photo credit: Mike the Gardener
|There are literally hundreds of different ways you can build a raised bed for your home vegetable garden. You can also buy raised bed kits from places like Lowes, Home Depot and online at Amazon. Some are more well built than others and the price you will pay will reflect in the quality.
What is a raised bed and why you should use oneIf you want a good, solid raised bed for your home vegetable garden, that is suited to your own needs, I have found the best way to do that, is to build your own. A raised bed is simply an elevated garden bed that sits above ground level. There are a variety of reasons as to why you would want to go with raised bed vegetable gardening, but for me itís because our ground has a lot of clay and it takes too much soil conditioning to get it just right. So, the easier solution is to build a raised bed and add in soil that is ready to go. Iíll get more into the soil later.
What do you build a raised bed out ofJust like raised bed kits that I wrote about above, the price for building your own can vary as well. I have seen raised beds built from bales of hay, cinder blocks, bricks, wood, you name it. All will vary in price and availability in your area. For me, I like to build mine out of landscaping timbers.
The Case for Using Landscape Timbers
I do this because they are durable and inexpensive. I can purchase an 8 foot long landscape timber for $1.97 at the Home Depot near me. This is of course a sale price that they have in the springtime. Once the sale is over, their normal costs are around $4.00 a piece. I also find that they are easy to work with and are very solid and sturdy. I currently have a few built that are over 10 years old and show very little wear and tear.
The Case for other Types MaterialIf landscape timbers are not available in your area or are too inexpensive and you still want to build your raised garden beds out of wood, donít worry you have other options.
PineThe first is pine. I would strongly urge you not to use pine. It is the least expensive of the woods, however, it is the fastest to breakdown and rot away if left unprotected. You can treat your pine with 3 to 5 coats of a polyurethane which will increase itís lifespan tremendously, but still in the end, it will wither away.
CedarCedar is a great choice. It is more expensive than pine but still wonít break the bank. I have two raised beds built out of cedar that are about 5 years old. They weather very nicely and hold up well against any insect damage. The downfall of cedar, believe it or not, it is not available everywhere and in fact, in my area, we get limited quantities (not sure why), so it is not readily available, which is why I like to use nothing but landscape timbers now.
TeakTeak is a tropical hardwood that is very expensive in my area, however it holds up the best over time to the elements. Itís a fairly easy wood to work with and aesthetically speaking is the best in my opinion. Itís drawback for me, is the cost.
Non wood choicesAs noted earlier, you can make a raised garden bed out of just about anything. You can use straw bales, bricks, and weather resistant composite decking material called Trex. Straw bales are good, moderately expensive, but must be replaced every year. They work best in a cold frame application when gardening during colder months. Straw bales do a great job protecting plants from the elements. Bricks, cinder blocks, and other concrete material work great, but are heavy, hard to work with and can get pricey. While a good landscape designer could create an oasis out of brick placement I just donít have that type of creativity, so for me they are not a good option. Trex is great. It is weather resistant, will hold up for virtually forever and you can make some really nice looking raised beds. The downfall is cost. It is very expensive. In fact it is the most expensive of the items I've mentioned so far. If you are willing to put out the money for a nice looking material that will last for a very long time without showing much wear, then Trex is a good way to go.
Putting the Raised Garden Bed TogetherFor the sake of this tutorial, and my own wallet, I went with landscape timbers. I already talked about as to why this is my personal choice so letís get started talking about what other supplies will be needed.
Supplies to Build the Raised Bed
Determine the Size of your Raised Garden BedThe first thing you have to do is determine the size of your raised vegetable garden bed. The one I am building is 4 feet by 8 feet and will be two timbers high, or roughly 8 to 10 inches. That is plenty of depth to grow a lot of different veggies. Over time as the underlying soil gets more conditioned we will be able to add in more deep rooted crops.
Cutting the TimbersI needed six 8 foot long timbers for this project. Four of them will make up the long sides and the remaining two will be cut to create the short sides. I measured 4 feet on each timber and using my miter saw I made straight cuts on my marks, turning one 8 foot piece into two 4 foot pieces. I did the same thing with the other 8 foot piece.
Assemble the Raised Garden Bed FrameNow that I have my pieces cut to the lengths that I need them, it is time to assemble the frame. There are countless number of ways you can join these pieces together. I opted for four and half inch screws. These screws keep the timbers attached to each other very tightly, and the screws I chose are weather resistant so they wonít rust or deteriorate over time.
I built each side individually before assembling all 4 sides together. I found it easier that way. Once all 4 sides are together, it is time to bring them all in to assemble the raised bed garden frame. Because the screws that I am using are only four and a half inches long, I need to drill holes into the sides at the corners where the frame will be attached. This will allow for more of the screw to hold on both pieces. I drilled in two screws at each corner to make sure the bed was secure.
Fill your Raised Garden Bed Frame with DirtNow that the frame is together, we basically have a nice outline, that is, until we put some dirt in there to make it a true raised garden bed. I would recommend a good garden soil from a local home or garden center. You can grab a 50 pound bag for under $10. The reason being is the garden soil is already filled with nutrients your plants will need to grow so no other conditioning will be needed. Organic varieties are also available for a few dollars more. You will want to fill your garden bed to the point where the soil is about a half inch above the timbers. I do this because I know the dirt will settle on the first rainfall or watering, thus putting the soil below the top of the timbers. Itís not a big deal, but you want to take advantage of all the space the raised garden bed gives you.
Grow and EnjoyYour raised garden bed is now ready for planting. Just remember, we did not do any tilling of the underlying soil so I would not recommend large root crops like Rutabaga, parsnips, large carrot varieties and so on. The hard compacted soil underneath could stunt their growth. In the following seasons we turn everything over which will start loosening up the bottom. We could have done that now, but I have found it is less back breaking work to wait a season.
As a side note. I like to put down 2 to 3 layers of newspaper, then about 2 inches of mulch to help block as many weeds as I possibly can. I hate weeding.
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