Design/Layout for raised beds for vegetable patch?

7 Jul 2006
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United Kingdom

I knocked together the attached diagram of my back garden. I'm currently laying out the patio (the pale yellow area) and am thinking of creating a raised bed along one side of the garden. I thought about using it for growing herbs and vegetables. I'm not particularly green fingered but wanted to have a bit of a play so see what i can grow to eat, if i fail totally I'll fill it with some small shrubs :( or nettles, dandelions and thistles - I seem to be able to grow them no problem.

Reason for raising the bed was to create some sense of different areas in the garden rather than just a flat lawn... that and I have a lot of 2nd hand brick left that I'd like to use in the garden.

Basic questions on how to keep the proportions in keeping with a small garden and how to actually create the bed itself any hints/tips much appreciated:

How high should I raise the bed?
What width should I make the bed, bearing in mind I want to play at growing vegetables, yet still have some kind of crop I can eat if I'm successful :)
How should I fill the raised bed? Just topsoil or should there be something for drainage before I load topsoil in? Top layer of potting compost?
What will I sensibly be able to grow in it, bearing in mind I live in the frozen wastelands of the North West?

Any help much appreciated,


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Well done on deciding to grow your own, it's not hard, and the rewards can be good,
First, it looks like your plot will be north facing? not the best option, unless you still get plenty sun. I use scaffold planks for mine, good enough for most veg, but not really enough for spuds, not the best for leeks, carrots ok, but go for a shorter variety. leave parsnips out for the same reason as carrots, plus very finicky to get them to germinate,but you'll be okay with everything else that grows above ground.

Asparagus needs 2-3 yrs for a first crop, onions,well,you can't tell between shop or own grown. plus at £1.50 a sack, would'nt bother.

Width, so you can reach everything, without standing on the bed, as you can compact and destroy the soil structure, which can takes years to get perfect.

Soil, use a screened soil mixed with manure, be aware some veg need the manure to be in the ground for 12 months, or will grow stunted.

I could go on allnight, e.g.. you going organic? again, totally different ball game, youv'e also winter veg. Some veg needs starting indoors, or under a poly tunnel, What are you using for pest control? poison? nematoeds?

Theres a book at about £8 called, i think, The herb and Vegetable garden, by a DR someone or other, it's invaluable, will tell you everything you need to know.

Don't be put off, the first 12 months your learning, get some outdoor tomatoes, you cannot reproduce home grown toms, in the shops.

Go for it,seriously, you may get the bug, next will be a green house, but, i'll promise you one thing, it won't be big enough ;) good luck.
Thanks for the response, I've done a quick tinternet search and found this book: by Dr D G Hessayon.

As for organic or not I think the answer to that is probably. I don't normally bother with the organic stuff in the supermarket as I think its more a marketing ploy from what little I've read it isn't neccessarily "natural" either. In my own garden I'll probably try not to use pesticides and the like if I can get away with it.

The depth of reach sounds like a valuable measuring aid, very useful. I may fix a lump of 3x2 to the wall to allow me to lay a crawl board/plank across from the dwarf wall to the back wall. I assume I shouldn't use treated timber as that may leach chemicals into the soil, from memory I seem to recall that the treatment is a mixture of arsenic and stuff. Is there a safer alternative?

As for the north facing, it is. In the summer months it gets a fair amount of sun from early morning to mid afternoon, and again in the later evening. Winter it probably doesn't get much. The opposite side gets a lot of sun all year and I'm thinking of creating a number of smaller planting spots at the side of the walls by the patio. This may give me some other options. How deep do these need to be? I'm currently building retaining walls for the patio and will shortly be starting to dump hard core for the patio, so could do to sort that first.

thanks again.
it won't be big enough.

Too true. We started growing some of our own veg for the first time this year, mainly so our boys appreciated that veg doesn't just come from Sainsburys.

Our plot this year was 3m², As we have enjoyed the fruits of our efforts (excuse the pun) we are planning on increasing this to at least double for next year.
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I assume I shouldn't use treated timber as that may leach chemicals into the soil, from memory I seem to recall that the treatment is a mixture of arsenic and stuff. Is there a safer alternative?

I'm currently doing a similar project so looked into this quite a bit.

The really bad stuff CCA that was used for pressure treatment is no longer sold in the UK. Certainly not within the domestic market anyhow.

My local timber yard uses Tanalith which seems a lot safer from what I've read.

But wanting to avoid ANY risk, I'm no longer going to use raised beds despite the end result not looking perhaps as good. This is except for a couple of small beds which I'm going to try and find some old scaff boards for. Untreated?

The other alternatives would be: hardwood? brick? untreated timber and then replace? I dunno.
Why a couple of small beds?you can do big now you know how to build big?

turner, that's the book

Mark, keep at it, give your kids easy growing seeds, like peas n runners, let them pick em, trim, n cook, they will swear blind they better than the shops,
and they eat them.!!!

Last thing, if you have clay soil, you can build you bed "scaffolding" with a bit more effort, no more gym, why pay?
thanks I've ordered the book and another one that I found had quite a lot of recommendations on the web: All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space .

Size of the beds on the left hand side will have to be smaller as otherwise they'll block my doors :) I also want to retain some elements of the lawn and make it look like a traditional lawn with beds. If I sell the house the new owner can return the beds to flowers and shrubs if they want and have the level of maintenance that they want.

I am thinking of creating some along the bottom of the garden now too. As I am building it myself and will be doing it gradually over a period of months, reusing building materials (brick) freed up from other changes inside the house as I go.
Have you got a waterbutt, compost bin and shed elsewhere on your property?

The right edge next to the fence/wall may get a downdraft and also not get much rain. You'll want at least one waterbutt to collect the water.

Where are you going to raise your seedlings?
Have you a shed window or will you do it indoors?

Being up in cold Manchester, you may want to think about how you can extend the growing season being as you're setting part of your garden for veggies.
You don't necessarily need a greenhouse, but some sort of cold frame or tunnel might be in order.

I've updated my diagram to show how the design is developing. I have a compost bin at the back of the garage, could probably do with a 2nd one as it seems to fill pretty quickly when I cut the grass.... and I probably need to spend more time on working out how to make usable compost, rather than just dumping grass cuttings in.

I have space for a water butt at the rear of the garage and potentially two drain pipes to feed it with. As I work away occassionally I'm planning on incorporating some kind of automated watering system... although unlikely I'd hate to have some stuff growing like mad only to leave for a week in the height of summer and find it had all dried up.

As for seedlings I've a number of south facing windows in the porch and utility that I've grown some chilli plants from seed on at the minute... they seem to like it on there. Both rooms are very warm anyway as its also the home to my boiler and hot water cylinder. The cupboard for which is only head height and about 10 sq feet... depending on how much direct sunlight seedlings need I could probably use that?

I don't have a shed and the garage has no windows.

My latest design incorporates a number of pots around the south facing aspect.

One other thing I've wondered about is a water feature... am i right in thinking frogs are a gardeners friend? I was thinking of siting something in the top right hand corner of the garden, would that be any use?

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