Introduction: Affordable Raised Garden Beds
One of the pains of our current home is both the size of our backyard and it’s inability to drain water well after it rains. Even after the most modest downpour we can expect to have shallow lakes in our backyard for no less than 3-4 days assuming the rain is followed by sunshine. Unfortunately, this was a problem that had to be considered when my family decided that we’d like to plant fruits and vegetables in the backyard this summer.
The most obvious solution that came to mind was raised garden beds since they bring with them several benefits including better soil and drainage, not to mention far easier weed and pest control. In fact, after doing a little bit of research it seems that raised garden beds also provide the opportunity for increased production. It was said that you can plant seeds closer together in a raised bed because the light soil mixture will improve the effectiveness of the water and oxygen allowing the roots to expand easier. Most importantly for us though is that we can eliminate the concerns of a flooded yard and it’s proving to be much easier on our backs!
Step 1: Tools Needed
- Saw for ripping – A table saw would work best but a circular saw would get the job done.
- Saw for chopping – I prefer a miter saw for this but a table or circular saw would get the job done.
- Drill – No special requirements but cordless would make your life easier.
I suppose sanding and painting or staining the boxes in the end is an option but I like the rustic look of the cedar.
Step 2: Bill of Materials
(6) Cedar Fence Board (5/8″ x 5-1/2″ x 6′) @ $2.95/ea (Lowe's)
(1) 1-1/4″ Self-Tapping Exterior Wood Screws (100pk) @ $5.77/ea (Lowe's)
I chose to go with cedar fence boards for the raised garden beds because they’re not only naturally rot resistant but the equivalent board of higher quality would cost you between $8-$12 per board instead of the $3 we’re spending. The savings per box by going with cedar fence boards is ~$48 over pine and the cedar boards provide a great rustic look. The down side of course is that fence boards are not going to be as straight or clean-edged as your typical stock boards.
You can definitely use different screws, just make sure they’re exterior. If you go with a non washer-style head on the screw or plan to counter-sink then you may want to opt for 1″ screws instead of 1-1/4″.
Step 3: Cutting the Long Sides
Your first step is to take four of your six fence boards and cut them down from 72″ to 71″ removing the dog-ear in the process. Once cut you can set these boards aside for now as you’re finished with them until we start putting things together. You will not need the removed 1″ pieces, they can be trashed.
Step 4: Cutting the Short Sides
Next you’re going to take one of your remaining two fence boards and cut it into four 17″ boards which will serve as your short sides. Be sure to cut the 17″ boards one at a time and mark the next one after each cut, do not make a mark every 17″ and cut all at once as this will not account for the lost wood as a result of the cut (blade thickness). Set these boards aside with your last cuts. You will not need the remaining ~3″ piece, you can trash it.
Step 5: Supports & Rails
- Cut your last uncut fence board down to 71″ removing the dog-ear in the process.
- Rip your now 71″ x 5-1/2″ x 5/8″ board into four 71″ x 1-1/4″ strips.
- Set two of the 1-1/4 strips aside in your finished pile, they will serve as long top rails in the end.
- From your third 1-1/4″ strip you’re going to cut two 18-1/4″ strips that will serve as your short top rails in the end.
- The remaining strip and a half will be cut into eight 11″ support pieces. Any remaining wood can be discarded, we’re finished cutting.
The above image is intended to illustrate the purpose of the support rails, not only do they hold together the two side boards but they provide overlap to attach each of the corners of the box to each other.
Step 6: Mounting the Support
The image in the last step illustrates how the supports are mounted perfectly so I’ll save adding yet another picture illustrating the same thing. In total you should have eight support pieces and they all mount exactly the same way. Each short side has one on either side and each long side has one on either side. The supports keep the top and bottom boards of each side held together on one half and the other half hangs off the edge to serve as a mechanism for connecting the corners as illustrated above.
Step 7: Bringing It All Together
With your supports in place on each side of each of the sides, it’s time to connect the sides as illustrated in the previous step which will give you a product something like the image above.
Step 8: Adding the Top Rails
I somehow failed to add the top rails in the initial design phase so I don’t have any cool blue images of it but it’s pretty straight-forward. Each of the long side boards are 71″ long and so are the top rails you cut earlier. The short top rails you cut earlier were 18-1/4″ because your side boards are 17″ and you have 5/8″ on either side (17″ + 5/8″ + 5/8″ = 18-1/4″). Lay them flat across the top with the 5/8″ overhang to the outside of the box, this is for aesthetics and easier carrying.
Step 9: Notes and Lessons Learned
- Use glue everywhere that wood connects or overlaps. This is a note, not a lesson as the construction was pretty sturdy with the little gluing we did do.
- Remember that we’re using this wood for it’s aesthetics and cost, not for pristine manufacturing or square edges. Alignments may not be 100% perfect but it’s ok because that adds to the rustic look.
- It’s best to remove the grass and till the dirt where the box will sit if you ever plan to plant something requiring deep roots. This also helps to stabilize the box once in place, we used a flat shovel and removed the grass in squares like sod then used a simple aerator (a hoe would work) to break-up the dirt.
I am far from a gardening connoisseur or woodworking expert but I love the idea that we were able to build what we needed for under $25 each. I’ll update this post in the near future with pictures after the tomatoes and strawberries were planted. If you know of a way to improve upon the box design or efficiency or productivity of it’s ability to produce quality crops I would love to hear about it in the comments section below. Of course, if you know someone else that may benefit from this idea please feel free to share via social media!
I am an electronics hobbyist by trade so woodworking is new to me, however, I found this project to be quite fun and very straight-forward while requiring minimal tools.