This is part one of our four-part series on how to plant a simple garden using raised row beds. You can see all four parts here ;  Growing Simple With Raised Rows

GROWING SIMPLE – The Raised Row Garden   (part 1)

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Our raised row garden at the farm

Our raised row garden is the centerpiece of our farm – producing all of the fresh garden produce we use through the spring, summer and fall. It also provides all of the fresh ingredients for canning our pasta sauce, salsa, hot pepper mustard, green beans and more to fill our pantry for winter.

You might think we spend hours each day working in the garden, and weeks getting everything planted and harvested – but quite honestly, we don’t.

Truth be told – on average, we spend less than 10 minutes a day working in the garden throughout the entire season, with rarely the need to weed anything, and keeping watering to a minimum. Our garden is not massive by any standards. It measures only 40′ x 60′ from end to end – and over 60% of that space is in the rows between the plants.  And yet, we routinely pick over 2000+ pounds of fresh tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, peas, green beans, lettuce and more with the simplest of gardening methods.

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Raised Row’s Allow For Healthy And Productive Plants

For us – vegetable gardening is all about simplicity. It’s about maximizing our yields while minimizing our work load – all with an eye on the garden looking as good to the eye as the vegetables will on our plates. Our way of gardening is not based on some great scientific breakthrough – it comes simply from experience. It’s simple, quick, easy on the back and the environment.  But the real beauty of it, is that it can work in a garden of any size – as small as a single raised row 18″ wide and 3′ long, or in one much bigger than ours.  If you have always wanted to plant a garden – but think its too much work – give this a try! It’s economical, it’s sustainable – and adaptable to almost any situation.

So, what will we need? And what are raised row gardens?

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Harvest From Our Pepper Rows

Let me start by telling you what you won’t need for a great raised row garden: You won’t need an expensive tiller. You won’t need to buy costly boards, planks or stone for edging and making raised beds. You certainly won’t need much time – about 10 minutes a day or less. But most importantly, you won’t need a lot of space.  

In fact a simple 10′ x 15′ area, with very minimal work and cost – can be grown into a garden that will keep your family in fresh peppers, tomatoes and salads all spring, summer and fall – with plenty left over for canning.   As we will show you throughout this 4 part series – with a little straw or shredded leaves and a little top soil, you can start a raised row garden in an hour or two.

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The raised rows allow the best of your soil to be concentrated right where your plants are – while the walking rows make access to the plants easy, without stepping near any of the growing roots.

Our raised row beds are 18″ wide and are about 6″ high in the center, with a gradual taper on the edges.  The length of the rows  is determined by available space, our’s happen to be 20′ each.  We have found that the 18″ width seems to be optimal  for root structure development – allowing them to become deep and strong – while still conserving the overall space of the garden.  This allows us to concentrate all of our compost and soil building efforts in that 18″ wide space of the row, not wasting them all over the garden.  Why till in and use up valuable compost or topsoil in the rows you walk – when you can put it exactly where it’s needed by the plants! Even our fall and winter cover crops are only planted in the 18″ wide raised rows – not the entire garden – allowing for maximum replenishment of the garden while conserving our cover crop seed.

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The straw or shredded leaf mulching keeps the garden looking great, while keeping watering and weeding to a minimum

Our raised rows are very similar to raised beds – with a few minor cost saving changes.  One, we do not use any edging, boards, stone, etc. to keep our beds in place.  Not that it’s inherently  bad to do so – it just adds cost and maintenance issues that are not needed.  For us – going to the expense of building raised beds was a huge obstacle. We have over 30 rows that are each 18″ wide x 20′ long – and to come up with stone, wood or some other material to box them all would be a huge waste of valuable time and resources.  Secondly – our raised row beds use utilize a base of shredded straw or leaves under the mound of dirt – which provides tremendous advantages for the growing plants.  Last – we use a mulching of straw, compost and or shredded leaves on top of the raised rows during the season to make weeds almost non-existent.

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Keeping foot traffic off the plants makes for bigger yields through bigger root structure.

Our raised rows allow us to stay off and away from the roots of our plants.  When you compact the area around a plant with big soil-clogging foot prints and heavy foot traffic  – it really does make it harder for the plant to grow bigger roots.  Less roots = less ways for the plant to soak up the valuable water and nutrients from the soil that benefit the plant.  If you leave the area around a plant undisturbed and free of compaction – it makes for much healthier plants.The most important thing in the garden in the structure and health of your soil. Watering, weeds, harvesting and plant choices all play second fiddle to that single important thing – your soil!

If you would like to receive our garden and DIY post each week – be sure to sign up to follow our blog via email, Twitter or Facebook in the right column.

Jim and Mary

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How To Grow A Great Garden..From Scratch

53 thoughts on “Raised Row Gardening – How To Grow Simple!

  • May 15, 2016 at 11:17 pm
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    Do you ever use black plastic in the valleys or just the hay?……I refuse to weed my 4 10 by 20 gardens another year.

    I tilled and added cow poop and mulch and tilled a few times….also have cat issue but that’s another question.

  • May 3, 2016 at 10:04 am
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    so im trying everything i have read this year so i can actually enjoy my garden vs spending all summer weeding . and the best part is we open our garden up in the fall for our chickens to tear up and contribute to the making of the compost . so for the past 5 months they have had extra free ranging in our garden and all of our weekly chicken coop cleaning gets dumped right into the garden . my question is how long after i plant the seeds will i start to see growth ? its been a week and normally i would have seen some activity by now . any advice or opinions will help thanks much

  • April 29, 2016 at 2:35 pm
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    Could you use wood chip mulch instead of straw? We have a boat load of dead trees that we cleared and are going to chip up for mulch, and I was thinking it might make a good alternative to straw. What do you think?

    • April 30, 2016 at 10:31 am
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      Absolutely! Actually we use that a lot now too and it works perfectly!

  • March 14, 2016 at 2:34 pm
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    I enjoy your garden talk so much .I was wondering if ashes from a firepit are good to put in the garden .Thanks Sharon

  • February 20, 2016 at 8:54 am
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    Did u put the leaf or straw mulch on top of the row bed and then added your topsoil? Was there grass under the raised bed in the beginning?

  • August 1, 2015 at 5:04 pm
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    Just discovered your blog today and am really enjoying reading your posts. Regarding raised rows, I do this but my rows are twice as wide and my paths are very narrow. I rent my garden space so every square inch is at a premium and I try to maximize my growing space as much as possible.

  • March 4, 2015 at 10:51 am
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    I am obsessively reading your blog, great info! I’m hoping you can give me some advice. We just moved onto acreage and tilled a 60×30 area for a garden, exactly what we shouldn’t have done! It’s the first week of March and our last frost is slated for mid April. Is there anything I can do to suppress the weeds?

    • March 4, 2015 at 11:20 am
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      Angie – no worries, you can start from the tilled soil and rake up your raised rows for planting. Then in between the bed space (walking rows) you can either put down a heavy layer of straw or leaves, or put down plastic in the walking rows and then put the straw on top to really suppress them the first year. Good luck and glad you like the blog!

  • February 13, 2015 at 4:03 pm
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    I’ve often thought about raised rows. Like you, I don’t see any sense in the expense associated with the materials involved in making raised beds. It’s good to see images of them in use!

    • February 13, 2015 at 4:04 pm
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      Thanks Dan!! They really do work without all of the fuss of the “real” raised beds!

  • January 19, 2015 at 9:45 pm
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    So this may be an odd question – but is straw and hay the same thing? We have tons of hay that we bale each season (bermuda) – however wouldn’t that seed if we laid it down? I have seen “straw” bales for sale – but they aren’t cheap around here…and our garden would take a bunch!

    • August 25, 2014 at 11:07 am
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      We make them about 24 to 30″ wide for the walking paths

  • August 14, 2014 at 2:37 pm
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    So how do you make your mulch? I see you posted what to put in it…. Do you compost it? Put it through a shredder? I put my leaves through my lawnmower but what do you do with your straw?

    • December 10, 2016 at 1:59 pm
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      I get my compost from my town yardwaste area. They turn over the piles of leaves often and the stuff I get is broken down to great compost. even if it isn’t completely broken down its well on its way just keep adding your veggie scraps to it to improve it.? Opened word of caution it will contain weed seeds but if you put mulch around your plant it’s no problem. Best of all its free for the taking.

      • December 11, 2016 at 8:05 am
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        Great idea! Thanks Scott for the tip

  • April 14, 2014 at 10:51 pm
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    Jim and Mary, I am *loving* your blog. Thank you so much for sharing with us. I’m new to this and SO excited to do this with my children, but I didn’t know to prep the ground in the fall. My neighbors were counseling me to use a rototiller to turn over the ground and get rid of the grass where I plan to plant. I read your opinion on the roto-tiller. 🙂 So, what do I do about this grass? Do I need to get rid of it somehow, or leave it and put my straw, soil, and compost raised rows on top of it? That is probably a silly question, but I really don’t know what to do about the grass if I don’t till it. 🙂 Thanks!

    • April 14, 2014 at 10:55 pm
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      Rachel – glad you love the blog! The fall plan is just one way – but you can certainly use the rototiller the first time to prepare your first garden – it is one time it can really help get you started. Sometimes we come down a little hard on the poor rototiller – but it does have a place -and this is one of those times 🙂 You can then create your rows by using some of the soil in with the straw and compost and you should be good to go!

    • April 14, 2014 at 11:17 pm
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      hi Rachel – so goo to see that you are getting your children involved with your gardening projects. I cannot speak for anyone else … but because of age, financial & physical problems, when i started my garden 3 years ago – i simply built raised beds using wind blow-down cedar trees that we spilt ~ then laid cardboard down right on top of the weeds, grass & all … then used our good top soil that we had been “saving” ~ then laid down thick layers of compost that we started 6 years ago just for the “new” garden project. today i just top dressed them with another layer of compost. i was amazed that i still have NO WEEDS poking thru!!! the previous spots that i rototilled was full of weeds two years later – so in my humble opinion…rototilling it makes it so much worse. i adapted my garden project from the lasagna method of preparing a new garden site. (just saying 😉

      • April 14, 2014 at 11:22 pm
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        Good idea and another great way to get it started J! – and also another way to do it without that rototiller :). It is amazing how many fewer weeds you get without turning up that soil!

  • November 20, 2013 at 8:10 am
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    Sorry to take up so much time and space with questions, but if my entire yard is grass, with no roomto rip up the grass for a garden can I plant veggies, compost, and all this stuff, in pots?

    • November 20, 2013 at 9:11 am
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      No problem at all – we are glad to help…You can plant a lot of them in pots. Your bigger varieties of tomatoes and peppers are a little more difficult – requiring large pots – but it can be done.

  • November 14, 2013 at 10:48 am
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    What about gophers? My raised beds keep them out of my veggies but I do plant some things in rows, They don’t seem to bother my corn or tomatoes. Any other suggestions?

  • October 21, 2013 at 7:35 am
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    We plan on doing the raised beds this coming Spring..

  • October 2, 2013 at 10:06 pm
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    I just stumbled upon this site while looking for canning tips.. it caught my eye because I bought a few acres and decided I’d love a garden! Well apparently I started off on the wrong foot and have been battling for three years since! I rototilled a large plot and have had some veggie success but I’m also fabulous at growing grass and weeds. The weeds are getting worse each year and my crops are getting weaker. I have excellent soil for tomatoes but can’t manage melons, peppers or pumpkins. I need help. I need advice. I don’t have a computer so after I read how your garden works with the raised rows and not tilling I couldn’t figure out where the next article was too set up my garden to defeat the weeds and get going! If you have time I’d love a reply. I’m trying my hand at canning applesauce this week..I have food allergies so I’d really like to conquer my garden and know what I’m eating and what I can and can’t have!

  • March 30, 2013 at 9:41 am
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    I am so encouraged to try gardening again. Our property is roughly a 2% grade and the only relatively flat area was used by the previous owner as a drive way so it is full of gravel. We tried last year but didn’t do very well. After reading your article I won’t even have to till…..and I can put all this horse manure to use. Thanks so much.

  • March 22, 2013 at 7:38 am
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    This is great I am going to try this… maybe today….

  • January 25, 2013 at 8:49 pm
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    You stated that you use straw what kind… i have some hay that is coastal will that be ok. Thank you…

    • February 14, 2013 at 10:47 am
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      Hay usually has numerous seeds in it, which would then be deposited into your garden. Wouldn’t suggest it because of that. Maybe layer of hay covered by wet newspapers?

  • January 17, 2013 at 8:31 pm
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    My one goal for 2013 is to have a vegetable garden. Thank you for making it that much easier, for someone who is learning as I go!

    • January 17, 2013 at 9:26 pm
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      We are glad you like the site!! You will have to let us know how the gardening goal goes this year!!! We wish you the best of luck!!!!

  • December 7, 2012 at 11:29 pm
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    I feel like I found you at the perfect time. We have gotten to the point with my husband’s elderly parents that they no longer can do everything for themselves so we are moving onto their 5-acre property next spring in our RV to assist them. They live in the country outside Dayton, OH and I was planning a fairly large garden for next summer. I have just started to delve into your blog site. I don’t believe in coincidences so I feel I was brought to your site for a reason. I am loving what I have been reading. Thank you so much for sharing this valuable information. 🙂

    • December 8, 2012 at 8:11 am
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      We are so glad to have you as a follower LuAnn! Good luck on starting the garden this coming year – I am sure it will come together great! How nice that you and your husband can help out and be there for his parents. We are a few hours to the east of you – but if you are ever travelling over this way, let us know and we can show you the farm.

      • December 8, 2012 at 9:56 am
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        We would love that. Thank you 🙂

  • November 22, 2012 at 11:30 pm
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    Fantastic post! I have built-in raised beds and sometimes they are a pain! The raised rows gives the advantages of the grow boxes without the hassle. Nice!

  • November 21, 2012 at 1:59 pm
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    Interested in how to make a raised bed. Also, Your garden plan or lay out for a small gardens.

    • November 21, 2012 at 8:55 pm
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      Hi Bonney – we will cover those in the the next few weeks – including a couple of different layouts for specialty gardens like a salsa and pasta sauce garden.

  • November 21, 2012 at 10:20 am
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    Oh I am glad I found your blog….(thanks to Savy southern style).
    I love the garden. Once upon a time we gardened that way…using straw. I can’t use straw now as I slip and have bad knees. Could one use shavings??
    have a Blessed Thanksgiving!
    Nancy
    http://wildoakdesigns.blogspot.com

    • November 21, 2012 at 8:51 pm
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      Shavings (depending on the type of wood) could work well – another option is to plant your rows in a cover crop – like annual rye – and just mow the areas between your beds. We are glad you found us too!!!

  • November 20, 2012 at 6:14 pm
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    We also are building our gardens with a similar method. It’s our first year gardening and we had limited time and resources to build our beds so we did the layer of wet newspaper, compost, lucerne mulch then a final layer of compost. We’ve built ours about 36″ wide though to minimise area used for walking. So far they are growing well (I’m in Australia) and the beds that aren’t yet planted have rotted down to gardeny goodness really well.

    • November 21, 2012 at 8:49 pm
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      That sounds like you are off to a great start. I have heard of people using wet newspapers – but never knew if it worked – good to know!!!

  • November 20, 2012 at 5:07 pm
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    What you are doing is similar to what we are doing but there is one critical difference…. Ours has a 6 foot fence all around it which really eats into the gardening space. We have deer and bunnies that come through and decimate everything if we don’t. How are you getting away with no fence? Also, the photo looks like you put straw down for the paths but do you mulch the plants themselves? I LOVE your flat tomato cage which is what hooked me on your blog. It was too late to implement this year but I am excited about trying it next year!!

    • November 21, 2012 at 8:46 pm
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      You will love the cages – they have really made all the difference in our tomato yields. I have heard how damaging the rabbits can be – but we have yet to see one on the property. As for the deer – we are really fortunate – other than the peas – they have left our garden alone. I hope I am not jinxing us! 🙂

  • November 20, 2012 at 12:57 pm
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    No problem at all Nancy – we have wanted to do it for awhile and thought now would be a good time to give plenty of time to plan!

  • November 20, 2012 at 12:32 pm
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    Thanks for this series. We have a very small garden but use a similiar method. Looking forward to reading the rest of your series. I always learn something new. Thanks!

  • November 20, 2012 at 10:42 am
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    Awesome, was just gonna post something asking more about your raised row/no till beds…before looking into it after reading some on here I had never heard of not tilling the soil. I know, sounds dumb but I really haven’t done gardening for about 15 yrs. Am looking forward to it again tho, so thanks for all the information…can’t wait for the next article 🙂

    • November 20, 2012 at 12:55 pm
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      Thanks so much Catherine! It has really worked for us and hoping it will work great for you too!

    • November 21, 2012 at 3:49 pm
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      While waiting for their next article, there’s a film called “Back to Eden”, that you can watch for free on their website, that’s all about growing a no-till garden. The person interviewed is a deeply Christian man, so be warned, some people might find excessive bible quoting somehow annoying, but they look at the hows and whens and with what you can start a garden with. http://backtoedenfilm.com/

      – Penny

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