define a garden layout

Annual garden beds are an essential part of food production on a permaculture farm. These are zone 1 and 2 food-producing systems that feed the household and provide surplus for selling on the market.

There are many different ways to grow your vegetables on a farm, but here we’ll focus on creating the basic layout for three main types of annual garden beds: in-ground garden beds, raised beds and hugel beds.

You’ll have to decide which of these is most appropriate according to your climate and context.

What you’ll need?

1. Big sheet of paper or computer drawing software

Estimated time: 1h

STEP 1:Decide what type of garden beds you’ll use

In – ground beds

The basic annual gardening method practiced for thousands of years, suitable for both home and larger-scale commercial food production.

You can use a tractor, a walk-behind tractor and other machinery to do much of the labor to prepare your garden for planting.

Raised beds

Raised garden beds are elevated garden beds that sit higher than the surrounding soil and are usually supported by some sort of frame or enclosure.

They are a better option than in-ground garden beds if you have poor-quality soil because you can introduce a different soil type to your raised bed.

They offer several advantages over in-ground beds, such as better drainage, efficient management, and quicker step of season extenders but don’t scale well for larger market garden operations since you can’t use machines.

Hugel beds

Hugel beds are nothing more than raised garden beds filled with rotten wood. You can either dig a trench and fill it with wood, or just pile the wood on the ground and cover it with soil.  

The wood loads your raised garden bed with organic matter and nutrients that are slowly released over the years as they decompose, ultimately helping you to grow typical garden crops with no irrigation or fertilization.

—>Action item:  Choose the appropriate type of garden bed based on your climate and context.

STEP 2: Choose the orientation of your garden beds

There are several factors influencing how your garden beds should be oriented and it all depends on your local context. The three main aspects to consider are solar access, rainfall, and slope.

  • If you live in an area that has dry periods and you need to catch and soak the water, then follow the contours with your beds.
  • If the slope is steep and you want to avoid erosion, try keep the beds relatively perpendicular to the slope, or follow the contours.
  • If you have the choice, orient the beds sideways to the sun (N-S). This is ideal as then every row receives the same sunlight exposure during the day.
  • If maximizing sun is not your priority and you have too much heat, orient your beds E-W so that you can create shade with taller crops on the side facing the sun.

—>Action item:  Choose the appropriate orientation of your garden beds

STEP 3: Designing the layout of your garden beds

No matter what the size and shape of the growing area will be, you should first somehow subdivide it into workable sections; a series of several smaller-sized plots (field blocks) that are of equal size, shape, and length.

For example blocks of 50 x 100 feet (15 x 30 meters) or 100 x 200 feet (30 x 60 meters)… plus 5 – 10 feet (1.5 – 3 meters) on either end to allow for access.

Standardizing the block size helps with access, calculating input and production information, general organization, and, most importantly, management.

This way it’s easy to keep an eye on everything and you can group vegetables belonging to either the same botanical family or that have similar fertilization requirements.

—> Action item: Subdivide your growing area into several smaller-sized field blocks of the same size, shape and length.

Here are the dimension specifications for each individual garden bed type:
In-ground garden beds
  • Width

The standard width for in-ground beds is 30 inches (75 centimeters). This is narrow enough to step over (from path to path), to straddle if you need to work above it, and to reach across when planting or harvesting. Also, it’s a standard width that most of today’s market gardening tools are made for.

If you plan on using only hand tools and a walk-behind tractor a 30-inch bed system is recommended. For a larger scale commercial production with tractor-based tillage, planting, cultivating, and harvesting equipment, your beds would need to be 60 inches (150 centimeters) wide.

  • Length

You can adapt the length of your in-ground garden beds to your particular production scale. It can be as long as the size of the whole field block or less. For example, 100 feet (30 meters) long as the size of the whole block, or 30 feet (10 meters), or any other length. The thing to keep in mind is that all beds should be of a uniform length as this renders all other equipment (tarps, irrigation pipes, row covers. etc.) to be uniform as well.

  • Spacing

The pathways should be wide enough to allow the passage of a wheelbarrow or to work in a crouching position without damaging the adjacent bed. This can be a strip of 18 inches (45 centimeters) minimum or wider if necessary.

Raised garden beds

  • Width

The best width for a raised bed is three to four feet (90-120 centimeters), dependent on your reach. Four feet (120 centimeters) being the standard width. Your aim is to make the middle of the bed reachable from both sides without stepping on the soil.

Beds against a wall or fence should be about 2 – 3 feet (60 – 90 centimeters) wide, as you’ll only have access from one side.

Having beds of equal width will allow you to customize row covers and cloches so that they can be moved from bed to bed as needed.

  • Length

The length of raised beds is a matter of personal preference. But since you can’t step over the raised bed, consider how far you are willing to walk to get around to the other side.

Eight feet (2.4 meters) is the standard length, with 10 feet (3 meters) usually being the maximum length.

  • Spacing

Leave enough space between the beds to walk, mow, or push a wheelbarrow through.

Around 30 centimeters (1 foot) is the minimum width for walking and 45 centimeters (18 inches) is the minimum width for wheelbarrows, and 50 centimeters (20 inches) or more for mowing and easier access.

Hugel beds

  • Width

Hügelkultur beds vary in width and size. However, generally, the bigger the better, because more material means it will grow more plants and last longer.

The recommended width is 4 – 5 feet wide (1.2 – 1.5 meters)

  • Length

You can construct hugel beds that are shorter (1.2 meters or 4 foot), longer (2.4 meters or 8 foot), or even continuous!

  • Spacing

As with raised beds, leave enough space for walking – min. 45 centimeters (18 inches), wheelbarrows – min. 50 centimeters (20 inches), mowing – min. 50 centimeters (20 inches) or more.

—>Action item: Design the appropriate width, length and spacing of your crisis garden beds



    Hello. I have a question. As my site is an abandoned vineyard on terraces, my garden beds are limited to the size of those terraces. The average width is 1.2 m and now Im not sure which type of beds should i build. I think that the best option would be the In – ground beds.
    How should i design the side where the In – ground beds borders with the slope (riser) of the terrace? Should I make a little line with woodchips to prevent the grass pressure on the edge?
    Any suggestion?

    • papprentice

      I think that given the width of the terraces, you should cultivate every second terrace, leaving one as an access point. How do you cultivate depends on the soil and the way you are going to maintain the beds. If the soil is good, and to give yourself more options to manage the beds, use the in-ground beds. You can manage the edges by hand, pulling out the weeds that way or in a way you suggest. The most important thing is to start growing. You’ll work out the details as you go.


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