Whether you're starting a new garden or improving an existing one, using dedicated beds to grow your vegetables in can help you to maximise your productivity. A simple bed system will help you to plan, tend and harvest your crops with ease, yielding results to be proud of.
Read on to find out how to lay beds out within a garden, and the best ways of deciding what to grow where.
Benefits of Growing in Dedicated Beds
Growing vegetables in allocated beds has many advantages. Narrow beds ensure growing areas can be tended from surrounding paths, eliminating the need to step on beds and avoiding soil compaction. This promotes a healthier root zone for your plants, which in turn boosts productivity. Soil amendments such as manures can be applied exactly where they are needed – on the beds rather than over the entire plot.
As well as creating a pleasing order to your vegetable garden, a bed system will make protection of different crop families easier. For example, if you plant all your cabbage-family crops together it's easy to net them to prevent butterflies from laying their eggs on the leaves. Beds make the plot more manageable to plan and maintain.
Types of Vegetable Bed
Beds can be laid out at soil level or raised. Soil-level beds are very straightforward to mark out – just define the edges with string tied between pegs, then prepare the ground within. The soil level in beds will rise over time through the addition of organic matter and the compaction of surrounding paths.
Edging beds offers a more permanent solution as it clearly defines the beds, physically separating the growing area from the paths. Raising beds so the growing surface is above ground level will help to improve drainage and encourage the soil to warm up earlier in spring. If kids play in your garden, it makes the paths obvious and helps keep balls away from seedlings. However, you will need to consider the initial cost and effort involved in constructing these raised beds.
How to Plan Bed Size and Orientation
It should be possible to reach the centre of each bed without overstretching. Aim for a bed width of three to four feet (90-120cm), dependent on your reach. Having beds of equal width will allow you to customize row covers and cloches so that they can be moved from bed to bed as needed, and a narrow bed enables you to easily grow plants in blocks rather than rows, keeping weeds down and maximizing the number of plants you can grow in that space.
The length of your beds should take into account how far you are willing to walk to get around to the other side – for most people a maximum length of 10 feet, or 3m, is about right.
You can arrange beds in formal, parallel rows to help with your planning. Alternatively lay out beds in patterns or different shapes to create a more relaxed, potager-style effect.
Site beds in the sunniest part of the garden, away from frost pockets. Be aware of which direction the midday sun is in and consider how tall plants might shade others.
You can use our Garden Planner to help you plan the layout of your beds. Mark them out using the rectangle tool, or change to Garden Objects to select a particular style of raised bed. Beds can be resized, copied and moved as required until you’ve perfected your plan. Adding a compass to your plan will help you to lay out the beds to maximize sunlight.
Beds are separated by the access paths. These should be a minimum of two feet, or 60cm wide, to allow for comfortable access for weeding and harvesting. Leave paths to grass if they can be easily mowed. Alternatively, for a low-maintenance solution, spread a mulch of wood chips over cardboard, or pour a loose material such as gravel over weed-suppressing membrane. Or choose a permanent path surface, such as brick or pavers.
The Garden Planner includes a number of path types, which can be selected and dropped into place to give your plan a more realistic finish. Irregular shapes can be created by selecting a texture, and then adding solid shapes.
Positioning Vegetables in Beds
Careful positioning of what you grow will optimize your results. The Garden Planner will help you to plan the position of your various fruits and vegetables. Start by choosing a crop from the plant selection bar. Click once to pick it up, move the cursor to where you want it then click to place. Use the corner handles to extend the row or expand it out into a block. As you expand, the software automatically calculates how many plants can be grown within that area, helping you to avoid overcrowding your plants and achieve the highest yields.
1. Tender Plants
Tender plants such as tomatoes and peppers generally require the warmest, sunniest part of the plot, so position these in your plan first.
Next, consider sprawling plants such as squash – position these to the edge of beds so they don’t smother their neighbors.
Tall-growing climbers such as beans and peas will need to be located where they won’t shade lower-growing vegetables. Site them furthest away from the sun so they can’t cast a shadow. You may actually want to take advantage of potential shade to grow cool-season crops such as lettuce and spinach, especially in hot climates.
4. Quick-Access Crops
Plants that are regularly harvested and which don’t need to be included in crop rotation – for example herbs and salad leaves – should be positioned in beds closest to the kitchen.
5. Pollination and Companion Plants
Consider pollination requirements. Corn, for example, needs to be grown in blocks rather than rows, as these plants are wind pollinated. Incorporating plenty of companion plants such as calendula can help boost pollination of fruit or pod-bearing crops such as beans as well as attracting beneficial insects to your garden.
6. Thirsty Plants
Thirsty plants such as salad leaves may need regular watering. Group these plants together in a damper part of the garden or where irrigation can easily be supplied.
A well laid out bed system makes growing easier and better organised. Crucially, it will also give you bigger harvests!
You can share your own tips for growing in beds by leaving us a comment below.