Saturday, January 9, 2010

The intensive raised bed

I sifted through my seed packets today and laid out a plan for the first area of my garden: the 4x4 foot raised bed. I am going to attempt to succession plant this bed using a cold frame and floating covers on both ends of the growing season. I have divided the bed into 9 sections, similar to a square foot gardening approach -- I'm not sure I am going to put a physical grid down, I think I can keep it straight! I know there are probably nicer designs, with beans winding up the corn stalks and radishes interplanted with carrots, but dividing into discrete planting areas does make intensive succession planting easier.

Even with a late start and a cold, wet summer, I was surprised by how productive this bed was last year. While my approach emphasized variety over volume, I still had so many vegetables from just this one bed that we dried and canned several things. And, honestly, how much Swiss chard can a family of three eat? But what about corn?, you may ask. Surely a mere 4 stalks is verging on the ridiculous. Well, I have excellent local sources of corn. And I'm not trying to feed my family from this one bed. I see it mostly as a way to gain experience with succession crops, with cultivating various vegetables, and with companion planting. This is my future writ small. The experience I gain can be easily transferred to a quarter acre or ten acres or wherever I eventually land. Watching and caring for 4 stalks of corn through a season gives as much knowledge as watching 400.

Last year's heavy production was likely due to the bed's location in the absolutely sunniest part of my yard. The bed also sits in close proximity to both the hose and the compost pile, so it is easy to keep watered and well-mulched. One end of the bed sits right up against the west-facing wall of my house. Thus the bed enjoys radiant heat and wind protection, and this also gives me a support against which to trellis the pole beans. At the close of the season, I layered it with manure and garden compost, and now it sits, frosted in snow, ready to get back into action.

Here's my plan below -- please forgive the lame graphics. I've listed the vegetables in order of planting. So, for example, I'll put the radishes in the upper right corner in March (and succession plant those for a few weeks), followed by corn once the soil warms up. I have read that you can get a late fall crop of sugar snap peas if you plant 10 weeks before the first frost. If the corn is done by late August, I may be able to squeeze them in, especially if I give some late October protection. Ambitious? Yes. But I am optimistic.


Chiogga Beets

Blue Lake pole beans

Mustard greens

French Breakfast Radish


Sugar Snaps

Witloof Chicory




French breakfast radish




Sugar snaps

Bush bean



Swiss chard

Swiss chard

Hot peppers



  1. Abbie,
    What a grand plan for your urban garden. I garden in the city, too, on my balcony. I'll be following the progression of your plan. Happy blogging!

  2. You're inspiring me! The weather in Oklahoma this winter has been so uncharacteristic, so I've been putting off getting started for fear that I'll start too soon. But every time I read your posts I get excited!