I’m a relatively new bed gardener (just got ours built last year), but have already found that there are many benefits to laying out a garden in beds rather than rows.
First is the increased production in less space. Beans don’t need 18 inches between rows like the seed packet says. That 18 inches is for you to walk between rows.
Second is the decrease in weeds. This is primarily due to the plants being close enough together to shade out a majority of the weed growth. Strange but tested true in my own garden last year. I was actually surprised at how few weeds we had.
Third, because the beds are to plant in and not walk on, the dirt stays soft and uncompacted which makes it easier for the plants to grow and be harvested. We were careful not to walk on the beds at any time, and now I’m planting in the same dirt as last year without tilling this spring. And no tilling also helps keep weed production down.
Building your garden beds can be as extensive and as expensive a process as you want. Raised beds are nice, but not necessary. I’ve seen beds built out of railroad ties, metal highway barrier, vinyl fencing, and a host of other things. Ours were simply made from 2×6 rough cut lumber we got from an old barn screwed to wood stakes pounded in the ground. The dirt from the walkways was shoveled into the beds before the sides were erected, so no fill dirt had to be brought in. I love cheap. Beds could also be laid out without being raised at all–just mark walkways and the beds are all the dirt in between. We wanted some obvious way to mark the edges of our beds since we have kids that needed to know where they could walk in the garden and if it’s all flat, we’d probably have more stepping on the beds than we wanted. We opted for beds that ran the full length of the garden and just have to walk around or step over to get to the next row. It was easier to build them this way, and fewer walkways means more planting space, but if you don’t get around well, you can break the beds into sections with walkways between to get from row to row.
When building your beds, you need to make sure you can reach at least half way across so you can easily plant, weed, and harvest. Make your walkways wide enough to walk on when the plants are full grown and hanging over the edge of the bed. Our beds are about 30″ wide and the walkways are about 18″ wide. I’ve got a salsa bed with tomatoes, peppers, and onions in it, and a salad bed with lettuce, peas, cucumbers, spinach, carrots, etc. in it. Beans, beets, and melons in another, and still some empty space to fill.
There are a few plants we are not putting in the beds. Corn still works well in rows, and we’re planting squash between the baby fruit trees this year instead of using garden bed space for them. Just waiting for my drip system to get repaired to make watering it all a little (well, okay, a LOT) easier. ;)
So if you’re looking to increase production, decrease weeds, and generally make your gardening easier, take a look at gardening in beds.