Raised Garden Beds – Tutorial
The advantages of a raised garden bed include the ability to plant in any location or areas of your yard that were not possible before – they’re a great way to plant when you don’t have the proper soil (just mix your own soil & compost) – they are easier for weed maintenance – the option of adding wire mesh on the bottom to keep burrowing critters out – simpler to control watering – better drainage – a bit easier on your back…
Here’s how to make your own raised garden bed:
Guest post by: Tammy
MATERIALS & SUPPLIES for making your raised garden beds
Makes (2) 4′ x 8′ x 12″ Raised Beds
(6) 2″ x 12″ X 8′ Boards
(1) 4′ x 25′ Hardware Cloth, there will be some left over
(1) Box 3″-4″ Deck Screws
(16) screws between 1″ and 1 ½” long (these can be any odd assortment, just used for attaching straps to sides)
(1) Roll Galvanized Strap w/holes
(1) LB. U-shaped Nails, any size (you don’t want huge ones though)
Drill with Philips bit & drill bit for pre-drilling screw holes
Needle nose pliers
Tin snips or similar for cutting hardware cloth
I already had the strapping and u-shaped nails. The rest cost approximately $140.
I tried using my battery operated screwdriver on another raised bed I built. Don’t make that mistake. Use a real drill.
The needle nose pliers are used to hold the u-shaped nail in place to hammer it, saves a lot of smashed fingertips.
The last beds I built, about 7 years ago, the hardware cloth cost about $30, now it’s up to $67. I feel it’s THE most important part, and here’s why: You may or may not have burrowing critters in your yard right now, but in a SHTF you may end up getting an influx of animals looking for food. You won’t be willing or able to share even one plant with them. One gopher getting in your raised bed can decimate your plantings in ONE day!
About the wood: I use untreated fir, and my reasoning is that I live in a very dry area and even untreated wood lasts for decades. In a wetter area treated wood may make sense. I don’t use Redwood, which is what every book will tell you to use for it’s natural longevity. I’m not a tree hugger, but I believe there are certain things on this planet that should be left the hell alone.
When cutting or handling hardware cloth, please use heavy gloves, it will tear you up otherwise.
This is the lumber I chose for this project:
I had two of the 8′ boards cut in half at the lumber yard just so I wouldn’t have to do it, so I wind up with 4-8′ boards and 4-4′ boards. Long ones are sides, short ones are ends.
The next photo shows a close-up of how I joined the corners. I use the galvanized strapping with holes as reinforcement so that over time the wood can’t warp so much that it causes leaks. You don’t want water draining out a crack before it has a chance to soak into your soil. (Later on if it seems to be separating, you can add another strap where needed, I’ve never had to, but you can).
Use the long screws to join wood together, the shorter screws to attach the strap to the side.
After you get the frames all put together, take the roll of hardware cloth and put it on top of the wood at one end. Attach the end of the wire at only those two corners using the u-shaped nails, making sure it is as straight as you can get it. Then unroll the wire along the top of the frame and let it hang off the other end.
Starting at the end you tacked down, start putting in a u-shaped nail about every 6-8″ (closer if you can get your finger between the wire and the wood, that’s all the gap needed for a rodent to squeeze through). Stop at about 2 feet from the other end so you have some room for cutting off the excess wire. I don’t try to unroll the hardware cloth and flatten it then measure and cut and all that, it’s just too unwieldy. It works better to tack it down and let the end that’s hanging off hold it in place for you.
Now cut off the roll along the edge of the wood, and nail that end down.
Now just flip them over, place in a spot that gets as much sun as possible, and fill with compost or mulch. You can buy these in bulk and it will cost a whole lot less than bagged soils. Or if you have a huge supply of compost like I do just use that. My brother’s family and mine share a mountain of compost we make cooperatively each year.
These two beds that I just finished will be used for raspberry vines, grape vines and 4 more fruit trees. I might add strawberry plants between the trees. You might not think you could plant trees in such shallow beds, but in reality, most fruit trees have the biggest majority of their roots in the top 2 feet of soil, they don’t have tap roots the way nut trees or other large trees have. I buy semi-dwarf fruit trees because they can produce just as much fruit as a standard tree but won’t get nearly as large, making it a lot easier to harvest. Plus you can fit more trees in a limited space, and they take fewer years to mature. Dwarf trees are too small to give much fruit and I consider those to be more decorative than food producing.
Here is a photo of the first two beds I built at this house. There are 4 trees, peach, apricot, apple and mulberry, a lilac bush, a rose bush, watermelons, squash, about 12 kinds of herbs, cucumbers, wildflowers, marigolds, eggplant, swiss chard, sweet bell peppers, anaheim chiles, and my 2 raspberry bushes are living here until their new place is ready. (There may be other stuff in there that I forgot)
Square Foot Gardening, 2nd Edition: Grow More In Less Space
Raised beds are a great idea, never liked digging dirt :)
However, I made mine using cinder blocks, you can plant carrots in between the openings in the cinder blocks. Plus won’t rot, and don’t have to cut/saw/nail.
You can also tier cinder blocks too so use stack 2 levels of cinder blocks to make a deeper soil area for root veggies like carrots, potatos.
The heaviness will discourage some burrowing animals.
The bottom you can line with flat pavers, I’ve found gophers (we had lots of them) actually can push a 16″x16″x2″ concrete paver up and over. But if you put a cinder block onto the pavers, keeps them from trying. (maybe in the future we’ll try putting down chicken wire, then pavers over that!).
They also did try to go thru chickenwire that we laid under our lawn, but they got discouraged–they managed to dig around the sprinkler heads where there was an opening, but eventually stopped as they were getting nowhere.
I’m not a fan of Round-Up or ANY pesticide, herbicde. dont use them, dont need them. i weed the old fashioned way–yanking them out. Last week, must have tossed 50+ snails over the fence (street side) :) Besides, the glyphosphate will probably seep down, and eventually contaminate the ground water. NaturalNews website has info on Round-Up.
@Lightnbug- Cinder blocks make great raised beds, I’ve used those before. They can be easily moved too. It gets too hot here for concrete close to the plants, they would fry. I did use hardware cloth on the bottom of those too, just rolled it out and set the blocks all around the edge, so fast and easy!
Another line of protection for my garden: See the wood fence around the beds in the last pic? On the outside of that fence is planted Prickly Pear cactus. It not only deters the two-legged animals from browsing my veggies, but the cactus is very good to eat and it makes beautiful pears in the spring that are good for jam.
I built several raised beds last summer. Have to use pressure treated or Cedar here if you want them to last. I went with pressure treated, not nearly as toxic as the old stuff. I would probably use Cedar if I did it again.
Some other thoughts:
– I would build smaller beds. Mine, 12′ long, are against a fence, where the sunlight is. Tedious to get into the widest, 5′, bed.
– I don’t have a problem here with burrowing pests. I would put some biodegradable material in to prevent grass from growing through the bed. Not a lot of grass, but some.
– I would make the beds taller. Cuts down on the bending.
I don’t use chemicals in my fruit/vegetable beds, so the treated lumber was out for that reason. I do use an occasional toxin on some temperamental roses that I’m field trialing for the company that developed them. As soon as the trial is over those plants are gone. My other roses and flowers don’t need that stuff.
I use the 4′ x 8′ beds just because they are a convenient lumber size, and I place them where I can get to all sides so I never have to reach more than 2 feet. If you’re limited on space, I wouldn’t make them any more than 2 or 3 feet wide, but I have 10 acres to spread them out on.
Taller beds might be good for some people, but I never have to stoop because I garden in my chair, I could never do all that walking.
And yes, I built the raised beds by myself from my wheelchair :)
Well, I got the beds filled sooner than I expected, so now it’s time to plant them. My original timeline had them being finished at the end of summer and I was gonna plant some bareroot fruit trees and my raspberries in them. But now I have a whole season to work with before I order trees for fall planting.
I had been researching flour corns that would be good for my area and found Painted Mountain Flour Corn. It was developed in Montana for short summers, but it’s claimed that it will grow well anywhere. Supposed to be excellent for flour or livestock feed. Just what I want, so I ordered 2 oz. of seed. I’m going to plant that in these new beds and see how it does. If it lives up to it’s claims, I’ll go ahead and buy that hand operated grain mill I’ve wanted forever.
Wonderful ideas you have here! I too love using raised garden beds. Raised bed gardens are convenient especially in a place with limited space. In addition, raised garden beds prevent overgrowth of weeds and gives you better control of the soil in your garden. Thanks for this post!
@Garden and Lawn– Thanks!
I don’t know how many raised beds I’ve built, they’re all over the place. But I wanted to mention my other planters too as they technically qualify as raised beds. I didn’t build these, they came all ready to use. And they were all free. When my old washing machine died I gutted it and filled it with soil. Now it’s full of roses. When I replaced my freezer, yup, gutted that too and filled it up. These two planters are a lot taller than the other beds and can be worked on from a fully standing position. No, they don’t look too awfully redneck, since I painted them and stenciled leaves and flowers on them. They look more like art. I’m working on my sis-in-laws old dryer right now, painting it. A dwarf fruit tree will probably go in it this fall along with some strawberry plants.
Here in the upper mid west ( SD ), a former co-worker mentioned an idea to me, he picked up 3 or 4 old feed bunks at a farm auction ( 3 to 4 ft X 16 ft , now he / or his wife doesn’t have to bend over very far if any. He put landscape cloth in the bunks with a piece of plastic to direct the excess of moisture to one end to collect in a bucket, and then fill it 50 /50 with compost and soil.The main reason for going this way was his garden seem to flood out quite often even tho it was on the top or close to the top of a rise. Just a thought or idea. Don’t know what the price of new materials would be for something like this, although I’m thinking about doing the same thing.
Cheap, quick, raised beds can be made with most any height boards simply using rebar holding up each end of the OUTSIDE of each board. The weight of the dirt holds inside holds firmly them against the rebar. Be sure the rebar is LEVEL with the boards when you are done.
Easily moved (apartment or relocating) Just bag up the nice dirt, remove the boards, wiggle the rebar and pull out. This can be done in only a few hours and with little $$.
I make my beds higher since I cannot bend my knees from arthritis. Also I scored some free stainless steel shelf units on wheels that were being thrown out due to rust that I plan on converting to tiered outdoor growing racks.
For those that want to take the idea one step further, thing vertically.
You can make a small step pyramid so that sunlight reaches more plants in the same area. You can get more plants in the same space. A variation could be a U shape facing south. (Even more sunlight per square foot.)
Put the smaller height plants on the top or bottom as your creative thoughts flow. Think how the sunlight will reach to the plants when they are at full height. You do also want to arrange things so that you can harvest the goodies.
I plant Marigolds between the crop plants to greatly reduce the need for weeding. If you continually pick off the seed pods during the growing season, you will never have to buy any more marigolds. Just let the seed heads droop over and turn brown then pick them. Next season, scatter some of the seeds and lightly scratch them in.
Another hint is to use daffodils as a border. Rodents don’t seem to care for them and you get all you want just by dividing up the bulbs in the fall.
Want a critter repellent?
Grow some extremely hot peppers. All mammals have the “HOT” receptors in their mouths. So just make a tea from the crushed dried peppers. (Native hot peppers are red to attract birds to spread their seeds, but birds don’t have the receptors for hot.) It also works as a dog repellent in the suburban yard.
Have any of you ever put strawberries in a raised bed ( a cattle feed bunk on legs.? I live in central Minnesota so temps are pretty extreme in winter. Wonder if the plants will freeze off.