Most vegetables need full sunlight to grow properly, so it is important that you maximise the available sunlight while not compromising other factors such as runoff or accessibility. This page looks at how best to site raised vegetable beds.
Unless you live close to the equator it is important to maximise the amount of sun that your vegetables get. The best way to do this is to lay out your vegetable beds along a North/South* axis. At lower latitudes the sun’s rays still strike the ground at an angle even in high summer. By laying your beds North/South allows full sunlight to strike the entire length of the beds as the sun travels across the sky. Even when you are growing tall crops such as corn and runner beans at the front of the beds.
* Note that these notes are based on a vegetable patch in Australia, which is in the Southern hemisphere. If you are in the Northern hemisphere then naturally the sun is in the South, not the North.
Siting beds on a North/South axis will allow sunlight to reach behind taller vegetables as the sun travels across the sky.
Laying beds on a North/South axis is useless if the beds are shaded by trees, fences or buildings on the North side. If possible, try and leave roughly the same height of any tree, fence or building in distance from your vegetable patch. By doing this your vegetables will get full sunlight all year round.
Vegetable beds sited too close to shade on the north side will be partially or completely shaded in winter when the sun is at a more acute angle.
Unfortunately, it is not always possible to have a vegetable bed in full sunlight throughout the year. If part of your bed is shaded during the Winter months when the sun is low in the sky it is best to only use if for growing crops in summer.
This vegetable bed gets little direct sunlight in winter as it is on the south side of a building. In summer it is used to grow potatoes (TOP) while it is covered in mulch and left fallow in winter (BOTTOM).
Raised beds need to be reasonably level. If your garden has a North/South slope than consider adjusting the beds to suit the slope.
If the slope is gentle, then dig the raised bed in slightly on the uphill side to make the top of the bed level.
If the slope is more acute, then run the beds East/West instead of North/South in a series of terraces. To allow angled sunlight to reach beyond tall crops (such as corn) make the paths in between the beds a little wider.
LEFT: If the slope is gentle, then dig the raised bed in slightly on the uphill side. RIGHT: If the slope is more acute, then run the beds East/West instead of North/South in a series of terraces.
You also need to consider accessibility to the raised vegetable beds and points beyond. If a path is required through the centre of the vegetable beds than it might be better to run your beds East/West, as per the steep sloping ground example above.
As well as working out where to site your raised vegetable beds within your vegetable garden it is important to consider where the actual vegetable garden is sited. For information on siting vegetable beds see Garden Zones.