Build a Raised Garden Bed – A How To

Build a raised garden bed

Build a raised garden bed like this one

This year is our first attempt at having a raised vegetable garden bed. We are complete novices to vegetable gardening, so we decided to start small by using a raised garden bed. Using a raised garden bed allowed us to set aside a very small space in our backyard to devote to our raised vegetable garden bed. This meant that our backyard could stay almost like it was and we did not have to clear out a bunch of space or pull up grass or make other drastic changes. We also have moles in our yard, so using a raised garden bed helped us protect the garden from them.

Obviously, if you want a raised vegetable garden bed you have to build it, so I set aside a few hours one weekend a few weeks ago to build it. It turned out that it was pretty cheap and easy to build, but there were several decisions that had to be made along the way that greatly impact how successful your raised vegetable garden bed will be.

Determine the Location

The first step to build a raised garden bed is to determine the location for your bed. Making a decision on where to locate your raised garden bed requires thinking about several different things, including:

  • What plants are you putting in your raised garden bed?
  • How many plants are you going to plant and how much space do they require?
  • How much sunlight do those plants need and how does the sun track around your house so the plants can get enough sunlight?
  • How much space do you have in your yard and where could the raised garden bed realistically go?
  • What is a convenient location for the raised garden bed where it is somewhat close to the house, your compost bin, water barrel or tap, etc…?

After you answer the above questions and take a couple of long, hard looks at your yard, you will probably start to see where it makes the most sense to put your raised garden bed.

Decide on the Border

Our completed raised garden bed

Our completed raised garden bed. We used pine wood for our border.

Now that you have determined where to put your raised garden bed and how big it will be, you need to decide what you will use for the border. Most raised garden bed borders are made from wood, but not all of them. There are many different materials you can use to build a raised garden bed.

  1. Pine Wood. As you can see from the picture above, we used regular pine boards to build ours. Typically, this is not a great idea though, as the boards are exposed to the weather and will rot over time. We took this approach because we wanted to start small and figured that we would be building a larger bed later out of something else.
  2. Cedar Wood. Cedar is the most suggested wood to use to build a raised garden bed. It is naturally resistant to water and insects, so it works very well when used outside. The problem with cedar is that it can be hard to find and is expensive. When we were building our raised garden bed, we went to our local Ace Hardware, Home Depot and Lowe’s and none of them had the cedar boards we needed for our bed.
  3. Pressure Treated Lumber. This lumber is used to build most decks and other outdoor structures you see. However, the treating process exposes the wood to harmful chemicals that are retained by the wood and can leech out over time. Some people think that using pressure treated lumber along with a border inside of the wood is perfectly fine, while others refuse to use it because there is a chance that some of the nasty chemicals from the wood will seep into their garden. As we were aiming to make our garden organic, we steered clear of pressure-treated lumber, but you can decide if it is the right material for you based on your own situation.
  4. Cinder Blocks. Cinder blocks can be great for defining a raised garden bed. However, depending on how large your raised bed is, it can be expensive to use cinder blocks. Cinder blocks are also heavy and make a more lasting change to your yard, so it is harder to move or undo the raised bed later if you wish to do so.
  5. Old Tires. One of the coolest suggestions I saw when researching what to use to build our raised garden bed was to use old tires. Much like cinder blocks, tires can be great at defining a bed area, but they are not nearly as heavy as cinder blocks. However, they don’t look all that great in your yard and, also like cinder blocks, leave a pretty lasting impression on your yard, making it harder to move or take out your raised garden bed later.

If you use wood to build your raised garden bed, you will want to use 2″ x 6″ boards or larger so that the borders are high enough to give the plants in the bed enough soil to grow properly. We used 2″ x 6″ boards, but other people we know and talked to used 2″ x 8″ boards.

Buy Your Materials

Put the soil in

Once your raised garden bed is ready, put down a weed blocker such as cardboard.

Now you know where you are going to put your raised garden bed and you know what you are going to use to build the border of the bed, so you are ready to build it. Spend a little bit of time calculating how much material you will need and then head over to your local home improvement store and buy your materials. Here is how we decided how much material we needed:

Bed size: 3′ x 5′, total material needed to build the bed: 16′

We took our measurements to Lowe’s and saw that the 2″ x 6″ boards we wanted to use came in 8′ lengths. This made our calculation job pretty easy, as we needed 16′ of total material. So, we bought two boards and had the guy at the Lowe’s lumber section cut the boards for us into 3′ and 5′ pieces.

Next, we headed over to the screw and nail department and picked up 8 2 1/2″ galvanized screws to use to screw our wood pieces together. We bought galvanized screws because they are rust-resistant and withstand being outside in the weather better.

All together, the materials we purchased to build our raised garden bed only cost us about $8. How much your materials cost you will depend on the size of the bed you are building and the type of material you use for your border.

Build the Bed

Now that you have all of your materials, you can build your bed. You will probably want to build the bed near where it will sit when it is finished, as it could be hard to move once it is put together.

Spread out the soil

Once your raised garden bed is built and lined, add in the soil.

First, if you are using wood for the border of your bed, simply screw the boards together appropriately (cut them to length first if you did not have that done for you where you bought them) and then put the finished frame where you want your raised garden bed to go. If you are using cinder blocks or tires, you will need to measure out the bed on the ground and then place the blocks or tires around the edge of the bed as appropriate to frame it out appropriately.

Next, you will want to add a weed block to your bed to help prevent weeds from taking root in it. We took some cardboard boxes we had saved in our garage and tore them into pieces and lined the bottom of our bed to help prevent weeds. Other people use newspaper or weed block mesh to help prevent weeds. We liked cardboard because it is a pretty natural material. If you use newspaper, make sure to use only black and white newspaper. Pieces with color inks or printed on waxy paper won’t break down as well and have inks that can contain toxins.

The next step is to line your bed’s border material to help protect it and reinforce it. Again, we tore off pieces of cardboard boxes and lined the pine wood we used to build our border with it. For us, the cardboard also provided a border to keep water off of the boards to make them last longer. A border like this is even more important if you use pressure-treated lumber, as you will want to keep the toxic chemicals inside the wood from leeching out into your garden. If you are using an uneven border material, like tires, a border liner helps keep the soil in the bed better.

Finally, now that your raised garden bed is built, you have lined the bottom of it with weed block and have lined the border material with something to help protect it, you are ready to put in your soil. Our compost was not quite ready to go into the garden yet, so we bought a bag of organic soil starter and mixed it about 50/50% with soil from our yard and filled in the bed with that mixture. If your compost is ready, use it instead so you don’t have to buy any soil.

Voila! You now have a raised garden bed of our very own! If you have more tips or tricks to help build a raised garden bed, please comment and share them with us.

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