How To: Build Raised Garden Beds

The Mrs. loves to garden. Rating slightly above her garden is the delicious organic vegetables that come from it. So why was her garden such a source of stress in her life in past years? Let me count the ways:

  1. Weeds - This garden sat unused for 2 years before we bought the house. During that time, the weeds took over and it has been a battle ever since.
  2. Moles and other varmints - The sections of the garden that were weed-free, were riddled with mole tunnels. Root crops were hit hard. Our outside-cat helps, but she can only eat so many.
  3. Invasive blackberries - The blackberry bushes were well established and produced great berries. But they spread as fast as the weeds and are twice as difficult to deal with.
  4. Mosquitoes - Those blackberry bushes became a haven for them, and God help you once you had them stirred up.
  5. Deer - We had been marginally successful in fending them off last year. Then we thought a 10-day vacation might be a good idea mid-summer. We returned to find that they had eaten all the pepper plants and all 45 tomato plants.
  6. Hornets - Late summer, a couple swarms of hornets took up residence in our garden - one in the long-term compost, and one the dirt just inside the grass line. We had plans to eradicate them, but the risk of being stung just wasn't worth it. Knowing that they would die off come winter, we waited them out.
  7. Baby - We love her, but having an infant is not so conducive to garden work. Naps don't last long enough and slings too uncomfortable (for baby) for all the bending, reaching, digging, picking, planting and hauling.
Late in the summer, she gave up. I couldn't blame her. I still would dart in to harvest the unstoppable zucchini and squash plants - dodging hornets, and swatting mosquitoes. But that was about it. This year, the top three items are coming off of the list with the addition of raised garden beds. Here is how we built ours.

The Mrs. divvied up the space we had to work with. A few measurements one evening and a bit of graph paper work yielded a plan.
  • 9 beds - each 4 feet wide and 18 feet long.
  • 4-foot wide walking paths on all sides.
  • A fence of some sort
  • A 3-foot wide boarder around the entire plot filled with deer repellent plants.
  • Some space on one end for compost and our chickens

For this project, we used:

  • Power miter saw
  • Cordless drill - with spare battery
  • 4-lb sledge
  • Tape measure
  • Spirit level
  • Tin snips
  • Pliers
  • Lumber - we used red cedar
  • 3" Stainless Steel screws
  • Mending plates - if your beds are longer than your lumber
  • Short screws
  • Poultry staples
  • 1/2" mesh hardware cloth
  • Zip ties
  • 3' painted steel garden stakes
The beds were quite easy to build. We bought 2x6 red cedar boards from a guy on Craigslist. Well below retail, but a fair price to the seller who had no use for them. First I prepped all the lumber and cut them to length.

Lumber typically doesn't come in 18-foot lengths, so I used mending plates to join them. The claw hammer wasn't much help here.

3" self-tapping, stainless steel screws hold them together at the corners with no pre-drilling.

In our garden, we have two types of beds - normal, and root vegetable. The normal beds were easy. Once the box was built, we simply flipped it over and tacked on the hardware cloth using the staples. We used rolls 48" wide, 50 feet long, in the 1/2" hole size. These were the biggest rolls we could find, and we needed 3 of them and then some.

The hardware cloth will keep the digging varmints out while allowing moisture, worms, and roots to pass through. It's galvanized so it won't rust and should last a long time. Initially we placed cardboard under the beds as a weed block. very few go through, if any.

The root veggie beds were a bit tougher.

Wanting these to be deeper, we first dug out the beds to be 8-10" deep. After leveling and squaring up the corners, we laid the 48" wide cloth into the bed to form the bottom, leaving extra to fold up at each end.

We then split a roll of 24" wide cloth to give us 2 strips of 12". Those became the long sides in the trench. The sides were attached to the bottom with plastic zip ties. Then, the wood box was slipped over the ends of the cloth sticking out of the ground and tacked on with poultry netting staples.

For all beds - Mark location, place, double check location, level, and hammer in stakes. Then all that dirt you dug out - has to go back in.

We also added a provision to certain beds for trellises. Totally optional. I'm not sure at this point if this was the best way to do it, so feel free to devise your own plan here.

Beds in place and filled with soil mix. (note: number 9 already had potatoes and onions in it, and had to wait)

a few months later - now with mulch and cardboard down for the paths and vegetables going nuts.

A few tips after building 9 of these:
  1. Survey your area. It's worth a little extra effort to spend a little time making sure the beds will be square with the world around it.
  2. Tin snips work great for cutting hardware cloth.
  3. A 4-lb sledge is a good way to hammer in mending plates, as well as a great work out.
  4. Stainless steel screws, while rust resistant, shear-off fairly easily. Apply firm pressure to your screw gun.
  5. Hardware cloth is a bit like fencing and you can use some of the same techniques when working with it. If you get bubbles, use pliers to shrink. Best part is this doesn't have to be pretty as it will be covered in dirt.
  6. Cedar is a great choice for this project. It's naturally rot resistant, light weight, and is easy on your tools. It also smells nice with working with it.
  7. If you garden is massive like ours, you'll need a lot of mulch and soil. Many home improvement stores discount open bags.
Built beds before? Have pictures or tips to share?

Join us on DIY Day at ASPTL.


autumnesf said...

Looks great! We had just done our first raised beds in Tx and then got orders to Ohio and ended up in base housing as our home didn't sell. So here I am stuck for 2 years and can't plant (we are actually living on a superfund sight..which we found out after the fact). Now I have to wait until we move AGAIN, who knows when, to get back to my veggies. Sniff.

Flowers said...

Thanks for sharing the tips to build raised garden beds. it was nice going through it. Wish If I could create one in my garden.

Candi said...

Be sure to come and link up on Thursday for "How Does Your Garden Grow?" a new blog carnival featuring vegetable gardening "how to's"...
Great job for the raised beds! I used cedar boards too!

MuseBootsi said...

Awesome! We have a dirt patch that will be a raised be soon! Thanks for the tips!

Shannon said...

Great post! We are planning a fairly large garden this year. I want raised beds! I know I'll give up easily!

Carol H. said...

Wondering what you did about the deer fence? And what are some deer resistant plants?

Mrs. (not) the Jet Set said...

We are going to finish the deer fence this spring once the snow melts. We have the posts in but didn't have time before the snow started flying to finish it last fall.

The fence is actually a picket fence that is about 4 ft tall. We can then tack on the deer fence netting above that if we would like too. We used the netting two years ago and the deer would just go right through it. Hoping the wood fence will help them to see it. This will also do a better job keeping the little critters out too.

The plants that I'm using all came from a great book called "Creating a Deer Proof Garden". I bought it since it had such great reviews online of actually having successful choices. Most of the plants we are using are either native perennials or herbs. Things like purple cone flowers, coreopsis, poppies, lavender, salvia, and mints. The stronger the smell the more offensive to the deer.

Hope this helps!

Carol H. said...

Thanks. We are moving to the "country" and have already seen herds of deer roaming through our new yard!

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