Moved; New Raised Bed Garden - What worked/didn't work for you?

Hello All! I’m new to the forum, but was very active on the old Gardenweb forum (saw some familiar names here :smile: ) I moved in November and now have my dream property with almost 2.8 acres. I had a very closely spaced raised bed garden at the old house that did very well, but the beds were way to close together (2 feet). I want to keep the raised beds (took most of the lumbar/trellises with me), but make the design easier to maintain and add compost to the beds. What do you love about your raised bed garden? What do you wish you’d done differently? My basic set up will be 6 bed that are 24 x 3 foot, with concrete reinforcement wire down the center for the three year tomato rotation and a number (6? 8? 10? undecided) of beds that are 12 or 14 x 4 foot, with a wire trellis at the end. I have a flat area the is about 80 x 100, with room to go further. In addition to the main vegetable, I want to add raspberries and some other small fruit. Large fruit is planted elsewhere. I plan to ring the garden with pollinator/predator insect flowers and native plantings. I would love to see pictures of your garden! Here are some of my specific questions:

  • What width for the paths between the beds?
  • What ground cover for the paths? Chipped wood? Leave it in grass? Other ideas?
  • The orientation of the beds
  • How to hold the corners together? I used cedar 4x4, but they rot easily and the Trex boards tend to bow and break the nails. I would like to avoid pressure treated
  • Any hints on working with trex? I’ve had a lot of trouble with it bowing out or in
  • Any thing else you wish you’d done?
    This is the new space, camera is pointing towards S/SE
    For reference, this is the old garden and how I set up everything:

    Many Thanks and happy to be here!
    Kathy (ie, Bellatrix)
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@Bellatrix

Welcome to the forum!

Looks fabulous! Great work!!!

I am on a similar path as you… no idea of your budget… but with mine i always try to keep the budget at zero… or at least close. I like recycled stuff.

On non- edible foods (pollinator) I like railroad ties. I am on year 10 and i think i can go another 10 fairly easy.

On edible foods… i am experimenting with charred lumber. I have not really done alot of homework on this…but i am trying to look at it like how someone from 1800 would. I read an article about putting posts in the ground from the 1800s… The writer stated that on a charred post that was dipped in wood ash would likely last 100 years.

I am a fan of biochar so i do not see an issue with this.

I also have access to lots of old roofing. So i see people growing in this alot… it interests me as its free.

Walkways- I am into composting walkways… i am only on year 2 of a trial but i like it. My theory is to use unwanted refuse. I have access to sawmills and and manure as well as a very good leaf composting heap. I think walking on something thats composting, then shoveling it into the beds is where i want to be.

I live in a 4 season climate so from fall til snowfall i put lots and lots and lots of leaves in my bed… i let the worms etc eat them all winter long…and in the spring whatever is left i toss onto the walkways.

If my charred lumber theory works, this is the way i want to go. I know in the olden days that when they built cabins they charred lumber to keep insects and rot at bay… not sure what living soil will do yet.

If i had a good budget- I would likely get railroad tie sized lumber milled then charred. I dont see how this wouldnt last for 25 years.

On my soils- The pollinator beds get all of my spent flowerpot soils, and otherwise used spent soils. I toss in leaves, worms, etc.

Food beds get worm castings, biochar, compost etc. Like i said earlier i add lots and lots of leaves in the fall, and my soil grows in depth each year.

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I’ve never heard of charred lumber! Very interesting! I will have to look into it. I am a big fan of leaves on top of the beds for winter; it makes such a difference in spring. And for weed control in the flower beds. I was using them here and there on my paths in my old garden. I never thought of doing it large scale. This new property has a lot of leaves, so it might be feasible to do it. Before, I had to go gather my friend’s leaves and steal the neighbor’s bagged leaves.

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I have been meaning to do more research myself… as a hillbilly i call it charred lumber but officially the Japanese call it Shou Sagi Ban… so their history is much richer than ours. Here is an example… of treated lumber vs Shou Sagi Ban in a raised bed environment. Im still learning myself as i go.

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I wish I had spaced mine wide enough for the riding mower to go through. I started with cardboard/wood chip in between but the rain/humidity in Georgia things grow so fast that I end up mowing it anyway.

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The galvanized roof panel beds are very tempting! I’ve been doing more research on them.

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Charred wood doesn’t work. It’s one of those things that seems like it should work, but whenever it’s subjected to rigorous, controlled study, it doesn’t hold up. Here’s a great quote from this document from 1920 (emphasis mine):

Charring is of little value in protecting the butts of fence posts and telephone poles from decay. This is shown by service tests made by the U. S. Forest Products Laboratory on fences of charred and untreated posts of various species. The charred posts proved in these tests to be even less durable than the untreated ones.

@Bellatrix Looks like you’ve got a great place to work with! I’m envious. With regards to your Trex bowing out, I would recommend using a small strip of decking on the inside to tie the boards together across the width of the bed, as well as one on each side to tie any stacked boards together. This should be about halfway down the length of the bed, or at 4-ish foot intervals for beds longer than 8’. If you really want to stiffen the sides up, you can double up the boards for better thickness. Also, I’d highly recommend putting things together with galvanized or stainless screws rather than nails. Nails are really lousy at holding things together under a lot of stress, and a raised bed puts a lot of stress on fasteners.

I’m actually putting some raised beds together this spring, using these corner brackets to tie it together:

I’m just using untreated fir 2x10’s even though I’ll have to replace them in 3-6 years, because I’m not a big fan of using more plastic products if I don’t need to, or using pressure treated wood in a vegetable garden. But to each their own.

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You could also use galvanized steel angles or braces like this one to tie the corners together:
https://www.acehardware.com/departments/hardware/angles-braces-and-brackets/metal-angles/5607072
Not as pretty as the corner brackets above, but a little more affordable.

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Why not cedar? I had railway ties but the used to ooze black tar. Did’t want that near my soil. Also the earlyAmericans painted the logs of their log cabins with pine tar or sap to keep away insects.

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on my property there is remnants of an old shack used by the oil company to house their old pump stations. I think back then they used creosote… which i think is what the railroad uses.

I have wondered about the copper stuff that they use on poles in the ocean for piers etc. Im sure its probably bad too.

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There’s not really a wood preservative that I would call ‘good’ from an environmental standpoint, but I would stay away from railroad ties and marine grade for home use, especially if food crops are involved. Modern ground contact pressure treated isn’t too bad. Cedar is almost as rot resistant if you waterproof it. Black locust can be much more rot resistant, but it’s expensive and hard to come by.

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I used to like wood raised beds but they rot quickly and lock you into a set layout. Now I just mound compost in rows and use wood chip mulch between rows. I am very happy with it.

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True. But it has arsenic and pesticides.

This is a ‘pro’ pressure treated wood article where they say its safe…
https://solutions.dunnlumber.com/projects/is-arsenic-used-in-pressure-treated-lumber-today

I guess if im being honest debarked logs would probably be the safest… and eco friendly. I have watched the uncovering of the hugelkultur mounds and also saw fenceposts that were untreated coming out of the ground after 20 yrs…

Im ok with 10 years on my raised beds… i will likely change my mind 5 times in that timeframe anyways.

I saw a PVC culvert raised bed… i think it was charlotte pipe… not sure if its my thing though.

Modern pressure treated no longer contains arsenic and hasn’t for decades. Yes, it contains pesticides, but they are relativity low toxicity to mammals, specific to ants and termites, and don’t leach much. The bigger concern is the various copper compounds that are used. As with anything, the dose makes the poison. The stuff you’d find in a home center is going to be low dose and pretty safe. I still don’t like using it unless absolutely necessary, and I prefer it not to be in/on my soil unless absolutely necessary.

Arsenic can be a concern if you’re repurposing old pressure treated railroad ties or utility poles. Those could easily be old enough to have arsenic, plus they have higher concentrations of the active ingredients.

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These are mine. The new ones are concrete blocks. They have to be tall for me for ergonomic reasons, due to my physical limitations. I have a highly active mole community, so each has a layer of galvanized fencing and a layer of plastic fencing under the bed. I used concrete blocks due to cost issues. They were cheaper for me than wood. This photo predates the path completion.

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These are my older beds. They have a concrete block corner, treated 2 x 6 x 8 sides, and lined with heavy plastic sheets. The corner blocks have central holes with rebar running through them into the ground. Last fall, moles undermined one. It had a chickenwire barrier that rusted through, giving the moles full access to their new party playground, The sides splayed out and they fell over. Now they have rebar going 2 1/2 feet deep plus they have galvanized wire running from one corner to the next, all around, between the corners. The other beds have 1/2" galvanized hardware cloth underneath which has worked so far.

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The 2x6 's didn’t bow out but maybe it would be better to have supports in the middle.

Last year I had tree chips on biodegradable soil barriers. Moles dug through those and rototilled the chips with the soil, a mess. Now I have black plastic laid down in some areas and weed fabric in others, covered with tree chips. We’ll see how that works or doesnt.

I need to replace the drip irrigation before June.

Aerial view.
image

The aisles don’t permit a full size wheelbarrow but do accommodate a smaller cart. Space is at such a premium, and I didn’t use wheelbarrow all year last year.

My rotations are peppers garlic tomatoes onions with beans after garlic and peas before tomatoes, so some beds get two crops a year. Also radishes / lettuce / spinach before peppers. And a planned nematocidal mustard after tomatoes for cover crop.

For mulch I have used either black plastic or brown paper for weed prevention and prevent tomato diseases. Either has worked well,

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The thing about using cardboard at the bottom as a weed barrier worked surprisingly well for me.

Doesn’t hurt anything anyway.

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I’ve saved the majority of my moving boxes for just this reason!
(side note, still figuring out how to reply to messages, even with the incredible robot tutorial).

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Thanks so much to everyone for the ideas and the pictures! You all have such beautiful gardens!! (more pictures and ideas are definitely welcome :smile: )

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