Seed the Mind, Harvest Ideas
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How big should a garden bed be? The answer is entirely dependent on the needs, abilities, and operational demands of the grower. Larger beds in relation to the area of the paths between the beds offers more growing space as a percentage of the growing field. I make mine 4 feet wide by 50 feet long with 2 foot wide paths between the beds, 4 foot wide paths at the ends.
A width of 4 feet allows access in arms reach from both sides of the bed without the need to step in the bed which will compact the soil. A length of 50 feet was determined in part by the length of commonly available drip irrigation tubing, which is sold in 50 foot lengths. Another determining factor is my intended use of the beds to grow crops for a Pick Your own operation. From the center of the bed, a person would only walk 25 feet to get to the end where they could then select a different bed to pick from. Lumber is sold in standard lengths including 8' and 10'. Should I wish to constuct bed sides with lumber, standard lengths save me some work. I have only 1 cut to make for the ends. The end result is an area of 200 square feet. This is a handy round figure to use when I need to perform calculations.
Path width depends on how you use the path. For a small garden, narrow paths can maximize the most growing bed area. Foot traffic needs at least the room to walk without tripping, perhaps as narrow as 8 inches. Weeds may grow to be a trip hazard, but can be controlled with mulch along with traffic. For harvesting, room to set down a bucket is needed. To use both hands, resting a bucket on the side of the bed often leads to the bucket being knocked over. I've seen plant growth in the beds so robust that 2 foot wide paths were blocked off. If customers will be traversing the area, liability concerns demand a level surface free of obstruction. Mulching the paths may not be the solution. For an operation which requires getting to the beds with a load of compost, A couple of feet will be needed for a wheelbarrel. Some growing operations use machinery, tractors, carts, and wagons which can demand every other path be wide enough to accomodate the equipment. My operation is simple enough. To get between the beds I make my paths 2' wide to allow the use of a bagging lawn mower. On the ends, the paths are widened to 4'. I need the room to move a wheelbarrel and turn it to enter the path between the beds.
With 4' wide beds, 2' wide paths, 64% of the field area is in beds. Some folks require more space for function, access, or aesthetics. A bed measuring 4'x8' with 4' paths all around offers only 33% of the total area in growing space.