Is your veggie garden trapped in a box? Do you have 4’x8’ raised beds all lined up on your lawn or perhaps the Peter Rabbit style garden with each vegetable laid out in its own row in a big rectangular plot? I can’t say these kinds of gardens are wrong, but I will encourage you to think outside the box.
While it’s true that raised beds are warmer than ground-level beds, the soil does not actually need to be held up by sides. You can simply have a pile of soil on the ground. When you keep your soil covered with mulch, it will hold together and will not wash away.
Making raised beds is expensive and time consuming. By cutting out this step, you can make more economical garden beds.
When you take away the constraints of lumber dimensions, you can make beds any shape you want. Curved beds and wavy borders look more natural than straight sides. You can make “borders” of vegetables just like you would flowers. Keyhole gardens are circular gardens with a path into the center where you can tend the whole garden from one spot. An herb spiral is a garden that spirals up a mound, creating microclimates for herbs which prefer different types of conditions; wet, dry, shady, sunny.
Peter Rabbit gardens are modeled after farms, which generally use tractors to plant and cultivate so they need room for the tractor to drive between the rows. But you don’t have a tractor so why do you leave all the space between the rows? If you are walking in between the rows you are crushing the roots of your plants and making it difficult for soil life to proliferate.
Another way is to push the rows together and only put a path every four feet. You can plant in blocks using triangle spacing to get the most productivity out of your garden. You can tend the bed from each side while allowing space for the soil life to grow. There will also be less room for weeds to grow, making your life easier.
Whichever style you choose, you want to ensure that you can reach into your garden comfortably from all sides so that you aren’t stepping into it to tend your garden, so make sure that no part of your garden is more than 2 feet from a pathway. By staying out of your garden beds, you avoid compacting the soil so you no longer have to turn it or till it up in the spring. Just put a heavy dose of mulch on it in the fall and plant through the mulch in the spring for best results.
Experiment with inter-planting different kinds of veggies and flowers to increase productivity and beauty. Mix fast-growing veggies like radish with slow-growing veggies like carrots. As you harvest the radish there is more room for the carrots to grow.
You can also intermix veggies and flowers together! They do not have to stay separate! They can actually help each other out, attracting pollinators and confusing pests. If you use edible flowers, you may even remember to include them in your salads and other dishes. I also love to sneak veggies into my flower beds for visual interest and productivity.
Liberating your veggies from their boxes and rows can make vegetable gardening more creative, fun, beautiful, and productive. Are you willing to let go of your idea of what a vegetable garden “should” look like and experiment with something different?