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Orientation of raised garden beds in respect to SUN 🌞

 
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Howdy Folks! I’m a new-ish gardener seeking feedback on the orientation of my newly constructed raised garden beds in respect to the sun. I’ve gotten a lot of mixed responses & wondering what you think.

The four boxes below are currently situated with the long ends running north to south. To help illustrate this— From where I’m taking the photo, the short edge closest to me is facing south, while the other short end is facing north.

Additional info that may or may not be useful: the concrete pad is sloped to the Northeast for drainage (backside of this photo). We’re planning to put down an inch of gravel in each bed to help with drainage & keep the soil from sitting directly on top of concrete. The beds measure 190”Lx48”Wx18”H. We chose this location because of the amount of sun it gets & it’s close proximity to our house (zone one). It took us two years of living at our house to realize parking our cars here was not a good idea  & that we ought to be growing things here instead. This is where this design idea was born. We live on 10 acres of mostly wooded forest, just outside Atlanta, in zone 7b. Full sunshine is fairly hard to come by on our land.

In your opinion, does the orientation of these raised boxes matter? What do you think would be ideal, and why?

Thanks in advance for sharing your knowledge!
321D7B22-16A3-448C-A9C2-537DF54A85A3.jpeg
[Thumbnail for 321D7B22-16A3-448C-A9C2-537DF54A85A3.jpeg]
 
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Hi MJ,

So looking at your picture I see no real problem.  A northern slope is a little problematic, but from your picture, it does not look terribly steep (you will have to tell me if it is, 2D pictures are notorious for not really showing elevations well).  A northern slope will tend to shade the garden a bit more (in the northern hemisphere).  But you can compensate by planting taller plants (such as tomatoes) in the back so their considerable shade lies outside the garden.

Other than that, judging by your picture, the beds look rather nice.  If there is any chance that you could raise and level the bed, that of course could be helpful.  You could potentially stick some bricks under the northern and especially northeast side to bring it back to level (or even better, maybe give a slight southern slope).  But judging from the picture I just can’t determine what that level would be.

MJ, this is my only suggestion I can think of for the slope of your bed.  The next thing I would think about would be what are you going to put into those beds.  They look very nice, but not huge.  Were it me I would put the absolute best bedding material possible in there.  For me, that means filling with woodchips and inoculating with mushrooms (wine caps or oyster mushrooms).  Do you have non-pine wood growing on your property?  This could be perfect.  Another alternative would be to fill wine straw square bales and make a straw bale garden for a year and by the next year you will have amazingly broken down straw/bedding.

Or you could just fill with the best topsoil you can get and start there.

I know that this is a lot, but I want to assure you that you are off to a great start.  My suggestions are just that—suggestions.  Take or leave it as you wish.

But please keep us updated, I would love to hear how things work out for you.

Eric
 
Eric Hanson
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MJ,

I did not see this at the time and I apologize for this, but sitting on a cement pad could be problematic, but not terminal.

The best option in my opinion is to move it to your grassy region in the foreground of your picture.  This will give your plants easy access to subsoil.

Another option is simply to make the bed taller and pile in more garden bedding.

What you have may in fact work just fine as it is not exactly shallow.  Again, these are just suggestions and please take or leave them as you wish.

Eric
 
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I haven't noticed orientation to be a problem in mine, as long as they get sunlight. If your dirt is too low in the box, then the edge of the box can shade some of the dirt too much.

I wouldn't waste that nice concrete pad for raised boxes (simply because it's unnecessary) - I'd just put the boxes on the grass near the concrete, and lay down cardboard under the raised beds (making sure to cover 100% of the grass within the box, to kill it all - perhaps two sheets thick of cardboard).

I'd personally encircle the concrete pad with the planter boxes, making the concrete pad a pleasant place to have a meal, surrounded by your garden.

Other than that, those are fine-looking boxes!
The one suggestion I'd make for future boxes, is to make them higher. Most people only do it 6" or 4" high, but if you can tolerate the higher cost of extra lumber (I make mine about 2 ft tall), it'll really make your garden easier to work as you won't have to lean over anywhere near as much, saving back stress. Mine are very pleasant to work in - if anything, I might even add on another 4-6" sometime down the road, but thus far it's been great.

Though, you can always raise them up higher later, if you find it desirable to do so, and 18" is definitely *far* better than 4" or 6".

(To tag on to Eric Hanson's comment: asparagus in particular wants to have its tap-roots go down several feet or more, though that root depth is an anomaly for most vegetable garden plants; and asparagus could just be planted on the ground without a raised bed, as it's a perennial and doesn't need much weeding once it's established)
 
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Those boxes look like they were made from pallets. If so, nice job repurposing!
 
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I have found that the best results come from beds oriented with their longest side to the south.  The sun moves from east to west and is lower in the summertime so your crops will get the most sun this way.  The greenhouse/high tunnel industry indicate that their structures should be oriented this way as well.
 
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I do see a couple of things I would do a bit different.
First if you are going to keep those beds on the concrete pad, then 18" is not deep enough for many vegetable plants 24" would be my minimum in this situation and probably I would shoot for beds that were around 30" deep.
The reason is two fold, first why have a raised bed that you still have to bend over to work?
I like to put the least strain on my body as possible because I am already 68. The second reason is with 30" depth you don't have to worry about the root systems not having enough room.
The extra depth also allows you to plant more densely so you get more in the same space.
48" width allows for working the bed from both sides, I do this now but Wolf wants our beds changed to 3 feet wide max since she can't comfortably work in the 4 foot wide beds now.

To ensure that you have a really good base to the beds, Straw bales are great as Eric mentioned. Straw bales also make it very easy to get the fungi growing and when the bales break down and you incorporate that material with soil and compost, you will have very awesome soil to grow in.
Along that line, if you moved the beds so soil was under them, then that soil would spend a whole growing season with humus leaking down into the soil, conditioning that soil and attracting worms and other soil living micro and macro organisms.  

Have you mapped the sun travel for this space? vegetable plants do best when they get a minimum of 6 hours of sunlight (mine get sun from 1 hour past sunrise to 1 hour before sunset). The sun hours should be one of your parameters for bed placement.
Orientation also needs to be set up according to the sun hours as well as wind direction.

There are lots of good ideas and comments put up already by others too.

happy gardening

Redhawk
 
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I agree with moving the raised beds off of the concrete. Are there trees close to where you were standing to take the photo? If not, the grassy foreground would probably be a good location for at least some of the beds. I would consider placing some or all of them just at the edge of the concrete at the far side; this would minimize shading from any trees behind you in the foreground. Add some boards or rocks to level the far side of the beds where the ground slopes away, with the near side just touching the concrete so you don't have to worry about weeds there.
 
Mj Patneaude
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Hey Eric, thanks so much for your input! I really like your idea about building the soil with straw & inoculated  mushrooms. I’m unfamiliar with growing mushrooms but have heard it’s fun & am interested in trying it out.

I also appreciate your point about the northern slope. You were correct in your guess that these beds are on a very subtle northern slope, but addressing it by propping it up & getting it level wasn’t even anything I considered. That should be something I can tackle before filling & am glad you mentioned it.

In the long term, I’d actually like to plant fruit trees in the soil behind these boxes. They would getting full sunshine, but be located on a Northern slope. My logic was that as long as the tops of the trees were getting sunshine, they would be good, but perhaps the soil not getting enough sunshine could be problematic?  I’ve got SO much to learn!

Thanks again Eric! I’ll be sure to update with pictures as my beds get going!
 
Eric Hanson
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MJ,

Glad to help!  I think you are spot on about putting the fruit trees north of the beds to avoid shading.  But as many others have noticed (RedHawk in particular) I would really consider getting those boxes (which look amazing BTW) onto ground as opposed to cement.  From the looks of things, this should be easy to do.

Regarding the mushrooms, if you were to start with straw, the process is very easy.  The biggest obstacle to overcome would be to make sure that the straw does not dry out.  I would help this along by planting something in the bales on the first year, partially to offer shade to the bale itself.

Another option is woodchips.  From my experience, once woodchips get thoroughly soaked, they are not likely to dry out unless you have really hot and dry conditions.  I would check it at least weekly to see if it is damp.  If you have any concerns, get some water on it; it cannot possibly hurt and can only help.

The last, longest option would be to add logs and such.  This is likely more than you want to attempt the first year.  The real advantage of straw or woodchips is that the substrate can still sorta act like soil (it is a little more involved, but certainly doable and I can certainly help you there).  But logs can’t act like soil for the first year.  You can add logs and soil together but this is the most involved process of the three and not as conducive to building your soil as the other two techniques.

If you are still interested, great!  I can certainly give you a hand.  I have a long running thread Here

https://permies.com/t/82798/composting-wood-chips-chicken-litter

This thread chronicles my personal fungal journey.  In the beginning I was a complete fungal neophyte.  It shows my anxieties and eventual success.  I am keeping it updated in order to help others who might try something similar.  By now I have a basic degree of competency, but I am still learning.  I learned the most simply by doing it, but I owe a lot of thanks to RedHawk and others who nurtured me along the way.

Long story short:  adding the appropriate mushrooms can make some wonderful, amazing garden bedding (and give you mushrooms) and the process is fairly easy to learn.

If you want to try, I will certainly help out.

Eric
 
Jamin Grey
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Eric Hanson wrote:The last, longest option would be to add logs and such.  This is likely more than you want to attempt the first year.



In some of my beds, I've put 6-8" logs (and other random branches) at the bottoms of the beds for long-term decay. Mostly I just did it as a filler material at the bottom - whatever I happened to have nearby from treefall or chain-sawing. You can't plant directly on logs, but you can plant in whatever dirt/straw/woodchips you put on top of the logs, as I did. As the logs decayed, the dirt settled substantially (about 6 inches), but that didn't harm anything, and just provided more space for building up the soil in the beds later.

Last June, I dug deep into part of one of the beds with the logs, and they were nearly entirely decayed, with decent soil - I think about four years have passed.
(stuff decays absurdly fast in my area - I buried a whole turkey carcass, and a year later I dug up the bones and they were almost entirely decayed - just a few tiny pieces remained)
 
Eric Hanson
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Hi Jamin,

Sorry if my comment came off as sounding impossible or bossy.  That was not how I intended it to sound.

The point I was trying to get to was basically the point you made—that you can’t really plant directly into a log.  Absolutely you can lay down all sorts of wood and cover with soil and that wood will eventually rot into some wonderful bedding over time. My thought for the OP was to give an option where she could have rotting wood and growing vegetables in the first year.  But you are correct, your approach can work just fine.

My apologies if I offended,

Eric
 
Eric Hanson
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MJ, everyone,

I have only been doing the mushroom thing for about 2 years, and I am presently 2 years into a 3-4 year project which is converting all my garden beds into raised mushroom beds.

Although I have only done the mushroom thing for 2 years, I have used woodchips for about 10 or so.  I first started using woodchips after I first cleaned up some fallen trees after a storm.  At first I just used them as a mulch, but they were spread thin. 1-2 inches deep at the best.  Eventually I got a 4x8 foot trailer full, that did not rot immediately and I wanted to dispose of them—my whole fungal journey began as a means of disposal.  

Initially I thought about using some left over 10-10-10 fertilizer from my pre-Permies days.  I thought I could kill 2 birds with one stone.  I posted the query here and resoundingly, the response was to not take that approach and use wine caps instead.  And from there my disposal project turned into a garden bedding project.  I have a burn pile and I used to burn woody debris.  Now I hoard woody debris for mushroom fodder and my garden beds are so very much better for the effort.

I had seen videos celebrating the use of woodchips as a garden bedding, but these were not yet decomposed.  Adding the mushroom compost has made a world of difference.

Just my experiences,

Eric

 
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I have some raised beds going east / west and some north / south. I prefer beds running east / west. The reason is that I run my vegetable rows across the beds to make it easier to hoe weeds between the rows. Rows of vegetables running across an east / west bed will obviously be oriented north / south which allows maximum sunlight for the plants. I hope I described that clearly.
 
Eric Hanson
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O,

That is a very astute observation.

Eric
 
Jamin Grey
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Eric Hanson wrote:Hi Jamin,
Sorry if my comment came off as sounding impossible or bossy.  That was not how I intended it to sound. My apologies if I offended,



You weren't at all bossy or rude or anything, not in the least! I'm fully in agreement with you on everything you said and just wanted to add on an additional tip for the OP to your great post. =)
 
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I agree with Eric about avoiding growing on concrete if possible. Even poor soil will become pretty good after a year or two of good raised bed soil being on top of it tended with minimal disturbance. I would also not worry too much about cramming them close together.

I might line one side of the paved area with a couple beds, then have another one by that telephone pole to use it as a trellis base. I've grown hops this way.

Or I might create a keyhole shape, in my climate with it open to south for more sun and a hot spot in the middle, or facing north (likely nicer in Atlanta) to create a shaded area behind the plants growing out of the beds.
 
Mj Patneaude
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Wow, ideas galore! Thanks for everyone’s input. I really appreciate the feedback.

Everyone seems to be in agreement that growing on concrete isn’t ideal. However, I’ve studies my site extensively & this is by far the sunniest spot we’ve got. I hate to not use it! My husband and & I are young and naive (😉) so we are going to give this location a shot & will move them in the future if we want to.

The area is front of the concrete pad gets shade from a nearby tree. It also is the location of an old fire pit. We have been picking up trash on our property for two years & have a feeling the old owners may have burnt toxic things here (pressure treated wood, trash, etc.). For that reason, we would like to plant super-plants that will pull up those toxin from the soil. I’ve heard sunflowers are great at this. Eventually, I would like to plant edibles here, but am not sure how long it will take to clean the soil. Right now we’ve got crimson clover growing there & May do buckwheat next.

We’re new to this all but are having fun with it. We will indeed be jumping into experimenting with mushroom growing too! Thanks again crew! 🌱
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Mj Patneaude wrote:
It also is the location of an old fire pit. We have been picking up trash on our property for two years & have a feeling the old owners may have burnt toxic things here (pressure treated wood, trash, etc.). For that reason, we would like to plant super-plants that will pull up those toxin from the soil.



I would try to get some mushroom slurries poured into the soil where you feel contamination may be lurking, the mycelium will work with the other toxin accumulators (sunflower, daikon, crimson clover are good TA functioning plants as well as many others but these three play nice together).
The more, different fungi you can get inoculated into the suspect soil, the better, most mycelium don't kill off each other, they might make some species move away from them but they generally seem to be ok as long as there is enough space between the species.
Of course, if you are using found mushrooms or not worth eating mushrooms to make the slurries with, it will be more a matter of use what you have, over which ones play nice together.

I do have some other ideas Mj, should you want more on getting toxins out of soils.

Redhawk
 
Glenn Herbert
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If the middle of the concrete pad really gets significantly more sun than the northeast edge of the pad, try the beds where they are. I would suggest that even then, it might be a worthwhile experiment to move one of them just off the edge of the concrete to see if there is a difference in how well things grow.
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