Instructables

Getting Started with Gardening Using Raised Beds

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by Kristian Hansen, Garden Expert at the Urban Garden Workshop

Starting your very first garden can be a daunting task. This is a guide to help make your entry into gardening fun and easy, and to give you some guidelines to help foster your relationship with your backyard. By the end of this article, you should be able to answer the following questions:

• Where do I begin?
• What kind of plants should I grow?
• How should I build, construct, and prepare my garden?

Now, let’s get started!

Planning Your Garden: Site Selection & Size

The first step to a successful garden is figuring out where you are going to place it. The space that you choose will help determine the types of plants that will grow best. Spend a day figuring out where in your backyard you get maximum sunlight. Your vegetables require 6-8 hours of natural sun per day to mature quickly.

You will might also want to determine the pH level of your soil. What kind of dirt do you have available? You might have to add nutrients to the soil, compost, etc. to make it great for growing your plants.

If you’re just starting out with gardening it might be easiest to build a raised bed. These come in a variety of sizes to fit inside of your backyard. Best of all, you can always add more later or take them apart and relocate them somewhere else later on. I also like first-time gardeners to try out raised beds because you can control most of the variables, like the soil content and watering schedule best. Since California is in a draught, we need to be mindful for water and how we can use it best.


Raised Beds: Save Water & Easy to Build

A raised bed is a great way to get started once you’ve decided on the location of your garden.

Redwood or Cedar makes for great wood. Make sure it is not treated lumber (I do not recommend pressure-treated wood due to the chemicals that can leach into your food). I recommend using 2" x 6" lumber. You can cut it down to the appropriate heights and use 4" x 4" wood in the corners and secure it with carriage bolts.

Furthermore, you can make the raised bed multi-tiered to raise the overall height of your garden (12" or two tiers is great for carrots).

If you have issues with rodents (like gophers), you may want to use hardware cloth underneath your raised bed.

Irrigation & Water

If you’re growing vegetables, you’ll want to provide about an inch of water per week. I tend to water my plants in the morning or at night. 

Depending on how warm your area is you may only need to water your plants once a day or every other day. You can purchase a water timer from most nurseries for $20-50 and a simple irrigation kit of drips and tubing for another $30-50.

Vegetables & Fruits

The types of vegetables and fruits that you grow depends on the amount of sunlight and temperature you can provide for your plants. You can buy seeds online or find them at your local nursery. When I shop for seeds, I try and buy heirloom non-GMO varieties.

If you’re a little late in planning your garden, it might be time to buy starter plants. You can buy plants that are a few inches tall already and will jump-start your garden by about a month.

Depending on how big you decided to make your garden, you should set aside some space for the following:

Herbs & Spices: Thyme, Rosemary, Dill, Lavender, Basil, Mint;
Vegetables: Cucumbers, Tomatoes, Kale, Lettuce, Spinach, Potatoes; and
Fruits: Strawberries, Grapes, Blueberries.

Summary

Starting your garden should be fun for your whole family. With a few hours of work you can start to see results. Within a week of planting your seeds, you’ll see sprouts and your garden becoming a reality.

As you take care and nurture your plants, you’ll see your plants grow, leaves spread and fruit and vegetables bloom, and you’ll be happy growing your own food and making your backyard a more beautiful, living and useful space.

For more gardening tips, subscribe to the Urban Garden Workshop (www.urbangardenworkshop.com) blog, or follow our Facebook Page (www.facebook.com/urbangardenworkshop).
ldavis109 months ago

We need to build raised beds that are wheelchair accessible. They would need to be considerably higher than the beds you made, somewhere around table height (30" or so). Any suggestions?

Thank you!

mbear ldavis107 months ago

Stacked cinder blocks?

Surferdude8 months ago

I built some of these from 2x4s because per board-foot it's the cheapest stuff out there. I used exterior 3" screws and overlapped corners. Cutting them in half, you get slightly less than 4x4 foot interior dimensions. Then you just stack them to whatever height you want.

I based mine off what's described in the New Square Foot Gardening book, which I highly recommend for additional info on the dirt mix as well as how to plant vegetables in this kind of raised bed. One thing I tried that did not work was sealing them with urethane varnish. It sucks. After two years there's a lot of rotting. They are still structurally OK, but not for much longer. I like the idea of lining the edges with heavy plastic, per RolyB. Will definitely try that this year.

PS: don't overlook scrap lumber if you can find it. You don't need construction grade lumber for this, and scrap 2x4s are likely more available than other sizes. If you use screws, be sure to pre-drill the holes or you'll never get them all the way in without stripping the heads.

diy_bloke9 months ago

they are gorgeous

RolyB9 months ago

I have been using raised beds for a number of years and my observations are, firstly, they should be no wider than 4 foot, which allows one to reach easily into the center, secondly there is no minimum length except the length of the timber used; in my case I use 16 foot, 2 x 6 inch boards, plain sawn fairly cheap construction materials. This allows me to cut 4 foot off to provide the end which leaves 12 foot for the side; 2 boards for each bed. Thirdly, by all means use treated timber, I line the inside and bottom of each board with plastic DPC membrane (Damp Proof Course). This is a heavy plastic sheet which comes in various widths and is used as a damp barrier in brick and block wall stopping moisture migrating upwards in the wall and is usually inserted in a mortor course between the bricks about 6 inches above the ground. I fix the plastic to the boards using galvanised clout nails. The plastic keeps the damp/wet earth away from the timber and also prevents any preservative from leeching into the soil, and if you have an anyway damp climate like we have here in Ireland, this prolongs the life of the timber.

Raised beds are ideal for 'no dig' type of gardening. All that is required is a gentle fork over to loosen the soil and, sometimes, a vigourous workover with a tined cultivator especially when incorporating well rotted manure or compost. Ground preparation is faster and this leaves more time for other jobs on the garden.

The other benefit of raised beds is that crops can be 'block' planted, maximising ground coverage, since rows are not necessary. This means more can be got from less.

With regard to the question about raised beds for wheelchair users, the general advice on this is to build the beds from brick or block to the reqired height and taking the reach of a wheelchair bound person they should be kept fairly narrow. I'm sure that if you look on-line you'll find information about ideal dimensions for such installations.

XmasOlive9 months ago

Looks awesome!!! Now if only I can get the hubby motivated to help build this!

AnimattersInc9 months ago

This was quite timely as spring is around the corner for us and we've decided to do a raised bed garden with the kids this summer.

Can someone tell me, is there a minimum 'width' we should adhere to or would a 20 inch X 10 foot "box" do OK? And, can we raise them entirely off the ground by about a foot to a foot and a half (which would give us storage underneath as well as bring the soil up to a better mommy daddy height). If we do this, what depths of soils can we get away with?

What we have is a 10.5' X 10.5' gravel pad where the previous homeowner had a hot tub. We thought we'd build a small, small scale english garden kinda thing in the square rather than dig out all the gravel (there's 18 inches of it compacted there). But out of raised planters rather than hedges.

Hedge_Maze,_St_Louis_Botanical_Gardens_(St_Louis,_Missouri_-_June_2003).jpg

There is no minimum width necessary (within reason, less than 6" might stunt larger plants) but the narrower it is, the lumber per sq. ft. of soil and more water losses there will be.

Do not raise entirely off the ground, the ideal is you have good starter soil but the roots often go down into the ground beneath as well as that being a buffer for regulating soil moisture so it stays not too damp, nor too dry in hotter months. It can be done that way but the results will be worse for all but small plants. Likewise, don't build it over gravel, the point is to give the plants ideal soil just as a starter with the ground under it being the rest. This is not entirely necessary if you build a very deep raise bed. The two 18" deep ones pictured are enough for medium sized plants but IMO that's a waste of lumber and soil when you can just till the earth below a 12" raised garden and leverage what mother nature has already in place.

It is up to you. You don't have to do things the ideal way but the further you create harder growing environments the less size and yield your plants will produce. Some people even grow small plants in nothing more than a typical roof gutter (on side of house or ground platform), but in my opinion if you're going to spend the time you might as well have a half dozen times more yield for your efforts, IF space allows.

ac-dc ac-dc9 months ago

I should add that if you make it narrow you should orient it so that the long side of the bed is parallel or as close as possible to the normal direction wind blows in your area. A very narrow bed causes a root structure that doesn't support the plants well against wind blowing across the narrow side of the garden. Even then, chaotic storms can cause wind in all directions so the narrower it is and the larger/taller the plants get, the more likely you may need stakes or a trellis or other method of supporting the plants.

Rottie_Lover9 months ago

Nice intro article! Raised beds are the way to go. Little to no weeding, and your "crops" can be rotated- harvest the first crop, plant another type for the late summer/fall. We've been doing it this way for several years because our native "soil" (if you call rocks and clay soil) was just too crappy to grow anything. The most expensive part was purchasing the soil. Our mix has been 1/3rd vermiculite, 1/3rd peat, and 1/3rd manure. I have to redo our boxes this year because of rot, maybe cedar this time. Who knows? Maybe something more permanent... I've seen them made out of concrete block! If you're just getting started, want to get your feet wet, but not build a box an old kiddie wading pool will do the trick.

There is nothing about a raised garden that in itself keeps weeds out. You can purchase soil but it's not really necessary if you plan a year ahead. Compost yard waste like leaves, lawn clippings, pine needles, spanish moss, coffee grounds, straw or other misc weed and plant waste, untreated wood based sawdust, egg shells, and other kitchen scrap based plant matter, but never meat or carbs (no pasta, rice, nothing salty).

Till it into your existing soil and this amendment will make even poor clay soil into something viable. Maintain a separate compost pile from then on and till that into the soil at the end of each growing season or the start of the next if it is decomposed enough by then.

If you don't live in a high heat area or don't have water conservation concerns then you don't necessarily even need to build a raised bed, can instead just take your soil or compost material as described above and till it into your existing soil. Gardening is only as expensive as you make it. Keep in mind that nature finds a way without our help to grow all kinds of things, given a spot with enough sun, and water. Granted, it doesn't look as fancy without being a modular raised garden, but once your plants take off then they are the focal point, not whether they start at ground level or a few inches up, although it is easier to pick produce from a raised garden if you have a bad back or don't have children to do it for you.

I found a great source for cheap bulk vermiculite - it's sold as loose fill attic insulation. Sun-Grow is the brand. I've found it at Menards. I contacted the company to make sure that there are no additives, and there are none. It's waaaaaay cheaper than buying the small bags of vermiculite in the garden centers. You'll get a huge bag the size of a body pillow for around $9 I think.

Ooh thank you!! Brilliant, now I know what to do with all the concrete pavers I pulled out of my yard! Might even look nice... Now just need to find affordable soil. Sigh.
clazman9 months ago

Interesting!

Burpee sold
this style of raised bed several years ago. Rather than purchasing them
from Burpee, I am fabricating them myself. I've had them on Facebook for
several years now.

I, like you, have made a fixture (template) to
enable the creation of the notch and the holes in one setup thus allowing for consistency. I am using cedar for mine.

The original
purpose of the raised beds was to allow my wife, who is power chair
confined, access to gardening which she still enjoys.

I started
with 3' X 6' beds and have finalized the bed size to 3' X 4' ( with a 30
inch row between beds.

The 4' length was determined by getting two
3' and one 4' pieces out of a 10' 2X6. 10' was chosen for it is a
"nice" size to haul in our Town and Country when I am alone (normally my
wife sits in the passenger side which eliminates that area for
stowage).

The 3' foot width was determined by how deep my
wife could reach from her chair 1.5' (reaching from each side).

I
use a
2' wide bed when she only has access from one side. They are now three 2
x 6's high (16-1/2") which makes it fairly easy for her with a little
leaning to her side.

So far, moles haven't been an issue, so I see no need for the wire cloth.

With
all of your nice ideas I am surprised that you use those useless
circular supports for tomatoes. I have made a square structure using hog
panels. I've thrown away those flimsy round ones.

Tom Hargrave9 months ago

Great article and I live the way the sides of your raised beds are made. I've done raised bed gardening for over 30 years.

Nice article, and like especially that you show your garden with a great variety of veggies in them. Wish my lettuce would look like that! One thing I might mention, as I have raise bed gardened for some time and would never go back to flat beds, is that you might want to clear the grass under your timbers and 6-8 inches away from them. Once you get the roots under your raised beds, they will LOVE the nutritious soil you have there and will be difficult to remove. Have a great season!

moonshine889 months ago
being a country boy I had a garden every year but now I have a city home and a family I tried to plant gardens and the stinkin gophers eat the roots. so I've decided to try a hay bale garden (which I just loaded an ible on a few days ago in the living and green section) but I was curious if you had ever tried it and if so how did it work? I see you have raised planters and so I take it gophers are not an issue for you but if your on a budget hay bales are great.......so far!
demilio9 months ago

Nice article. I just built a number of raised beds for my garden last year and highly recommend them. One thing I'd like to mention is related to your comment on pressure treated wood. The current method of treating wood (called ACQ) is much safer than older CCA treated wood which hasn't been available in stores for over 10 years. While trace amounts of the ACQ chemicals can still show up in your soil, they are considered hazardous by the EPA nor have ever been linked to health problems. I made a choice to use pressure treated lumber after doing my research and believing it to be safe because redwood/cedar was 3-4x more expensive and would not last quite as long.

audreyobscura9 months ago

You guys are close! Come visit next time y'all are in the city. We love meeting our authors!