Vegetables are as varied as the gardeners who love them. They can be tall and bushy like the tomato, short and compact like the cabbage or low growing but spreading like the pumpkin. With so much variety, planning a vegetable garden can be an overwhelming task for an inexperienced gardener. But with some thought and planning, any gardener can create vegetable beds that make the most of the available space and the plants she wishes to grow.
Consider the Landscape
Landscape matters when it comes to vegetable garden beds. Not all gardeners are blessed with a level, shade-free location for their vegetable beds, so some gardeners need to get creative and plan according to their landscape. Fortunately vegetable garden beds can be a variety of sizes, from long and narrow, to short and raised and anything in between. Vegetable garden beds can even be round, curved or oval, depending upon the landscape. What matters most to a vegetable garden bed is accessibility.
The size of a vegetable garden bed should accommodate the gardener as much as it does the plant. Gardeners should be able to reach comfortably into the middle of the vegetable bed from either side, if it's a two-sided bed. For a one-sided bed, such as a curved vegetable garden bed against a fence or retaining wall, the gardener should be able to reach all the way across to the far side. This makes it easier to pull weeds, add fertilizer and pick ripe vegetables without stepping into the bed and possibly compacting the soil or damaging tender plants.
Consider the Plants' Needs
Some plants, such as pumpkin, winter squash and cucumbers, however, will spread far beyond the reach of any gardener. Usually these types of plants are planted in much larger beds or even fields, and are trained to grow up a trellis, adding height to make up for a lack of horizontal space.
An Optimal Vegetable Garden Bed
Provided the landscape accommodates it, the best option for most gardeners--and most vegetables--are straight vegetable garden beds of roughly 3 to 5 feet wide and 25 feet long that run from north to south. As the sun moves across the sky from east to west, beds running north to south will provide the most sunlight to the plants. Widths of 3 to 5 feet are easy for gardeners to reach across or even straddle as they weed, water and pick their vegetables. Lastly, a 4-foot-by-25-foot bed will total 100 square feet. As most garden additives include instructions that treat areas in 100-square-foot increments, mixing applications of fertilizer and/or weed killer will be relatively easy.
Paths Need Room Too
Paths between vegetable garden beds regardless of size should be at least 2 feet wide to accommodate tillers, wheelbarrows and even lawn mowers if they will be used for weed control.