The last step I need to complete before setting out the onions is to mark up the grid pattern of where each plant will be placed. This is where gardening in raised beds begins its divergence from traditional in-the-dirt farming.
At the core of raised bed gardening is a discipline named “French Intensive Gardening”. The name is misleading, for some of the tenets predate the French by quite a bit. There are accounts of similar Chinese gardening methods going back almost 4000 years.
These practices promote maximizing harvest yield in small spaces, along with reducing water use. There are other important tenets involving companion planting and crop rotation, but the important one at the time of planting is spacing. Putting out the plants in rows is not how a raised bed is populated.
Just about every seed vendor provides information regarding how to plant any particular seed. Here’s what Fedco publishes for the New York Early Yellow Storage Onion I’m planting: Set seedlings out 1–2″ deep and 6–8″ apart in shallow trenches, 1–2′ between rows.
Those instructions are for traditional farming. As there are no rows in a raised bed, I’ll lay out a grid that places each plant the recommended “apart” spacing in all directions. Using guide marks on the edges of the raised bed along with my “planting stick”, each onion will be 6-8” from any other. Planting this way should yield about 100 onions per bed, as shown below.
Some seed instructions may not suggest row spacing at all, like the Yellowstone Carrot: At 3″ high thin to ½” apart, at 6″ thin again to 1-2″ apart. In these cases I’ll direct plant the seed into the bed initially in rows 2” apart, and then thin them along the planting lines to 2” as well. This will leave each carrot roughly 2” from any other. I’ll be planting four varieties of carrot this year, devoting ¼ of a bed to each. Carrot yield from a raised bed is usually amazing; I’ve regularly harvested 30lbs or more from a single bed.
The second preparatory job I’ll mention today is installing the trellises for the cucumbers. Knowing that cucumber vines wander all over the place, and going back to the tenet of maximizing yield in small spaces, the only answer to conserving raised bed space is for the cukes to go “up”. That’s exactly what these trellises allow them to do.
I built these a few years ago, forming the frames from ½” electrical conduit and 90°connectors. The mesh is simply chicken wire attached with plastic zip ties. The sun takes a toll on the zip ties, and each year I have to replace a few, but overall these units will last forever. Since the crops are rotated, the trellises are installed on different beds each year. The process is simple, as shown in the photo below.
We grow two types of cucumbers, one trellis of Marketmore slicers and two of National pickling. I’ve learned to keep them separated in different beds each year, as in previous years we’ve seen some incredibly weird pickling cukes due to cross-pollination. Once their seasons get underway I’ll show how they’re coaxed into going up the trellis- it’s not hard.