When I first moved into my current home, just over five years ago, I picked a sunny spot for my vegetable garden (it was evident the space had already been used as one) and installed two raised beds. The site got plenty of sun to grow lots of veggies and drained well. Since then, however, the tree canopy has expanded (I live on a tree-covered ravine), and that part of the yard now gets much less sun than it used to. Which brings me to an important point that I’ve been thinking about a lot as I look forward to spring: the importance of planning a garden bed.
Whether you are planning to dig in a new garden bed, or you’ve just moved in and you are assessing what to plant in an existing bed, you want to make sure you get to know the area.
A few tips for planning a garden bed
First of all, if you’re dealing with a blank slate and you want to dig, be sure to call your gas company to make sure there aren’t any hidden lines you need to worry about. During the summer months, I usually get a notice with my gas bill that says “It’s the law” and to contact the company first before digging.
Secondly, you want to assess your soil. Is it hard-packed or clay soil (that will need amendments), will it be easy to dig in or will you need a chisel? Does the soil drain well? When I was writing my book, Raised Bed Revolution, I plunked a raised bed in a wet-ish area of my side yard and I have to say that bed does not drain particularly well after a heavy rain.
Furthermore, if you’re planting veggies, you’ll want to evaluate the pH of your soil. Jessica wrote a great piece about why soil pH matters.
Next you want to figure out where the sun hits your yard. Some locations are obvious shade gardens and others get that full-on sunshine. Bringing it back to my two original raised beds, they now get less sun throughout the afternoon as the sun moves around my property because the trees have grown and create more dappled shade than I had before. I can still plant in those beds, I’ll just be sure to move the real heat seekers, like tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, etc., into new raised beds that I’m going to build around the side of my house that gets lots of sun. For raised beds, I always say you can put one anywhere, provided the location gets six to eight hours of sun a day.
If you and your yard are just getting acquainted, Paul Zammit, the director of horticulture at the Toronto Botanical Garden, once suggested to me that you draw a plan of your yard on graph paper and then record when the sun hits at 10 am, noon, 2 pm and 4 pm. I think it’s a great exercise even if you’ve lived in your house for a few seasons.
One last thing that preoccupies my thoughts about planning where my next raised beds will be dug in is the fact that the area where I’m going to build them is riddled with bindweed—aka the bane of my green thumb’s existence. A garden designer I met last summer suggested I cover the area in yard bags and mulch to smother and kill everything off. But I think I’m going to lay landscape fabric at the bottom of my beds, as well, just in case.
Any other tips I encounter as I plan, I will add to this list!