How to work out the best vegetable garden beds for your home
November 14, 2017
Over the last six years our vegetable garden has evolved with our lifestyle and family, and continues to do so. This evolution has allowed me to determine the questions to ask others to ensure that when I install a new vegetable garden for a family it is set up to met their specific lifestyle and needs.
Our garden began almost 7 years ago as a blank slate. there was a lemon tree, a feijoa tree and one other tree in the backyard. I could build the vegetable garden of my dreams. My initial plans were all based on getting as many plants in and growing as possible. My partner build three solid raised garden beds for me, each one 1.5m x 3 m in size.
We used old gate frames on the sides of the beds to provide vertical growing space. These frames provided a wonderful additional productive growing space, mostly covered in bright nasturtium flowers or supporting pumpkins. The garden grew and so did our harvests.
Over the years these raised beds have been exceptionally productive. My main issue with them has been that they are so productive they are difficult to manage over the Summer months. With large harvests to collect daily I had to climb up and into the beds to weed, water and harvest. The size of the beds did not allow me to reach across and harvest the plants in the middle of the bed. In a bid to make best use of the space, I densely plant to ensure a great flow of fresh produce for our family meals.
Over the Summer months the garden beds become a jungle-like mass of productiveness that I adore. However, with less time to dedicate to them I have begun to crave order in the space.
It can be a little overwhelming to walk outside to this sort of jumble (shown below) each day with the knowledge that there is a responsibility to care for, harvest and utilise all of the produce so nothing is wasted. It may sound ridiculous if you don’t have a vegetable garden but there is some pressure from the family to NOT serve zucchini fritters 10 days in a row when you collect a massive bucket load of them!!
When the heat of Summer hits I feel compelled to protect the plants and keep the harvests flowing, especially after they have been raised from seed, nurtured and are almost ready for the meal table. I am not going to let them die!
The time I have available to spend in my garden has changed over the last 6 years. My children are both at school now and we are spending part of the weekend as a family doing sport activities. It is time to change the garden space to re-align with our lifestyle and the time I have to spend in it.
Creating a garden that is very specifically suited to my customers lifestyle is an important key to their success. I think it is critical I implement the same methodology in my garden. I believe a vegetable garden should be a source of relaxation, pleasure and pride, not another activity that needs to be added to an already busy day. I don’t want my garden to feel like a chore. It is my sanctuary and sanity.
As A Fresh Legacy has grown from a hobby into a business that includes a Vegetable Garden Set Up and Coaching Service I have sourced and tested untreated timber crate garden beds. After more than 5 years the timber beds we originally installed were beginning to rot and degrade. These crate beds will also degrade over time because they are untreated. By the time this happens our family will be in a new phase of our life and changes will be required again so I am not concerned about that.
I have fallen in love with the crate garden beds for their practical application in many spaces and ease of use. They are accessible from all the way around, no bending is required. They provide a decent sized planting area for a family without being onerous. These crate beds I use for new vegetable garden installations were an obvious choice to replace our aging beds. The size of the crates also make soil management easier.
Some of the many things to consider when planning vegetable garden beds include:
All of these things combined should be considered to help plan the set up of a vegetable garden that works well in your space.
The changes I am working on in my garden are outlined below.
All in all, a decent amount of growing space (approx. 40m2) for a regular suburban backyard with fruit trees added into the mix as well.
A reasonably neat appearance with easier soil management and plant access is the objective of the changes.
Our block is sloping and that seems to have become more evident over the years. An opportunity to level the beds and surrounding containers was needed. It has also provided the opportunity to move some plants out of pots and into other areas of the garden.
I mapped out the area to determine how many beds to keep active first and assessed the soil requirements. The soil additions of the manure etc that were to fill the beds (see below) were combined and set to age many months ago to age in preparation for being mixed through the soil that was to go into the crates.
In preparation for the change over of garden beds the garden beds were planted for winter with a mix of plants suited to a phased removal. For example, the slowest growing plants were grown in one bed. Herbs, peas and greens were grown in the bed that was to be removed first. Once plants were harvested and removed from each bed after, and during Winter they were not replaced with others. By the end of the season the bed was empty and ready to be dismantled.
The first areas to be removed were those planted between the garden beds, then one by one the garden beds have been dismantled and replaced with two crate beds in the space.
Excess soil from the beds was used to even out the surrounding slope of the garden.
One more raised garden bed remains to be dismantled. It will be replaced with 2 crates, a total of 6. With 4 installed and planted, the last ones will not happen until Autumn. The remaining raised bed is still brimming with Winter produce and I have enough planted at the moment to not have to rush the change over.
The crate beds have been filled with a mix of the soil that was removed from the dismantled beds and a combination of manure, mushroom compost, perlite, straw, newspaper and coconut fiber. For more information on how I prepare the soil layers for a new garden bed see the Vegetable Garden Workbook.
Soooo…. the garden is beginning to look neater and the growing space is reduced. The soil has been refreshed BUT…. when I took out one of the garden beds a dozen pumpkins germinated in the newly emptied area, in addition to at least 50 tomatoes!
Are you like me and fell terrible about pulling out volunteer plants, or wasting seedlings? I can’t bear to remove plants that self-seed! They are traditionally the strongest, best plants in the garden. However, last year I left the self seeded plants in one garden bed and the tomatoes were watery and lacking flavour. I believe they cross-pollinated and the results were not great.
This Summer I decided not to allow any self seeded plants to stay in the garden. I planned to grow only plants from newly raised seed. I wanted my favourite, reliable varieties that had not been cross-pollinated. That was until I was faced with the cruel removal of approximately 50 plants in an area that would be bare across this Summer with no use….
When faced with this mass removal of seedlings my decision was, predictably, to take advantage of the final opportunity they presented. I intend to make extra tomato sauce, dehydrate and trial a new way of growing tomatoes using a string to provide horizontal support, instead of the vertical method I have used in previous years. If the fruit flavour is poor from these self seeded plants again it won’t matter too much for making pasta sauce.
I know that this is completely at odds with a reduced garden area I discussed above. I am not going to be organised enough this Summer to finalise the last two garden beds and make changes to the space where they have germinated so I have decided to let nature just do it’s thing…
The specific tomato varieties I have chosen to grow this year have been raised from seed and planted in the new crate beds and other areas of the garden. Next year this area will NOT be used to grow plants.
Has your garden area changed over time? Our previous set up served us well for 6 years and now it feels good to have a refresh and the opportunity to re-assess.
If you are planning a vegetable garden set up in your home the Vegetable Garden Workbook maps out the process from set up, planting and ongoing care of your garden.
Over the past six years I have tried and tested various family vegetable garden set ups, garden bed materials and configurations. I have also tested different soil additions over the years. I am now confident I can source the very best garden beds, soil additions and materials to install, plant and support a vegetable garden that is unique to each family’s needs. Contact me about my Vegetable Garden Set Up and Coaching Packages here.
If you are in the Geelong, Bellarine or Melbourne area and would prefer the hard work of a set up be completed for you please get in touch here.
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