how wide to make these raised beds?

canokieJuly 12, 2014

Ok, I'm ramping up to redo my backyard (again) for the last time. I've tasted success at last with growing some of my own food, and I want more!

I have a small backyard, about 54 feet wide and 21 feet from the back of the house to the back fence. That means when I step off the back patio there's only 15 feet to the back fence. To make gardening even more challenging, the house is on the south side so I have an even narrower strip that gets enough sun. I've tried different layouts trying to maximize the amount of growing space while not totally taking over the backyard, and have finally come up with what I think is the best solution yet - put narrow raised beds along the fence across the back and along both sides. Hog panels affixed to the inside of the fence will provide plenty of trellis, as I plan to grow vertical as much as possible. Then, for added growing space, I plan to add one 4' by 12' bed in each back corner, leaving the center of the yard open.

Ok, here's my question. I know the general rule is to make raised beds about 4 feet wide, so one can reach in two feet from either side. Since these beds will be along the fence, I was going to make them 2 feet wide. However, since I would like to grow tomatoes and pretty much everything else in these beds, do you think making them 2.5 or even 3 feet wide would be better? Adding 6 inches or a foot would significantly increase my growing area as well, without adding much to the cost of materials. Since I have about 90 feet of fence, that would mean 225 or even 270 square feet instead of 180 square feet. The two 4 foot by 12 foot beds would add about another 100 square feet. That's about as much as I think I can possibly get out of this little yard of mine, and that should be a huge improvement over the little 100 square foot potager I have now!

Looking forward to some input - you guys are great and have helped me so much!

Edited to add an image and correct the width of my back yard (54 feet, not 50). There is a manhole in one corner, which is why it jogs out like that.

This post was edited by canokie on Sat, Jul 12, 14 at 23:08

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Canokie, I don't see anything wrong with your plan, with your small lawn, you don't have a lot of options. I would try to grow as much produce on trellises as I could. If your patio is not covered you may want to think about growing something like Tromboncino squash or Seminole pumpkins over it.


    Bookmark   July 13, 2014 at 1:40PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


The words "for the last time" made me grin. I'm betting it won't be the last time, but that's okay---change is good.

You know I'm going to suggest going with 3' wide beds. You'll get so much more growing space that you'll never regret it.

I second Larry's suggestion that you trellis as much as you can. Even though my garden is large, I still use trellises to pack in as many plants as I can. Since mine is a big production garden for canning,freezing and dehydrating in addition to fresh eating, I always want to get the highest productivity from the space that I can. Trellising as many crops as possible helps improve your garden's productivity.

Over the years I have trellised the following (not counting tomatoes, since they are in stand-alone cages): pole beans, pole varieties of southern peas, cucumbers, Armenian cucumbers, winter squash, gourds, bitter gourds and snake melons, sugar snap peas, melons of all kinds in small to medium sizes (in terms of fruit produced)---watermelons, muskmelons and true cantaloupes, and miniature to medium-sized pumpkins. In the beginning I just grew flowering annual vines on my garden fence because I assumed (erroneously) that the deer would eat everything I tried to grow on the fence. While I enjoyed having tons of flowering vines (morning glories, moonflower vines, cypress vines, cardinal climber, vining nasturtiums, black-eyed susan vine, purple and white hyacinth beans, etc.), once I started growing veggies on the fence too, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the deer generally left them alone for the most part.

I think you'll be amazed at how much you can squeeze into wider beds. For example, if you plant a row of tomato plants along the fence line, you can put other things---veggies, herbs or flowers, in the ground at the base of the tomato plants. I often grow carrots and lettuce as a living mulch beneath, between and alongside tomato plants in raised beds, but also have grown bush varieties of beans, beets (planted long before the tomatoes went into the ground), radishes, turnips, etc. as an edging along the front edge of a raised bed with tomato plants along the back edge. Sometimes I just use flowers and herbs, and sometimes I have flowers, short veggies and herbs all mixed in together along with the tomatoes. I've even grown a row of peppers along the front edge of a bed adjacent to a row of tomato plants along the back edge of a bed. When you add a little more width to a bed, you'll be amazed how much more you can plant.


    Bookmark   July 13, 2014 at 2:52PM
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Larry and Dawn, thank you both for the responses - as always, so much good information and helpful ideas! Sorry I didn't respond sooner - sometimes I don't get an email when I get a reply even though I check the box (or thought I did?)

I'm starting to get the hang of trellising this year - I have some huge muskmelons and also cucumbers growing up the black vinyl coated chain link fence enclosing my potager and it amazes me how those huge melons hang there - I wouldn't have expected that the vines could support that much weight but they do. I plan to hang the vinyl covered chain link along the inside of my wooden privacy fence (I have the side where the fence posts are so that will create a 4" gap between the trellis and the wooden fence pickets) and use that to trellis my crops as everything seems to like growing on it and it blends in well, plus it doesn't rust. I think maybe the vinyl also helps it to not get so hot in the sun.

Dawn, I laughed about what you said about my 'for the last time' comment because nobody else believes me either, especially not my son who has done most of the heavy lifting on each of these projects of mine ;) However, I think in a yard this small surely there are only so many ways to arrange raised beds and I think I've tried most of them already :) Each time I learn something though, and I always get something to eat out of the deal, so I guess that's ok. I may have to do this in stages - build new beds along the east fence and the east half of the back fence, then tear out the current potager in the west side of the yard and extend the perimeter beds the rest of the way around the back yard. Then if I decide to later, I can add the two 4'x8' beds in the corners. My yard is so small that I may decide not to add them after all. I have tried the living mulch idea back when you suggested it to me before and it worked amazingly well! I planted sweet potatoes under Baby Bubba okra and it really did well. This year I am growing amaranth for the grain (I have celiac disease and must avoid gluten containing grains) with swiss chard underneath, and it seems to appreciate the partial shade.

I like the edging idea and I could really see that working well, and I think it could look attractive as well. To keep the dogs and rabbits out, I've come up with a design that will enable me to hang 8' sections of hog panel along the front, which I will lift off as needed. The horizontal wires are close together at the bottom (and I plan to line the bottom foot or so with 1/2" mesh to keep the rabbits out), but they get wider apart as they go up. I was thinking that I could probably reach through them to harvest tomatoes and other trellised crops, and that front panel could actually serve to hold the tomatoes up. Well it all sounds good in theory but there is nothing like trying it to find out all the flaws in the theory lol!

    Bookmark   August 10, 2014 at 7:18PM
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How tall are you? I have wide raised rows in my garden that are 3 feet wide, but at only 5'4" with arms to match, I need to be able to get at them from both sides to harvest from the "far" side. I don't like to step on my soil because I do a no-till garden, so stick to the paths only, so I just don't have the reach for 3'. If you are OK with stepping into your soil, 3' sounds fine to me, but if you are not, I'd measure your reach before deciding on the width. Even with 3' accessible from both sides, I often have a face full of tomato foliage, and my arm stuck in up to the shoulder, as I try to scrabble in the interior to harvest. It's quite productive, but it depends on how up close and personal you want to get with your plants!

    Bookmark   August 11, 2014 at 11:39AM
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helenh(z6 SW MO)

If your three feet is too wide this year you could always place some rounds of wood or stepping stones later. Since I have a jungle my advice may not be wise.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2014 at 2:40PM
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When I was younger and use raised beds I made them 4' wide and kept a 2x6 that would reach from side to side to use in the areas where needed. I was stable enough to stand on a 2x6 back then. I used landscape timbers to make my beds with and made them level from one end to the other. I had a greater problem controlling Bermuda grass then than I do now. When I had beds along my fence the grass also wanted to come under the fence and take over my beds. The beds along the fence were only 2' wide.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2014 at 4:02PM
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Mia, you bring up a good point. I am 5'4" also, with short arms lol! I have a four foot raised bed now that I can reach in from either side, and the two foot wide beds that I have along my fence right now I can reach across with no problem, so maybe I'll do two and a half foot wide beds. Even that would increase my planting area considerably.

Maybe a length of wide board long enough to span the width of the beds that I could use to lean against or even sit on while working. I could see that being useful...

    Bookmark   August 11, 2014 at 9:24PM
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Mia said what I was thinking, being less than 5'4"tall these days. (I used to be that!) Anyway, I have a hard time reaching to the back of some of my beds along the fence. However, the idea of keeping a board handy to step on is great. I also have round pavers strategically placed in my wide flower beds so I can get to the bird feeder at the back. The flowers are disguising them by this time of year.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2014 at 12:11AM
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I'm so glad I found this forum. I'm a newbie and was looking for ideas on how to create my back yard garden. I'm renting so I have to plant everything in raised planters. The 3' suggestion will work well for my planters as well as the living mulch. It is almost fall here in Florida so lettuce and spinach will do quite well. My partner will be thrilled now that I will finally stop killing the grass with my pots.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2014 at 12:31PM
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