Build a Raised Bed Garden: The Ultimate Guide

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Summer is the time to be out in the garden, enjoying the fresh air and creating something beautiful in your backyard.

Is there a simple way to create a garden that’s low maintenance, but produces colorful, healthy plants that you can enjoy in your backyard every day?

A raised garden bed is the answer! Create and use garden beds for flowers or vegetables, and find out how easy and rewarding gardening can actually be.

Read on for the ultimate guide to the materials, designs, contents and benefits of raised garden beds.

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Benefits of Raised Beds Choosing Your Material
Container Designs
Simple Building Instructions
Filling Your Raised Bed
Time to Plant!

What's so great about raised garden beds?

1. Give Your Back and Knees a Rest

It's not a stretch to imagine how bad prolonged periods of traditional gardening can be on your back and other joints.  All that reaching, twisting, pulling . . . bad news.  Dr. Mark Mclaughlin from Princeton Brain & Spine  says that gardeners should "think high, think small" and choose a gardening environment that allows you to stand up and remain ergonomically safe.  Enter the elevated garden bed.

2. Regulate the Soil in Which Your Produce Grows

No need to worry about less than ideal soil since you can fill your raised garden bed with whatever soil you choose. Super-sandy soil (drains too fast)  or clay soil (plants don't like wet feet!) are no longer a problem.  Freely add lots of organic matter to help retain moisture, aid drainage, and improve soil structure.  Having soil confined to a bed also means that you have less erosion, less compaction, and warmer temperatures for a longer growing season.  Good news for your plants!

3. Harvest More Veggies with a Longer Growing Season

A raised garden bed has 4 protective walls that shield your plants from pests, animals and other impediments to growth. The increased sun and circulation that plants will get in the bed allow for an extended period of plant growth; resulting in bigger, healthier plants, flowers and vegetables.  To maximize your harvest, you can also try the square foot gardening technique developed by Mel Bartholomew.  This method involves dividing the bed into square foot sections then determining how many plants can fit into each square, maximizing your output in a small space.

4. Grow Fruits and Vegetables, Not Weeds

If you start off with weed-free soil in your garden bed, the likelihood of seeing weeds is slim. Since the bed is elevated, weed barriers can be placed between the ground and the soil in your box, preventing weeds from infiltrating your garden. Your other option for weed defense is to place plants close together, so that weeds are crowded out when the plants fill out the bed.  Fewer weeds means more fruits, vegetables and flowers in your garden!

5. Boost the Appearance of Your Yard

Raised garden beds can be a beautiful addition to your landscape. They’re neat and contained, and can be created from a variety of different materials in a number of different shapes and sizes. Possible designs are only limited by your creativity.  Build a group of raised beds, add a stone path and maybe a water feature, and you'll have a beautiful garden that will become the focal point of your yard.

You can build your own raised garden bed using materials like wood, ferrocement, concrete, brick and stone, metal, or plastic. Easier yet, the other option is to purchase a raised garden bed kit from a garden center or gardening catalog. We recommend  Gronomics since they offer boxed kits that come with simple, tool-free instructions.

So if you're creating your own bed, how do you choose the material that’s right for you? 

Let’s explore the options!

Wood

                               

                                Images courtesy of: http://thepioneerwoman.com/http://www.ana-white.com/http://www.squarefootfarmer.com/http://www.prowoodlumber.com/

Appreciated for their natural look and clean lines, wood-based container gardens are certainly favored in the design-family. If you like the familiarity and simplicity of organic material, then this type of bed is right up your alley.

Cedar:

Pros: Naturally weather, rot and insect resistant which makes an ideal choice for a planter. Relatively lightweight and biodegradable. 

Cons: Somewhat costly and has a relatively short life span. Be sure to use natural (untreated) wood, since treated wood can leach chemicals into your soil. "Treated" wood contained arsenic that was banned by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2003, so new approved chemicals are now used in the treatment of wood. For safety, using untreated wood in your raised bed is recommended.

Composite:

Pros: Made of a blend of wood fiber and polypropylene, it is all-season durable, warp resistant and maintenance-free. Has an appealing wood-grain texture and color, and is lightweight and easy to assemble.

Cons: The hollow boards can be easily damaged due to the lightweight construction and color fading can occur over time.

Pine:

Pros: An inexpensive option with a beige color that turns to a beautiful gray over time. Painting the wood with raw linseed oil can extend the life of your pine garden bed.

Cons: Not rot resistant, so it will most likely need to be replaced after about 5 years.

Redwood:

Pros: Naturally rot and insect resistant, has a beautiful color and a long lifespan of 20+ years. It is also chemical free.

Cons: Be prepared to pay a high price tag.

   

Composite                                 Cedar                                        Pine                                         Red


Images courtesy of: www.deck-pro.net, www.assaabloy.com, www.deck-pro.net, www.wzchutian.com

Here are some great instructions on how to build a bed from The Pioneer Woman, and other great bloggers.

Build Your Own Raised Flower/Vegetable Bed: http://thepioneerwoman.com/homeandgarden/2011/02/build-your-own-raised-flowervegetable-bed/

$10 Cedar Raised Garden Beds: http://ana-white.com/2010/05/hack-natural-rustic-c...

How to Build a Raised Garden Bed on a Slope: http://www.squarefootfarmer.com/how-to-build-a-rai...

Raised Beds: http://www.diydesignfanatic.com/2012/04/raised-bed...

How to Build a U-Shaped Raised Garden Bed: http://www.mydailyrandomness.com/p/download-drawin...

How to Build Raised Garden Bed Boxes: http://www.frugalfamilytimes.com/2013/05/how-to-bu...

Ferrocement

Beloved for their ability to be molded in any wondrous design you can think of, ferrocement garden beds are admired  in a "you reap what you sow" kind of fashion. Though a less common material, the effort put in to construct this type of bed is definitely worth the reward!

                                   Image courtesy of https://www.milkwood.net/


Ferrocement:

Pros: Made by applying a thin layer of cement to a steel or wire frame, ferrocement is an inexpensive option that produces a very strong structure for your raised garden bed. It also is flexible, allowing you to create a wide variety of shapes for your garden. Once the structure is completed, you can paint or stain it to be whatever color you choose.

Cons: A fairly labor intensive technique. Applying the cement to the wire does take some time and some repeated smoothing over.

Looking to get some tips on how to start building a ferrocement raised garden bed? Here are some great blogs to help get you started.

How to Make Ferrocement Garden Beds: http://www.milkwood.net/2010/11/08/how-to-make-fer...

Ferrocement Grow-bed: http://theolivefarm.biz/blog/2012/10/ferrocement-g...

Ferrocement Planters: http://www.hatchetnseed.ca/fernwood-community-center/

Concrete Curvy Beds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fzAOAWQb_hY

Concrete

Respected for their sturdy reassurance, concrete garden beds are a pleasing creation. By knowing the structure will stay intact with minimal maintenance, gardeners can bed at ease with this simply-made bed. 

                                   Images courtesy of 

www.shftblog.comhttp://happyhomeypsi.blogspot.com/http://omnivore-turned-veggie.weebly.com/

Concrete:

Pros: Cinder blocks can be acquired for free or at a relatively low cost and certainly may be the most economical choice. Easy to install, you can just drop the cinder blocks into place without worrying about any drilling or screwing to connect the pieces. The holes in the blocks also provide a little extra space in your bed for plants or for tools.

Cons: Not the most aesthetically pleasing.

For some tips and tricks, here are a few articles to help you create your concrete construction.

Build your own Concrete Block Raised Beds: http://happyhomeypsi.blogspot.com/2012/03/build-yo...

How to Build a Concrete Block Raised Garden Bed: http://www.shtfblog.com/how-to-build-a-concrete-bl...

Building a Raised Planter Bed Garden: http://omnivore-turned-veggie.weebly.com/building-a-raised-planter-bed-garden.html

Brick & Stone

Highly desired for the freedom, of use of brick and stone to build your bed is popular. With a variety of different shape, color and size options to choose from, this material choice allows you to create the ultimate vision you desire.

                                   Image courtesy of http://www.petscribbles.com/


Brick & Stone:

Pros: Lasts much longer than wood, and can look very attractive as well. Stone can also extend your growing season since it captures and holds the heat from the sun during the day, then slowly releases it into the soil at night. These materials may be free or very inexpensive if you can hunt down resources in your own neighborhood or if you know of any masons or demolition projects with leftovers.

Cons: Brick or landscape stone can be somewhat expensive, and brick does involve some skill since mortar is involved.

These two blogs listed below may be of assistance when building your brick or stone structure.

How to Build a Raised Garden Bed: http://www.petscribbles.com/2013/04/how-to-build-raised-garden-bed-for.html

Some Important Things to Consider Before Buying or Building a Raised Bed: http://www.gardeninginraisedbeds.com/raised-bed-ga...

Metal

Modern and trendy, metal garden beds are on the rise, while rot is not! These sturdy, yet lightweight creations are recyclable and rot-resistant and may be your perfect match!

                                   Images courtesy of

http://blueberryhillcrafting.com/http://mycrazygoodlife.com/


Metal:

Pros: A stronger material than other garden bed options and gives you the ability to control your soil and drainage. You don’t need to worry about garden bed rot, and metal has a cool, modern look about it.

Cons: Keep in mind that over time compounds used when the metal is galvanized can leach into surrounding soil. However, the by-products of corrosion aren’t likely to pose a threat to gardener or plant health. 90 percent of zinc may be unavailable for uptake by plants depending on soil characteristics. “You will likely never get even your recommended daily allowance from your produce, much less too much,” says Eric Van Genderen, Ph. D., manager of environment and sustainability for the International Zinc Association.

If you’re in need of some guidance or just want to learn more, view these great articles below.

How-To: Galvanized Garden Beds: http://blueberryhillcrafting.com/2013/04/24/how-to...

DIY Raised Garden Beds with Corrugated Metal: http://mycrazygoodlife.com/diy-raised-garden-beds-...

Our Riased Beds: An Easy Metal & Wood Garden Bed DIY: http://ohdeardrea.blogspot.com/2014/01/our-raised-beds-easy-metal-wood-garden.html

Plastic

Notorious for their durability and easy upkeep, these beds are quite sought-after nowadays. So if you're looking for that longevity factor, plastic raised garden beds may be just what you're searching for.

                                   Image courtesy of http://eartheasy.com/


Plastic:

Pros: Long lasting, durable and stable. Commonly made of HDPE (high-density polyethylene) plastic and generally have a minimum life span of 50 years, you will see long-time savings and will not need to replace the bed. This type of plastic withstands extreme temperatures and is not likely to crack or chip. Also, it will not leach any chemicals into the soil. The boards have a smooth finish and are available in a variety of different colors to suit your taste. As an added bonus, the high quality plastic is also washable and recyclable.

Cons: Somewhat expensive and heavy to carry to the garden for assembly. Unfortunately, once assembled, it doesn’t have the same linear strength as wood so the sides may eventually bow out over time, while attempting to hold all the soil and plants inside.

Check out these helpful instructions on how to build, maintain and enjoy a plastic raised garden bed.

Cedar vs. Recycled Plastic vs. Composite Raised Garden Beds: http://learn.eartheasy.com/2014/04/cedar-vs-recycled-plastic-vs-composite-raised-garden-beds/

Raised Beds from Reclaimed Recycled Plastic Lumber: http://www.instructables.com/id/Raised-Beds-from-Reclaimed-Recycled-Plastic-Lumber/

Now that you’ve chosen your material, let’s talk about design options! When building your own raised garden bed, your options are limitless.

Some popular choices include:

Images courtesy of www.owtdoor.comwww.thegardeninspirations.bizwww.niftyhomestead.comwww.windowbox.com, www.eartheasy.com, www.gronomics.com, www.eartheasy.com,


But, if you use your imagination, your design can be totally unique.

Here are a few blogs to help get you started, and give you some options to choose from.

Top 28 Surprisingly Awesome Garden Bed Edging Ideas: http://www.architecturendesign.net/top-28-surprisingly-awesome-garden-bed-edging-ideas/

Square

One of the most popular choices, square garden beds are easy to maintain since they have such a simple layout. The square format makes it easy to plan what to plant and where!

http://eartheasy.com/grow_raised_beds.htm

Image courtesy of: 

Rectangle

Another common container shape, rectangle allows for easy plant access from all sides. This rectangle garden is simple, classic and allows for ideal plant spacing and growing.

http://thepioneerwoman.com/life-and-style/build-yo...

Image courtesy of www.frameitall.com

Round

Round gardens look beautiful and can be made from a variety of different reclaimed objects. Use tires, wheels, barrels, containers...use your imagination here. The garden can also be built around a focal point like a fountain, statue or other garden decor.

http://www.diynetwork.com/how-to/skills-and-know-h...

Image courtesy of: www.qatada.com

Keyhole

An active compost pile placed in the center of a round bed holds the moisture and nutrients, which makes this design perfect for hot, dry locations, though it will work well in just about any climate. The keyhole notch placed in the center allows for easy accessibility to plants, as well as to the center compost. Keyhole gardens are often used for intensive planting where plants are placed close together to maximize production.

https://www.niftyhomestead.com/blog/keyhole-garden...

Image courtesy of: www.monjardinenpermaculture.fr

U-Shaped

Another popular design that allows the gardener to move easily throughout the planting area. The u-shape offers more growing space while requiring less lumber to build. The result is a more efficient and cost-effective raised garden bed. Add fencing around the garden bed to make this a pest-resistant design that you'll love, but unwanted visitors will loathe!

http://www.mydailyrandomness.com/p/download-drawin...

Image courtesy of www.eartheasy.com

Bed with Trellis

This type of garden bed is ideal for gardening in a small space. A trellis is a beautiful addition to a raised garden and is an intelligent use of space. When you run out of space down below, you can grow plants vertically! Growing your plants up off the ground also allows for better air circulation and makes them less prone to disease.

http://www.vegetablegardener.com/item/10916/diy-ra...

Image courtesy of: www.onehundreddollarsamonth.com

Creative Options

Be creative, and the options are limitless! Plastic bottles, old tires, wagons, old cars, geometric shapes, dressers, boats, logs, instruments or other home decor items that can be salvaged and up-cycled to create a unique garden are all possibilities.  Even something geometric can be beautiful!

http://webecoist.momtastic.com/2013/03/18/13-creat...

Image courtesy of:


Image courtesy of www.redmilllumber.com

Want to build your own? Here's How!

Supplies:
4 – 2 x 6 boards @ 8 feet long. (Pine or cedar are good choices. Don’t use pressure treated lumber.)
4 – 2 x 6 boards @ 4 feet long.
1# 3 – 3 1/2 exterior screws
1# 2 – 2 1/2 exterior screws
1 bundle 18″ – 24″ stakes

Tools:
Tape measure
Pencil
Level
Small sledge hammer
Carpenter’s square
Cordless drill
7/64 #8 counter sink bit

Basic instructions:

1.) Gather the necessary tools and materials. Lay them out in the space you will design the garden bed.

2.) Set the first side and attach ends with large screws. Attach ends on second side with large screws.

3.) Drive stakes in corners. Attach stakes to boards with small screws. Drive more stakes all along the inside of the box.

4.) Square and level first side. Then do the same for the second side, making sure the entire box is level.

5.) Place landscape fabric along base of the bed.

6.) Fill with your preferred soil.

7.) Finally, sow your seeds and enjoy!

Images courtesy of www.wikihow.com

The Perfect Soil Mixture for Filling Your Raised Bed: http://www.gardeninginraisedbeds.com/raised-bed-soil-mix/the-perfect-soil-mixture-for-filling-your-raised-bed/

When choosing a soil mixture for your garden bed, you need to consider your local climate as well as the level of soil pH that your plants require. With a raised bed, you can create your own ideal soil mix without worrying about amending the existing soil. Follow the steps below before you plant!

1.) Prepare the site

Remove existing vegetation and till the soil where the raised bed will be placed. This will aid drainage and allow plant roots to get deeper into the soil.

2.) Control pests

Place galvanized hardware cloth under the raised bed and on top of the native soil. The cloth should extend about a foot beyond the outer border. This will prevent rodents and other small animals from burrowing under the sides of your garden.

3.) Amend soil

Adding an organic, slow-release, balanced fertilizer to the soil once or twice a year is what is recommended by most experts. Other amendments that can be used include greensand, perlite, gypsum, alfalfa meal, dolomite lime, and shredded bark.

4.) Start seeds

If you are direct sowing seeds in your raised bed, you may want to layer some vermiculite and peat moss, about an inch deep, on top of the soil mix. You can then layer some compost on top once your seedlings have sprouted.

5.) Mulch

Be sure to leave room in your bed for an inch or two of mulch. The mulch should be added in the summer to counteract heat and weeds, hold moisture and reduce nutrient loss from your soil. An inch or two of pure compost makes an excellent mulch for your garden bed.

Image courtesy of: www.home-water-works.org, www.theessenceofhome.blogspot.com, www.doityourself.com, www.jessimakesthings.com

Now that you have the bed constructed and filled, it's time to plant! Remember, you need to take into consideration what exactly you're attempting to grow (flowers, vegetables, etc.) and plant accordingly. Can two different plants thrive close to each other? Will tall ones create too much shade for short ones? Are wide plants going to overcrowd the area or not leave enough water or sun for surrounding plants?

Here are some tips to keep in mind when starting to plan what goes where in your garden bed.

  • Plant in succession with crops that are ready for harvest within 3 months, like carrots and peas.
  • Plant your vegetables in blocks to utilize your growing space most efficiently.
  • Keep your soil healthy by practicing crop rotation, moving each bed over one space per year, while keeping each crop within its ideal growing environment.
  • Utilize your vertical space by attaching a trellis and netting to the raised bed to support plants like beans and squash.
  • A small space can yield a wide variety of flowers and vegetables, as long as you have healthy soil, plenty of sunshine and good drainage.
  • Water, water, water!

                                                                    

                                                                                     Image courtesy of http://www.enjoy-your-garden.com/

Here is a great article from the Farmer’s Almanac on raised bed gardening in a small space.

Raised Bed Gardens and Small Plots: 5 Tips Plus Garden Plot Plan: http://www.almanac.com/content/garden-raised-beds-and-small-plots

In order to keep your flowers and veggies organized, try using a layout plan such as the one shown above. This will help you keep track of what's what, allow you to upkeep and harvest the plants easier, and will look just as organized as you feel!

Raised Garden Beds are a great option whether you are tight on space, want to add a garden area to your yard, or are just feeling creative. These gardens allow you the freedom to plant and harvest where and what you like. They also have great health benefits and provide you with amazing home-grown organic produce!

Happy growing!

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