Block Style Layout In Raised Bed Vegetable Gardens

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GMG GardenNotes #713Block Style Layout inRaised Bed Vegetable GardensOutline:Block style garden layout, page 1Suggested spacing, page 2Raised bed gardens, page 4Construction of a raised bed garden, page 5Gardening with raised beds, page 7Block Style Garden LayoutBlock style garden layout (also called close-row or wide-row plantings) increaseyields five fold compared to the traditional row-style garden layout, and 15-foldfor the smaller kitchen garden vegetables. The compact design reduces weedingand is ideal for raised bed gardening.The basic technique used in close-row, block planting is to eliminate unnecessarywalkways by planting vegetables in rectangular-shaped beds or blocks instead oflong single rows. For example, plant a block of carrots next to a block of beets,followed with a block of lettuce and so forth down the bed area.Plant crops with an equal-distance spacebetween neighboring plants in both directions.For example, space a carrot patch on 3-inch by3-inch centers. It may be easier to visualizethis plant layout as running rows spaced 3inches apart across the bed, and thinning thecarrots within the row to 3 inches. A 24-footlong “traditional” row of carrots will fit into a3 foot by 2-foot bed. [Figure 1]Design the planting beds to be 3 to 4 feet wideand any desired length. This width makes iteasy to reach into the growing bed fromwalkways for planting, weeding and harvesting.Figure 1. Carrots planted on3-inch centersLimiting foot traffic to the established walkways between planting beds reducessoil compaction. Design walkways to 18-24 inches wide. Mulch walkways withdry grass clippings, wood chips, or other organic mulch.713-1

As the vegetable foliage grows together, the shade cast suppresses weedgermination.After harvesting a row of radishes, beets, lettuce, or spinach, replant for continualsummer production.Due to the higher plant density, block plantings require a weed-free, fertile,well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. Give extra attention to wateringand frequent, light fertilization to nourish the dense plant population. Avoid overcrowding vegetables; the reduced air circulation can increase disease problems.Figure 2. Kitchen garden in block-style layout with (topto bottom) spinach, assorted lettuce varieties) andSwiss chard. Note that rows run across the four-footwide bed. As a row of lettuce is harvested, it isreplanted for continual production or neighboring cropsfills in the space.Figure 3. Sample layout of kitchen garden vegetables.Suggested SpacingSuggested spacing for kitchen gardenvegetables: (Start with the wider spacings,reducing spacing with experience and as soilimproves in fertility and tilth.)oooooooooooooooBeets: 4-6” by 4-6"Carrots: 2-3" by 2-3"Celery: 7-9" by 7-9"Garlic: 4-6” by 4-6"Kohlrabi: 7-9" by 7-9"Leeks: 4-6” by 4-6"Lettuce, head: l0-l2” by 10-12"Lettuce, leaf: 7-9" by 7-9"Onions, bunching” 2-3" by 2-3"Onions, dry: 4-6" by 4-6”Parsnips: 5-6” by 5-6"Radishes: 2-3" by 2-3"Spinach: 4-6” by 4-6”Swiss chard: 7-9” by 7-9”Turnips: 4-6”by 4-6"713-2

Other vegetables suited toblock plantingCole crops (broccoli, cabbage,Brussels sprouts andcauliflower) – Spaced at 18by 18-inches', or threeplants across a 4-foot bed.Corn – Always plant in a blockto facilitate pollination.Five rows wide isrecommended for the best“pollen shower'' tomaximize kernel set; threerows wide is minimum.Space at 12” by 24” or fourrows across two, four-footwide beds.Eggplant – Space at 18-24 by18-24 inches (or two orthree plants across a fourfoot wide bed).Peppers – Space at 15 by 15inches (or three plantsacross a four-foot widebed).Potatoes – Space at 12-15 by12-15 inches (or threeplants across a four-footwide box).Figure 4. Sample block-style gardenVine crops (squash, cantaloupes, pumpkins, and watermelons) – Place a singlerow down the center of a 4-foot wide box. They may also be planted in largerblocks, several rows wide. Place the winter squash and pumpkins in thecenter of the block and cantaloupes, watermelons, and summer squash aroundthe edge where they can be reached for summer harvest.Trellis tomatoes and cucumbers to save space and make harvest easier. Theincreased air circulation around trellised tomatoes helps suppress tomatoblight. Space trellised tomatoes a minimum of 24 inches apart down a singlerow, in a block two to three feet wide. Plant cucumbers along a trellis at 9-12inch spacings.Beans and peas may be easier to pick and are less disease-prone if planted insingle or double rows, rather than block style planting. Space beans 12 inchesbetween rows and 4 inches between plants. Plant a double row down a block2 to 3 feet wide.713-3

Figure 5. Raised bed gardenwith chard, lettuce varieties,spinach, beets, and onions.Because even waterdistribution is needed for thisbed with a heavy plantpopulation, the drip irrigationhose is run up and down thebed four times on a 12 inchesspacing. The bed will bemulched with dry grassclippings to conserve waterand control weeds in summer.Wood chips make an excellentmulching material for thewalkways.Raised Bed GardeningRaised bed gardens with block style layout have many advantages, including thefollowing:Higher yields and less area to weed – The block style layout, eliminatingunnecessary walkways increases yields by five-fold over the traditionalrow-path-row garden layout.Reduced soil compaction – Established walkways keep foot traffic off thegrowing bed, reducing soil compaction.Earlier planting – The raised bed facilitates better runoff and drainage allowingsoil to warm faster in the spring. Beds can be covered with plastic duringspring rains, allowing for early planting even in rainy years.Frost protection – The block-style layout is easy to cover for spring and fall frostprotection. It can also be shaded in the hot summer.Soil improvement – The raised bed is a clearly defined area where the gardenercan concentrate on soil improvement techniques, (e.g., the addition of soilorganic matter). In situations where the soil is poor, and limits plantgrowth, good planting soil may be added to the box.Architectural interest – Raised beds become an architectural feature of thelandscape design.Accessible gardening – The raised bed is ideal for enabling persons with limitedmobility to garden.713-4

Constructing a Raised Bed GardenSize – A bed 4 feet wide is ideal for most vegetable crops, allowing the gardener toreach the entire bed from the side without ever stepping on the soil in the growingbed. Length can be whatever works for the space.Tomatoes are well suited to a bed 24 to 36 inches wide, with one row of plantsdown the middle. Beans and peas are easier to pick in a single or double row downa bed rather than in the block-style planting. Here a bed 24 inches wide would beideal.Depth / Height – The height of the beds is generally of no consequence, assumingthat crops can root down into the soil below the bed. For most home gardensituations, the role of a raised bed is to define and separate the growing bed fromthe walkway. Here a four-inch height would be adequate. Variations in heights(4”, 6”, 8”, and 10”) among different beds may help create an appealing landscapefeature.In situations where the soil below is not suitable for crop growth, 8 to 12 inches ofsoil is considered minimal. Deeper beds would make management easier.To accommodate gardeners with special needs, bed height may be raised tominimize bending or to allow gardening work from a chair or wheelchair. Planwalkway space between beds wide enough to accommodate specialized equipmentor mobility.For ease of irrigation, beds should be reasonably level, both across and lengthwise.Orientation – For frost protection, an east-west orientation has a slight advantageof collecting heat. For summer crop growth, a north-south orientation has a slightadvantage of sunlight on both sides of the plant row each day. Because there is noclear advantage, orient the beds in whatever direction work best for the landscapedesign. Often beds are best arranged to be an appealing landscape feature of theproperty.Construction materials – A simple way to construct a raised bed garden is to useconstruction lumber (2 by 4s, 2 by 6s, 2 by 8s, and 2 by 10s). Untreated lumberwill last for several years, except in high salt areas or wet sites. Treated lumberwill last longer. Simply cut two pieces the width of the bed (typically 4 feet) andtwo others to the desired bed length. Using 3½ to 4 inch decking screws, screw thecorners together to make a four-sided box. Place the box-like frame on the soil andfill.Various landscaping timbers may also be used in like fashion. Cooper treatedlumber is safe for garden boxes. However, do not use railroad ties (creosote cancerconcerns) or CCA pressure treated lumber (removed from the market several yearsago due to arsenic concerns). Brick or other building materials may also besuitable.Raised beds may also be made without sides. Here, organic matter is mixed as thegarden is tilled. Walkways are dug down with the soil thrown up on the bed. Bedsare 4 feet wide at the base and three feet wide at the top. The entire bed is coveredwith organic mulch like dry grass clippings to prevent soil erosion and reducecompaction from rain and sprinkler irrigation. [Figure 6]713-5

Figure 6. Raised bed garden withoutsides. Beds are 4 feet wide at thebase and t3 feet wide at the top.Walks were dug down with soilplaced on the beds.Adding soil – In the typical garden setting where crop roots will spread down intothe soil below the bed, it is best to use similar soils. It may be beneficial todouble-dig the beds. In double-digging, the top 6 inches of soil is moved from oneside of the bed to the other side of the bed. Mix organic matter into the soil belowthe excavated side. Return the soil to the top, mixing in organic matter. Thenrepeat the process for the other side of the bed.When adding soil, avoid creating a situation where one type of soil ends andanother begins. This creates a line between soil types that impedes water and airinfiltration and slows, or even stops, root penetration. If the soil being added to thebed is different from the soil below, mix some of the two together before addingthe remainder to avoid a distinct line of change.In situations where the entire rooting zone will be in the raised bed, a soil on thesandy side with 4-5% organic matter would be preferred.When purchasing soil, be aware that there is no legal definition of topsoil orplanting soil. Just because it is commercially available in bulk or sold in bags,does not necessarily mean that it is good for gardening. Many bagged and bulksoils and soil amendments are prepared with compost made with manure and maybe high in salts.Figure 7. A recentlyplanted raised bedgarden. Corn boxesto left, kitchengarden in center,strawberry patch onright, tomato patchin back with blackplastic mulch.Growing beds aremulched with grassclippings; woodchips were usedbetween beds.713-6

Gardening in a Raised BedDue to the high plant population, raised beds require better than average soils, andmore frequent irrigation and fertilization. Concentrate on improving soils withroutine applications of organic matter. For details on soil improvement andfertilization, refer to the various CMG GardenNotes #711, Vegetable Garden:Soil Management and Fertilization.Mulching – Mulch beds to control weeds, conserve soil moisture, and regulate soiltemperatures. Grass clippings make great mulch when applied in thin layers (up to¼ inches thick). Allow each layer to dry between applications. Do not useclippings from lawns treated with weed killers or other pesticides for at least fourweeks after application. Wood/bark chips are great for mulching between thebeds. Three to four inches of chips will minimize the compaction forces of foottraffic. However, do NOT mix wood/bark chips into the growing bed, it willinterfere with seedbed preparation. For additional information on mulching, referthe to the CMG GardenNotes #715, Mulches for the Vegetable Garden.Watering a raised bed – Drip irrigation is well suited to raised bed gardening. Itis rather easy and inexpensive to add a water tap at the end of each box.Alternatively, simply move a garden hose in turn to each box and connect the driphose. Sprinkler irrigation is also suitable, but less desirable due to potentialdisease problems. For details on irrigation, refer the CMG GardenNotes #714,Irrigating the Vegetable Garden.As a point of clarification, raised bed gardening is a water conservation technique.It does require more frequent irrigation due to the higher plant density. However,it is more efficient resulting in higher yields for the amount of water appliedcompared to the larger areas watered in traditional row-walkway-row culture.Raised beds become even more efficient when watered with drip irrigation orsoaker hoses on timers.Frost protection – An advantage of raised bed, block style layout is that the bed iseasy to cover for protection from springs rains and frost, allowing for earlyplanting.Figure 8. Frostprotection coveringadds two to six plusweeks to the growingseason.713-7

This picture illustrates a Quonset-type cold frame covering made of concretereinforcing mesh covered with plastic. This style of frost protection adds two tosix plus weeks on both ends of the growing season for cool season vegetables.Any type of covering must be opened during the day to prevent overheating.Authors: David Whiting (CSU Extension, retired), Carol O’Meara (CSU Extension, Boulder County), and CarlWilson (CSU Extension, retired). Artwork by David Whiting; used by permission.ooooooColorado Master Gardener GardenNotes are available on-line at www.cmg.colostate.edu.Colorado Master Gardener training is made possible, in part, by a grant from the Colorado Garden Show, Inc.Colorado State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture and Colorado counties cooperating.Extension programs are available to all without discrimination.No endorsement of products mentioned is intended nor is criticism implied of products not mentioned.Copyright Colorado State University Extension. All Rights Reserved. CMG GardenNotes may be reproduced, withoutchange or additions, for non-profit educational use with attribution.Revised October 2014713-8

Construction of a raised bed garden, page 5 . Gardening with raised beds, page 7 . Block Style Garden Layout . Block style garden layout (also called close-row or wide-row plantings) increase yields five fold compared to the traditional row-style garden layout, and 15-fold for the smaller kitchen garden vegetables. The compact design reduces .

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