Like most gardeners, my fruit and vegetable gardens were setup in nice neat rows, just like you see on an industrial style farm. Granted I was using many different varieties of plants mixed together, nonetheless the beds and walkways were simply straight and boring. So if not nice neat farm rows, what options are there?
Single Rows – This is the absolute worst option, especially if they are straight. Where in nature do you ever see perfectly straight? This style of garden sacrifices the most amount of space to walkways, and is therefore the least productive per square foot. You can spice up the single row garden by placing the rows on contour to give them a nice curvy look, but you will still be sacrificing too much space to walkways.
Double Rows – My old garden was setup with double rows. This is better than single rows, because it cuts down on your walkways. Basically, you setup your planting areas to be large enough that you can reach the center from either side of the walkway. You end up with more planting space and less walkways. If you put double rows on contour, they can be a nice option.
Raised Beds – Raised beds have some advantages in that they can be setup like double rows, and they can help to keep your produce safe from some crawling insects. You can of course build them on contour, but if you are building an extensive raised bed system on contour, be careful as it can lead to mud slides if you are blocking water. I really don’t like raised beds because they are expensive and labor intensive to setup, and they really can’t be moved very easily. If they are tall, forget about having your chickens graze them, and if you want to add mulch or compost it can be difficult to get the material in the beds.
Hugelkultur Beds – Hugelkultur is mound culture, or simply soil over wood. These beds can be tall or short, it is really up to you. I much prefer hugelkultur to raised beds, as the extensive work and upfront cost is negated long term by the lack of irrigation and fertilizer needed to maintain the productive planting beds. Also, you plant the sides of a hugel mound leading to much increased planting area.
Hugelkultur Sun Traps
Keyhole Beds – Keyhole beds need the least amount of walkway space, which is a huge benefit. They can also be curvy and much more in line with patterns in nature. They are also very pleasing to the eye, which seems to happen when you can mimic nature successfully. I really like the keyhole design. My zone 1 garden plan is based on a keyhole design. I've also incorporated a hugelkultur sun trap into my keyhole design.
Keyhole Bed Design
Keyhole beds. (Clover living mulch, and Shredded Hardwood)
Mandala Garden – If you have a circular area, a mandala garden is a great option. Basically a mandala garden is a circular pattern of keyhole beds.
~ Phil Williams
Phil Williams is a permaculture consultant and designer and creator of the website foodproduction101.com. His website provides useful, timely information for the experienced or beginning gardener, landscaper, or permaculturalist. Phil's personal goals are to build soil, restore and regenerate degraded landscapes, grow and raise an abundance of healthy food of great variety, design and install resilient permaculture gardens in the most efficient manner possible, and teach others along the way.