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GroEdibles Blog

Feb 19

How to Build a Raised Bed

Posted by GeriMiller on 19 Feb 2011. Filed under  Garden Care, How To Guides View Comments

How do I build a raised bed?

This is such a common question that I decided to dedicate an installment of my GroEdibles blog to this subject so that you can refer back to it as needed.

ADVANTAGES OF RAISED BED GARDENING

  • Better drainage

Growing plants in raised beds is a logical choice for gardeners with heavy, poorly drained soils. Raised beds permit plant roots to develop in soil held above water-logged or compacted zones. This provides a more optimum soil environment for root growth. As beds are built up, compost or other forms of organic matter may be incorporated, further improving soil structure, drainage and nutrient-holding capacity.

  • Higher yields

Better root growth from improved soils leads to higher yields for food crops and lusher growth of ornamental plantings. Also, intensive planting in raised beds means more plants can be grown in a smaller area than with conventional row-cropping techniques. No space is wasted between rows.

  • Expanded growing season

Better drainage speeds soil warming and allows earlier spring planting. In wet seasons, soil dries out faster, permitting planting to proceed between rains.

  • Maintenance

Because plants are growing above the level of foot paths, less stooping is required for weeding, watering and other chores. Intensively planted raised beds (the strategy I prefer) provide dense foliage cover, shading out much weed growth.

  • Using difficult sites

Raised beds make gardening possible on sites where growing plants would otherwise be impossible or very challenging. Rooftop gardens, gardens on slopes and raised beds on top of solid rock are examples.

Terraced raised beds turn hillsides into productive growing areas while reducing soil erosion potential.

A few words on the key elements

While I will let the links I’ve “harvested” 🙂 from the internet give you the specific instructions, I want to mention a few key elements that my years of using raised beds have proven to be essential ingredients for success.

  • 1) ROOTING DEPTH = DEPTH OF RAISED BED: As important as this is to know when you’re planting into the ground, it’s even more important when you’re growing in raised beds and containers as well. My recommendation: IF YOUR NATIVE SOIL IMMEDIATELY BELOW your raised bed site is unworkable or otherwise impaired, make sure you build your beds deep enough to allow you to grow the widest range of vege possible…16-24″ AND establish and maintain a healthy soil food web.

  • 2) RAISED BED WIDTH: For ease of use and to make sure you don’t have to walk on your soil causing compaction, make the beds a width that allows all the gardeners tending the beds to access the middle of the beds comfortably…that usually means an interior width of about 3′ (4′ total width).

 

  • 3) MATERIALS: There are many options here. I’ve used redwood, cedar, broken concrete and cement ash block. All of these work well and, of course, if you re-purpose or reuse any of these materials – EVEN BETTER!

DO NOT USE PRESSURE TREATED LUMBER. Even though there have been changes in the pressure treatment process, I still won’t use it and, therefore, can not recommend it to you. As always, this is up to the individual gardener to decide. Do your own research. I’m sure you’ll come to the same conclusion. After all, you’ve gone to all this trouble to keep your food source as pristine as possible, why risk chemicals leaching into your soil from your building materials? http://www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/treatedlumber.html The cedar and redwood (even unsealed) will last a good 5-10 yrs (depending on site/usage) which is a very acceptable life span. Check out the HGEL Fan Photos as some fans have posted great pics of the raised beds they’ve built. Of course as simple as these are to build some of you may be interested in buying kits. I’ve included a couple of links for you in the link list below.  

Using raw linseed oil as a wood preserver is acceptable way to extend the life of your boxes and is allowed in certified organic gardening. 

  • 4) PEST CONTROL: Whatever materials you use to construct your beds, take care to add one important element to the bottom of your beds: heavy gauge hardware cloth or small opening, heavy gauge gopher wire (http://www.groworganic.com/gopher-wire-4-x-100-roll.html). Believe me, this extra step will save you much grief! This barrier method is the ONLY thing that stopped gopher invasion in my school garden beds! This will have to be replaced about every 5-6 yrs or so as those buggers will eventually work their way through as the barrier degrades. Also, as you are designing your beds, consider adding a mechanism to support a hoop house around your bed. One of the “Garden Girl” videos below shows you how she does this. I’ve also see pieces of pvc pipe attached to the outside of the beds so that pvc pipe can be slipped into them easily to form the hoop structure. Use your imagination. Hoop houses are essential in pest protection and growing season extension.

That’s basically it! Enjoy the links below….post your questions AND, most importantly… ;  POST YOUR PICTURES OF YOUR FINISHED RAISED BEDS ON THE HGEL FAN PAGE!

LINK LIST

Building a Raised Bed

(keep in mind that some of these videos may demonstrate a fairly shallow depth…remember you want deep beds 16-24″ which requires additional support if your native soil isn’t workable or viable) HGTV article on building a raised bed by Joe Lamp’l

Garden Girl Video: Building a Raised Bed with a Hoop House

Garden Girl Video: Installing a Drip System for a Raised Bed

Lowe’s How to Build a Raised Flower Bed or Garden Box

Sunset Magazine Slideshow and articles on building a raised bed:

Click HERE to go to article on Sunset.com

KITS (keep in mind my recommendation on bed depth)

Art of the Garden – M Brace: http://www.artofthegarden.net/ (Mbrace corner brackets featured in Martha Stewart Living March 2011 issue) The M Brace will be sold in our GroEdible store that will be opening soon. How to build an MBrace raised bed from Art of the Garden on Vimeo. Naturalyards.com: http://www.naturalyards.com/

Naturalyards kits being assembled at Four Daughters Kitchen, Manhattan Beach

Eartheasy.com: http://www.eartheasy.com/grow_raised_beds.htm Apartment Therapy – small space planter: http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/la/gardening/look-small-space-tiered-planter-080906 Wheelchair height raised beds: http://www.gardeningwithkids.org/raisedcontainer.html (wheelchair accessible heights) Mini Farmbox: http://www.minifarmbox.com/mfb/homebox.html

 

4×4 redwood boxes at the HGEL demo garden at International Garden Ctr. in El Segundo

Building 4x8x16″ boxes using the M-Brace at Post & Beam restaurant, Baldwin Hills

HGEL’s M-Brace Raised beds finished at Post and Beam Restaurant, Baldwin Hills

Cement block beds in school garden. 5×15′ (exterior measurements) These beds are 10 yrs old now.

Raised beds at mar’sel restaurant garden, Terranea Resort. Made w/ 6×6″ & 4×6″ cedar timbers.

20130101-084906.jpg

 

12 Responses to “How to Build a Raised Bed”

  1. Geri – great article and illustrations!!!!

    Posted by Cathy on February 23rd, 2011 at 2:31 pm Reply

    • So glad you found it helpful!

      Posted by GeriMiller on February 24th, 2011 at 6:55 pm Reply

  2. I saw your both at the Orange county fair and liked the metal corners you used for making “raised beds” I heard someone say that they were for sale, but didn’t think about buying some until after I had left. Do you have them available on your website to purchase? I have looked a little, but haven’t found them yet. I will keep looking at your website, maybe I missed them.

    Thank you,
    Britta Brodowski

    Posted by Britta Brodowski on September 12th, 2011 at 10:56 pm Reply

    • Hi Britta,
      I will have them available in November from my online store which you can find on this website. In the meantime, visit artofthegarden.net. You can order them directly there. The link is in the body of this blog article along with a video on how to use them.
      Best,
      Geri

      Posted by GeriMiller on September 13th, 2011 at 11:02 pm Reply

  3. Very great post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wished to mention that I’ve really loved surfing around your blog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing to your rss feed and I’m hoping you write again very soon!

    Posted by gophers on June 23rd, 2012 at 11:27 pm Reply

  4. On the pressure treated lumber non recommendation. Well I know alittle something about chemistry and leachability and after my review, I DO NOT reach the same conclusion. The newer wood offers only copper as a potential leaching concern. Since most of US home water pipes are ….. Wait for it….copper emerged in water (the leaching mechanism). Arsenic was the concern with the old lumber treating process and even that as a leaching prob was probaly a stretch except on the sites where large amounts were used, spilled and often remained on that site. I will be making my new raised beds from newly treated boards and will have more concerns from ozone and carbon dioxide in the air than from anything leaching from my beds. Just my opinion but I feel it is an informed one.

    Posted by Trj on March 29th, 2013 at 9:00 am Reply

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I really appreciate you taking the time to share your experience. I teach organic practice so can only recommend gardening strategies that are approved for organic practice which eliminates using treated lumber. Additionally, I cannot recommend something that I wouldn’t myself use or expose my own family to. As I state in the blog, there have been changes in the chemicals used. These are my own recommendations and I urge folks to do their own research. The final choice remains with the individual gardener.

      Posted by GeriMiller on March 29th, 2013 at 9:23 am Reply

  5. Would paint be a bad idea?

    Thanks.

    Posted by WoundedEgo on February 7th, 2017 at 8:02 am Reply

    • Hi Paul,
      If your goal is protecting and lengthening the life of your wood, I would paint it inside and out with raw linseed oil which is an accepted method of wood protection in certified organic gardening. If you’re goal is to enhance the design or look of the garden by adding color, I would do the following:
      1. Hopefully your boxes were made with 2″ thick boards. This will help be certain that there is no risk of seeping through to interior of box.
      2. Select low/no VOC paints or paints made from natural ingredients. Here’s a great link that might help: http://eartheasy.com/live_nontoxic_paints.htm#2d
      3. ONLY paint the outside of the box taking care not to over apply to risk the paint coming into contact with the soil.

      I hope that helps!

      Posted by GeriMiller on February 7th, 2017 at 11:22 am Reply

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