The big dig: my new vegetable garden design

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When I wrote my second book, Groundbreaking Food Gardens, I talked to food gardeners from across North America and the UK. I asked them about their gardens – design, layout, materials – and what they like to grow – veggies, fruits, herbs, pollinator plants and so on.  As I gathered their garden stories, a funny thing happened – I got inspired! And, I began to look at my own garden with different eyes, realizing that I was ready for a change. It took some time to work out a new vegetable garden design that would incorporate all the elements I wanted to include, but the final plan is now ready and just a few days ago, the ‘big dig’ began!

My vegetable garden design:

I’m pretty lucky with my site – it’s a sheltered, slightly south-facing slope. It warms up early in the spring and resists frost for a few weeks past our average frost date. However, the trees that protect my garden from the wind have been growing rather quickly, resulting in increasing shade for the beds at the back of the plot. Full sun is a basic necessity for most crops and therefore a few of these trees had to go. That was step one. Step two began when contractor Jason Mclellan arrived with his trusty (brand new) tractor.


After writing Groundbreaking Food Gardens, I knew it was time to re-think my own plot and consider a new vegetable garden design.

After writing Groundbreaking Food Gardens, I knew it was time to re-think my own plot and consider a new vegetable garden design.

Related post: My experimental vegetable garden

At this point, site preparation took center stage. Jason cleared out the old garden, carefully placing the dark, wonderfully rich soil to the side. This will be used to fill the new raised beds. He then carved out the new measurements (good-bye lawn!), levelled the the area, and built a low stone retaining wall to prevent soil erosion.

vegetable garden plan 2

One of the potential designs for my new vegetable garden.. However, the round tables have turned into perennial herb/pollinator beds. The center tunnel will support vining veggies and flowers – cucumbers, pole beans, gourds, nasturtiums, and more.

Related Post: Planning my vegetable garden

Now the fun begins – it’s time to build the beds! I’ve been debating the various types of wood for the raised structures, but we have decided to go with local, untreated hemlock. In the past, this is what I’ve used for my cold frames. It’s rot resistant, reasonably priced, and ages well. My goal is to build the beds 18 inches tall using three 6 inch by 6 inch pieces of lumber. If all goes according to plan, the garden will be ready to plant by late April. Fingers crossed!

Stay tuned to Savvy Gardening to follow the progress of my ‘big dig’!

Do you have any changes planned for your garden this year? 



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13 Responses to The big dig: my new vegetable garden design

  1. Ron Mitchell says:

    You must be excited, pumped! Don’t forget to add a compost structure on the inside of the garden, if you can. It would just make it easier to dispose of any yard waste and haul out any compost. Only problem with that is you need wide paths for the wheelbarrow.

    • Yes! Great advice Ron.. I have a 4 foot central path and a 3 to 4 foot cross central path.. and then smaller 2 foot paths between the beds.. not finalized yet though.. and the new ‘compost facility’ is gonna go to the right side of the garden. A three bin compost system.. not sure when we’ll have time to build that though! 🙂

  2. Lloyd says:

    Where do you buy your hemlock?

    • I used to buy it from Hefler Lumber in Sackville, but they don’t sell retail anymore. Therefore I’m now looking at three other places.. I should hear back today whether they can supply it.. if so, I will let you know. – Niki

  3. Kim Hefler says:

    I’m anxious to see your finished garden Niki. I’ll keep watch for your pictures. I was thinking about changing my vege garden. I have raised beds from old lumber that dad had in his barn that was about 12 to 16 inches wide. But they are rotting now so It’s soon time to replace them. I too would like to use hemlock . The new owners of my dad’s mill doesn’t sell retail anymore so I will look around to see where I can get it. Have fun working on your new garden.

  4. Stacey says:

    No shed?

    • Well now that you mention it, we’ve got a space leading up to the garden for a shed Hopefully we can have it built by fall.. but the garden comes first! 🙂

  5. JessB says:

    Wow, awesome! Can’t wait to see it when it’s done.

  6. Cindi says:

    I found hemlock at Bruhn Maurice Ltd but they are in Blockhouse. Hopefully you have better luck to find a source locally. Looking forward to hearing your results as I need more.

    • Hi Cindi.. thanks for this.. I wish I had heard this 2 weeks ago! My first source was misinformed about their sawmill schedule. They told me they could supply the wood ASAP, but their mill wasn’t going to begin cutting hemlock boards until late May!! Oops.. So, I had to find another supplier and I did.. but I haven’t listed them as I’m not super happy with the cost – and definitely not with the shipping. It wasn’t Bruhn Maurice though. The overall quality was good – a few smashed up/splintered boards – but the cost was also higher than I anticipated. Still, the beds are now being built and I can’t wait to get planting!! 🙂

  7. Carole Coates says:

    Waiting (im)patiently for the next Big Dig garden update, Niki! I wouldn’t trade our raised beds(and deer fence) for anything.

  8. Cheryle says:

    I was wondering about your thoughts on the material for the paths. I am thinking of gravel rather than mulch for my raised beds. What are the benefits of wood chips?

    • Hi Cheryle, I line my pathways with cardboard and then top with bark mulch. It lasts 2-3 years, is nice and dark in colour, and keeps the paths clean and almost completely weed-free. I like gravel too and it’s obviously more permanent, but it’s also very functional and ornamental. Just be careful about having soil spill onto the rocks. It can look messy but also create spots for weeds to grow. Good luck! – Niki

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