' patio it is only 15 feet to the back fence. I also have two dogs who use the back yard, and an abundance of wild rabbits that like to eat what I plant.

Currently I have a 12'x16' corner fenced off with about 100 square feet of raised beds enclosed. It works ok except the rabbits have started getting in. I just want more garden, preferably without taking up the whole back yard. I live alone with the two dogs and I don't use my back yard for much else.

I realize my tiny back yard is not idea for serious food production, however I would really appreciate any suggestions as to how to make the most of what I have.Here are some photos of my back yard to show its size and overall layout:

East fence facing west:

West fence facing east:

Patio facing north (back fence):

Patio facing east:

I have some different designs sketched out - my favorite is building 2' wide beds all along the perimeter of the yard, then adding a large bed in the center on each side. The other design involves building an enclosed keyhole type arrangement in each side of the yard, leaving the center area open as well as the fence/perimeter of the yard. Here are diagrams to show what I mean:

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I few more details on the plans that I posted above:

The raised beds along the fence would be completely separate from the fence, I'm not talking about heaping dirt against the fence or anything like that lol! Just building raised beds 2' wide and placing them against the fence so I can grow vertically as much as possible. I have a 50' roll of black vinyl coated chain link fencing (part of it is used to enclose the current garden) and I plan to repurpose it by hanging it along the back fence so I can trellis peas, beans, tomatoes, melons, whatever. I have been reading that growing vertically is one way to get more out of a small space.

Since I have two medium sized dogs and I have learned the hard way that regular garden fencing or poultry wire isn't really sturdy enough, I was planning to buy some hog panels, have them cut in half, and have those go along the front of the beds to keep everything out. Hog panels are 34" tall and the bars are close together at the bottom and gradually get further apart as they go up. Each half would weigh about 17 pounds, so I can lift a section off as needed to tend the garden, then put it back up when I'm done. The design I came up with has a 4' tall 4'x4' fence post between each bed, about 2' feet out from the existing fence posts. The end pieces of each raised bed will be screwed into it, and once the 1' tall beds are filled with dirt, it should be plenty sturdy enough to support these panels. I also intend to have a piece of 2"x4" going between each of these posts and the actual fence posts to lend greater stability to both, and that will be the only thing that connects the raised beds to the fence. I thought it would be best to keep them totally separate to allow the fence to be worked on or even replaced later if needed, without having to remove the beds.

The center beds would need a different setup for keeping out the dogs and rabbits. I had in mind some kind of enclosure that goes around the perimeter, with a gate at the opening. Most likely I would use the same hog panel idea so I could access the beds from the outside or the inside, or I could opt to leave part of it in place and use it for a trellis. I have thought about even enclosing the whole thing with heavy plastic to create a greenhouse for winter, and I could also use it to suspend shade cloth since the sun is a bit too much here in Oklahoma in the summer and it actually gets hot enough that the tomatoes stop setting fruit. The only thing I don't like about this idea is that it is right in the middle of the yard (actually, two of them, one on each side) though the dogs would have a blast running around them. Aesthetically, I think the perimeter beds along the fence would be more attractive and open, even with the smaller island beds added. I would probably put just low covers on those and use those beds for low growing crops since I would have plenty of space to trellis the taller crops along the fence.

Thank you for considering my ideas and if you have any feedback or suggestions for me, please let me know!

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 7:59PM
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I think the perimeter idea will look better also. The bed along the north fence will get pretty good sun (as long as the house doesn't shade it!) but the bed along the west fence will only get morning sun, and the bed along the east fence will only get evening sun. So those locations might not be best for things that need full sun. Just something to consider.

One idea I just now thought of is that instead of putting beds on the east and west, you could put very sturdy shelves up near the top of the fence. On these shelves you could put planters so that the plants in the planters were just about level with the top of the fence. Then they would get full sun. Watering might be an issue, especially in the middle of summer. Just a thought. ;-)


    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 2:47AM
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Personally, I don't think the 4x4 post corner is the best way to go for wood raised beds. I take metal straps and wrap them around the outside of the corner and screw them in. I don't use any post. The straps cost around 80 cents each at home depot. I use 8 of them on a 2x12 bed, two at each corner. The link is very similar to what I do, except she used even cheaper strap material.

I don't like the 4x4 because it takes up room inside the bed, and it isn't really that strong in the dimension that it is being stressed.

Here is a link that might be useful: raied beds similar to mine

    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 2:56AM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

Some General Ideas;

Layout of beds should take into account few things:

--- WIDTH: It should be such that you can plant, weed, water, harvest from two sides walking around the beds comfortably, without stepping into the bed. For this purpose 4 ft is the high limit. I make mine 3ft wide. Length can be anything.

----WALKWAYS: need enough width to walk and MAYBE enough width for a lawnmower/wheel barrow, it you have the real estate.

ORIENTATION: It is only important if the hours of direct sun is limited and you have cool summer weather. In that case IMO the length of beds is better to run East-West. This way you plant the tallest plants (like tomatoes) in the far north beds and the shorter ones (demanding lots of sun) on the south side.

Framing Materials: I use inexpensive cedar boards, which sell at reasonable prices up here, being the Evergreen state with lots of cedar. For the corners also I use 2x2 cedar. The sides are then fastened to them using 2" screws. Fir is also another option.

HEIGHT: If you prepare the base native soil, then about 10" above that should suffice. But if the native base soil is not that good and you don't want to amend it, then you will need about 18" deep bed filled with garden soil w/all the amendments( compost, manure ..)

BTW: I have been doing all that starting last season and I am adding a few more this year. I am getting close to 200 sq-ft.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 3:31AM
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Thank you both for the responses.

McKenzie, that was a good suggestion about the metal straps instead of the 4"x4" corner posts. I'll look into that.

My climate is pretty hot and dry in the summer so some shade is actually welcome. And yes the north fence gets a lot of sun, even in winter. I'm planning to adapt the beds with hog panels to create some type of cold frame so I can grow greens along the north fence in the cooler months. For the west fence, which gets the afternoon shade, I was thinking blueberries.... I still haven't given up on growing blueberries lol! My current garden is in the northwest corner so it gets some shade and in comparing notes with my neighbor, who has his garden on the opposite side of the yard, we notice that he grows the best melons and peppers and I have better luck with tomatoes, greens, etc. I was hoping by having beds all along the perimeter that it would give me options so I could try to plant different crop where they would do best (though I also want to rotate crops so that gets a bit more challenging!) I am originally from Canada where pretty much everything I learned about gardening had to go out the window and I had to learn to garden all over again in this new climate.

Seysonn, thank you for the good advice you provided also. Sounds like you have about the amount of gardening space I'm hoping to end up with, 200 square feet or so. (The perimeter beds would give me about 170 square feet, and adding the two 4'x8' beds would provide about another 100 square feet.) I would love to see a picture of your garden if you don't mind sharing.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 11:39PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

You are welcome, canokie.

I am still making few more beds.
I will take a few pictures tomorrow. We have a relatively small backyard. So I have narrow walkways just wide enough to walk ( No lawnmower etc.)

    Bookmark   April 8, 2014 at 12:23AM
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