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How many raised garden beds do you need?  June 2014

 

I am frequently asked by gardeners, “how many raised garden beds do you think I need?”  Great question! 

My immediate response is to say at least four so that a crop rotation can be established.  Although this is important, the key question really is “what kind of vegetables do you want to grow, how much do you need and how much space have you got?” 

If the answer to “what do you want to grow?” is “everything”, then you are going to need to plan for more than one garden bed and this is possible even if space is limited.

 

It is important that a veggie garden design is done so that space can be optimised and the number and size of the beds matched to your needs.

 

To minimise pests and diseases and ensure you maintain a healthy soil, ideally the same veggies should not be grown in the same bed season after season.

Plants in the same botanical family tend to suffer from the same pest and disease problems and rotating veggies from the same family helps to break the pest and disease life cycle.

 

Also, different crops have different nutrient requirements and some veggies like cabbage and tomatoes are heavy feeders and use up nitrogen and phosphorus rapidly.  Whereas beans, peas and other legumes add nitrogen to the soil but need lots of phosphorus.   There are eight main veggie botanical families and a plant rotation by family could involve up to eight beds but unless you have a very large garden this is beyond the scope of most back gardens.

 

A good option is a four bed veggie rotation by plant type which could look like this:

 

Bed 1

Bed 2

Bed 3

Bed 4

Year 1

Legumes

Root veggies

Fruiting veggies

Leafy greens

Year 2

Leafy greens

Legumes

Root veggies

Fruiting veggies

Year 3

Fruiting veggies

Leafy greens

Legumes

Root veggies

Year 4

Root veggies

Fruiting veggies

Leafy greens

Legumes

Legumes – beans and peas

Leafy greens– spinach, lettuce, chard, cabbage, brussels sprouts, broccoli, celery and pak choi

Fruiting veggies – tomatoes, capsicum, corn, cucumber, eggplant and pumpkin

Root veggies – potatoes, carrots, parsnips, onions, leeks and corn

 

 

 

Garden beds do not have to be all the same size and smaller beds can be created for veggies and herbs which you only need in small amounts.  Grown in pots and scattered around the veggie garden, herbs bring colour and fragrance to the area.

 

A Vale Green Life hardwood raised garden bed which is 2.1 m long and 1.3 m wide can easily be divided into 4 quadrants or 2 beds into 2 quadrants each, providing 4 areas for a 4 year rotation.

 

 

Alternatively, four small corrugated steel garden beds, 1.2 m long and 0.6 m wide would fit into an area 6.4 m long x 3.2 m wide, allowing for 1 m wide paths around and between the beds.  

 

There are some plants that are better off in individual beds either because they are perennial, such as chillies, or because they have bad habits.  Mint is one of those and will take over the garden bed but planted in a pot in a damp, partly shaded area, will grow for many years.  Cucumbers can be trained to grow on a trellis but pumpkins are probably best avoided unless you can dedicate a large garden bed exclusively for them

 

There are many different methods for a successful crop rotation and it is a matter of experimenting to find what works best for you.  Garden bed rotation is just one of the techniques that an organic gardener can use to control pests and diseases.  Increasing the biodiversity within the veggie garden area, as well as the surrounding the garden beds, is critical to a successful veggie garden.