Raised bed gardening has become very popular as a way to garden. No more getting out the rototiller in the spring to prepare the soil. Here are just a few benefits to gardening in raised beds.
- Raised beds eliminate worry about the quality of the existing soil. You can literally place a raised bed on cement and have a successful garden. So, if you are concerned that your soil may be contaminated, or you hit bedrock three inches below the surface, raised beds are the ideal solution for you.
- Raised beds require less bending or stooping. This can become more difficult as we get older. Raised beds can be any height you want–even tabletop height. You can build a raised bed that is wheelchair accessible, making it possible for the disabled gardener to continue growing their own food.
- The raised beds also help to keep your pets and other critters out of your garden. If you have determined rabbits, you can easily add an additional border of chicken wire to the top of your raised bed if needed.
- Raised beds warm up earlier in the spring, allowing you to get a head start planting your organic vegetable seeds for the cool weather plants.
- Raised beds are easier to maintain. The soil is never walked on and compacted. Any weeds can be removed easily and the lawn can’t creep into your garden bed.
- Raised beds just look nice. They give your garden space a neat and tidy appearance. Devote one of your raised beds to flowers that attract butterflies and other pollinators.
So, now that you are convinced that raised bed gardening is for you, how do you build one?
A raised bed is basically a box with no top or bottom. There are a few things to keep in mind before you start. Your raised bed can be any length you want; however, the width needs to be shallow enough that the gardener can reach into the middle of the bed. Usually, the width is no more than four feet. That way, when you harvest from each side of the bed, you will be able to reach those plants in the center of the bed. Once you have decided the dimensions of your raised beds, you need to decide how high your beds will be. This may be determined by the needs of the gardener, or it could be determined by the materials you plan to use to build your raised beds. This is particularly true if you are planning to use repurposed available materials.
Let’s start with the basic construction and then how your raised bed could be modified.
1. You need two boards that are 12 inches wide and eight feet long and two boards 12 inches wide and four feet long. Ideally, the wood should be cedar. Cedar has a much longer life when exposed to the weather and watering in the garden. Do not use treated lumber. The chemicals that are used to treat the lumber can leach into your soil and enter your herbs and vegetables. Cedar is expensive so you can certainly use other untreated woods. Just understand that other woods won’t have the same longevity as cedar.
Most big box stores will make straight cuts to the length you want for no charge. Have your lumber cut to size at the store.
2. For this size bed, you can just screw the boards together. For extra strength in the corners, attach a 12-inch length of 2×2 to the inside of each corner. You can also use metal right angle braces on the outside of your corners.
3. Place your raised bed frame in the location you’ve chosen. Cover the ground inside your frame with landscape fabric, cardboard or several layers of newspaper. This will prevent the grass or weeds from growing up into your garden bed.
4. Add soil and you are ready to plant your organic seeds.
If you have decided to make your raised bed longer than eight feet, you will have to give the sides additional bracing. Either sink a post or use rebar for this purpose. Some gardeners also want the additional stability of setting posts in the ground at each corner of the bed. This is usually not necessary.
If you have decided to have your raised bed more that 12 inches tall, you don’t need to fill the entire thing with soil. Layer the bottom with any decomposable material, including logs, a layer of brush, straw, leaves, etc. Only the top 12 inches need to be actual garden soil.
You can use found materials to build your raised beds. Old barn boards or repurposed corrugated metal or plastic roofing can be used for the sides of your beds and often this type of material is free for the hauling.