No irrigation raised bed gardening system (Hugelkultur)

Picture of No irrigation raised bed gardening system (Hugelkultur)
Approximate Project Cost is $90 per bed. Here is a detailed cost breakdown based on Lowes pricing in 16066 and bolts from Tractor Supply (by weight)

My garden beds are a combination of a few things I like.

1- would be raised bed gardening and in particular square foot gardening
2- Hugelkultur - this is a technique where wood is buried inside of the garden bed which greatly reduces and even can eliminate the need for irrigation. Don't take my word for it... read this, and listen to this and this   For the purposes of this instruct-able I'll ask you to suspend your disbelief and lets just assume your on board with hugelkultur. If you want to debate it take it up with Paul or Jack.

Tools I used
Pipe clamps (not 100% required)
Circular Saw
Miter Saw (can use circular saw for all cuts, but it makes it easier)
Tape Measure
Carpenter's Pencil or Sharpie
Mattock (not required but suggested)
Kreg Jig - I used the Jr. version
Socket Wrench

3"  5/26 galvanized lag bolts              Quantity: 12
5/16 lock washers                               Quantity: 12
Ondura Corrugated Roofing Sheet ** Quantity: 2
Galvanized Roofing Nails                  Quantity: 50 to 100....
Pressure Treated 8' 2x4 lumber*       Quantity: 9
2.5" Kreg Screws                                 Quantity: 56

Note: I would suggest getting your bolts at a place that sells them by weight such as tractor supply. It will end up being a lot cheaper.

Cut List for 2x4s
8' (note does not require cut)             Quantity: 4
4'                                                              Quantity: 4
17.5"                                                        Quantity: 14

* My research indicates that current, modern, pressure treated lumber is safe for use in the garden. Please do your own research and present facts rather than flames should you choose to comment on this material.  A more expensive alternative would be cedar or redwood.

Please before you spout off about "arsenic" in the comments be aware that ACQ treated lumber does not contain this substance!

**Ondura is light, easy to work with and cheap. However if you are uncomfortable with plastic in your garden you can use traditional metal roofing for this project


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Thanks for the Instructable. I've been meaning to make some raised beds for a while and thought this was a very interesting concept that I had to try out. Couldn't find any Ondura around (no Lowes) but I did find some similar Suntop stuff. It was similar in price ($25) but it came in 2' x 12' sections so it fit nicely. I only had a few aged rounds to put in so I did some pruning and cut down some large branches from some of our trees as filler.
SaveOurSkills (author)  tonyprescott1 year ago
This is really cool. I love the paint you used. What a nice color combination! Remember you need to soak these down on year one really well to get the rotting process going. I'd recommend a leaf or grass mulch too to hold in moisture.
tobybro2 months ago

Worked out great, thank you.

godbacon1 year ago
Pressure treated wood is poisoned with heavy metals and arsenic, to keep the bugs away. It's the kind of poison, vegetables like to suck up. It is not intended to be used around food. It is recommended that a breathing mask is worn while cutting it.

USDA certified organic producers are not allowed to use pressure treated wood of any kind in their production beds.

CCA pressure treated wood has been injected or soaked with chromate copper arsenate, or chromium, copper and ARSENIC

I would advise everyone thinking of using in their garden to do their own research as to wether it is appropriate in their garden.

Rough cut hard wood works just as well and doesn't need to be kiln dried to use. You will not find it in a big box store but maybe a ride into the county would be a nice relaxing experience.
SaveOurSkills (author)  godbacon1 year ago
One thing you are correct about is that you can not use ACQ lumber for being certified organic, however the the science and research do not back this up.

Even with CCA treated lumber the studies and soil samples taken from the soil have shown nothing above normal levels of arsenic after the first 2 inches of soil past the wood.

Again this is not relative to my project because I am using ACQ
SaveOurSkills (author)  godbacon1 year ago
You are wrong. You are talking about CCA which isn't even what is sold.

Do your homework. Newly purchased pressure treated wood is ACQ

Your information became outdated around 2004 when supplies stopped producing CCA treated lumber.

ortsa1 year ago
Since your using essentially peat and manure how often do you plan to replace the compost?
SaveOurSkills (author)  ortsa1 year ago
Also I practice "chop and drop" a permaculture principle... basically a fancy way of saying when your prune something just leave the pruning in the garden to be re-incorporated.
SaveOurSkills (author)  ortsa1 year ago
I'm not sure what you mean by replace, however you should constantly add mulch and compost to your garden. You can mulch your plants with wood chips or shredded leaves or whatever. This of course will break down into the soil as well.

As far as compost goes I generally add it at the beginning of the year. I have 3 large piles where every 3rd year one is ready to go into the garden.

Hope that helps

tim_n2 years ago
Not seen the wood method before. Just did my own raised bed system:

I find ondura too flexable. I use it on my shed roof and on top of one of my waterbutts. The cat sits on the ondura and it bends under her weight and she's a pretty small cat (with a fat bum). The wood I'm guessing will reduce the weight and the ondura will repel water into the bed which is good.

I wouldn't be happy knowing that the ondura (or my native similar stuff is, not sure about ondura) is made from oil and cardboard - I'd be worried about chemicals leaching into the soil.

Good instructable though - congrats on your first making front page!

SaveOurSkills (author)  tim_n2 years ago
Personally it's not a concern to me at all. Ondura isn't likely to break down enough in any one year to make any significant impact in my organically grown food. I'd bet my life that no more than trace amounts would be present. It would be no worse than ingesting the naturally present arsenic available in any given system.

It's better than the salad I'm probably going to eat for lunch at the restaurant next to my work, which was sprayed from start to finish with toxic chemicals and raised with petroleum fertilizer. People hold the home gardener to unreasonably high standards. It's funny how high the standards go once you have unlimited access to analyze the methods of production.

I'm not saying your wrong, you have to do what is comfortable for them. I'd suggest using traditional metal corrugated roofing for this project if you don't like plastic in the garden.
Excellent instructable! Here's a polycarbonate alternative to Ondura, Tuftex in 8' lengths.

More $$ but may relieve some concerns.  With or without the Hugekultur, it's a very well thought out plan.  Thank you.
pdxman2 years ago
Treated wood and uptake of chemicals by vegetables:


While I appreciate your concern regarding treated wood and gardens, the references you cite are a bit dated. CCA pressure treated lumber was banned for consumer use by the EPA in 2003. Any pressure treated lumber manufactured for consumer use after that date has no arsenic in it.
Are termites a problems with this method and if so how do you countrol them organic method.?
SaveOurSkills (author)  junewhosews1 year ago
I tried to find out about your issue online. Try asking over at

They aren't typically a problem in my area. My wood is buried under a foot or so of soil, not sure if that is a deterrent or not.

olanderd2 years ago
I have been reading Insturctables for over a year now and there are a lot of great ideas. Yours is the first one that I have executed. I have been looking for a "cheap" solution to raised planters. I love all the extra information and links that you provided. I hate to fall into the category of you doing all the work for me, but I will admit that you did do all of it and all I had to do was read. Thanks. I build four of these beds, used cedar instead of treated only because it will match my fence and used the red Ondura. It matches the trim our house perfectly. I just finish putting the large logs into them today. I will be sore tomorrow. I got mine from a landscape supply place for free. They recycle trees for mulch etc. Although I will say that I more than one person gave me weird looks and comments upon my request, including the owner of the business.

I am off to a local supplier for vermiculite, compost and peat moss tomorrow to mix up Mel's Mix and hopefully finish these off tomorrow and get them planted by the weekend.

A couple of suggestions on the build. I used the lag screws as you had mentioned but found that the cedar was too soft to hold very good after pre drilling and some of them stripped out. I reinforced the connections with 3" deck screws and should of used them by themselves. I also used them in place of the Kreg screws, one because the cedar is nominally thicker than than the treated lumber and two they are much stouter and better designed for outdoor use. The Ondura, if you want to have the color side facing out, you need to bend the ridge down because after you cut the panels in half the cut edges are "up". This is easily accomplished especially if you let them sit in the sun for while, but it doubles the use of the roofing nails to give the panels a clean edge on the top side. Overall an EXCELLENT Instructable, very well laid out and a wealth of information. Thanks again.
SaveOurSkills (author)  olanderd2 years ago
awesome, nice work. One thing to note. During your first year typically hugelkultur has less than awesome results. Sometimes people even just write it off and plant cover crops.

The wood has to soak up a ton of water and also start to break down, which will draw nitrogen from the soil.

So in the first year you have to water and also will have to watch to see if they need fertilizer.

After filling them up water the "hell" out of the beds to get them nice and soaked.

After year 1 when the rotting process starts taking hold you will start to get the benefits and also as the wood breaks down it will release nitrogen back into the soil and feed your plants.



Instead of pocket screws, would using long deck screws straight through be as good?
junewhosews2 years ago
I have totaled the diamensions and it comes to 97 1/4 long and 24 1/2 high. How is a 4 x 8 sheet suppose to work. Actually the sheets of Ondura Corrugated Roofing are 48 x 79" at Lowes??????
SaveOurSkills (author)  junewhosews2 years ago
Also a 2x4 isn't 2x4. There is something called nominal length. Regardless u can make them even taller as log as u can still nail the material in it doesn't need to be edge tO edge
SaveOurSkills (author)  junewhosews2 years ago
If you read the instuctable u will notice that u use a scrap piece from one of te 4x2 ends to complete the 8' run. You can see te overlap in one of the photos and also i illustrated the connection

Also your measurements don't need to have surgical precision. As long as you have surface area to nail the stuff to you are good. In fact I had more problems with them being a bit too short, and this the ondura hanging over a bit then the opposite

At the end of the day do this. Cut a sheet in half. Lay it on a 2x4. Where it ends make mark. Put your brace there so u can nail the ondura on it. Overlap your scrap piece and nail that in to make the 8'

Make your other brace the same distance in so it has symmetry for looks. Put the 3rd brace in the middle so it also looks nice

Anyway just use my dimensions and you will be fine

jeff-o2 years ago is down right now. In what state should the logs and sticks be in? Freshly cut, rotting, dry, etc?
SaveOurSkills (author)  jeff-o2 years ago
A variety of states of wood is fine. Mine was all the way from fresh cut, seasoned for 1 year, and advanced rotting.. Think of it this way... the fresher the longer the effect, the more rotting the more immediate effect
Do you have any idea if dried bamboo would work? The 3-5 inch thick kind, not the running kind. I have access to a bunch of this.
SaveOurSkills (author)  Katzsta2 years ago
Ask on they would know better than I
qorlis2 years ago
I know that exact prices would be impossible to use here because of how much individual stores charge and materials used, however, could you give approximate totals on the materials for constructing each bed? In other words, about how much would I need to spend to build each bed? A range would be good such as: "between $100 to $150".  My reasons are that I want raised beds and I'm comparing material costs.

I'm not asking for costs on tools or what goes inside the beds once they are built. I'm also aware that many people viewing Instructables are not in the US, so these costs may not apply to everyone.  Thanks.
SaveOurSkills (author)  qorlis2 years ago
Ask and Ye shall receive. Pricing based on 16066 postal code and using Lowes for materials and Tractor Supply for bolts.
Thanks much. That helps. Here, we have both stores, but we also have a Bolt and Nut Supply store for screws and bolts, etc. The breakdown you gave is very helpful.
daresquid2 years ago
"My research indicates that current, modern, pressure treated lumber is safe for use in the garden."

I believe it is illegal to sell the old bad pressure treat in the US. Current wood uses copper or borates. On land they should be fine, but water runoff to a pond could still be a problem. It is a good idea to wear a dust mask even when cutting the new boards. Common concentrations available at a lumber yard are usually meant for above ground applications. You will have to pay extra for higher retention levels suitable for ground contact or ground burial.
SaveOurSkills (author)  IkilledKenny2 years ago
thanks for the link. It's a good rebuttal of the pressure treated witch hunt.

I knew people would flip out about the materials when I posted it. All I can do is roll my eyes and say "Make your own flipping decisions for your life!"

You are very welcome and thank you for taking the time to read it.

The 99% are incapable of that nowadays.

It's all about do it for me, including learning the actual benefits/drawbacks of any given item.

Think for yourselves people.
SaveOurSkills (author)  daresquid2 years ago
You are correct, the old stuff is no longer sold. I'm sure the new stuff is not as "healthy" as virgin cut pine... however you have to balance practicality with your desire to escape any form of toxicity.

Personally I'm fine with whatever trace chemicals might make their way into my garden via the materials I am using. I feel my food will be at a far higher standard, from both a taste and nutrition standpoint than what is commercially available. I've design a system which I feel will be long lasting and low maintenance.

So far I'm very pleased with working at the higher level (2') It's great to be able to stand while gardening. That might just be worth it all by itself.
daveand52 years ago
Also with the treated wood be aware it IS NOT treated for resisting rot (moisture) just bugs and fungus. Its for above ground, minimal ground contact, with good drainage.
If you don't mind eating food contaminated with bug killer and plant killer, use treated wood. The contamination comes from leeching after every rain. The old stuff was proven to leech, and since only the chemical was changed expect leeching to happen into the soil.
As far as the ondura leeching, It is the same materials your roofs shingles are made of, so if there is harmful leeching, its more than likely too late. But since oil products naturally take care of any contamination (see the BP spill), and grass and gardens grow just fine in old auto junk yards, its probably the last thing i'd worry about in a box like this.
I my self obtained damaged poly floats for docks, cut the tops open leaving a 6" seat around the top edge. I put a clear tube outside to indicate water level, and use a drip system for watering and fertilizing. The water used is collected rain water. These floats can be had in a variety of sizes from 18"x30" to 4'x8' and from 1' to 3' deep. Usually from the manufacturers or dock dealers.
SaveOurSkills (author)  daveand52 years ago
People worry too much. I'll put my home grown food up against anybody else's for health and nutrition. Just my opinion. Anyway you are welcome to use the alternative materials if you should choose to do the project. (cedar/metal)
I agree with you about people worrying too much. I built large raised beds out of use railroad ties - they are a pain to work with (300# each) but with a saber saw, a 1/2" auger bit, rebar and a 3# sledge I was able to built sturdy structures that should resist rot for quite a long time. I know there are concerns about the creosote used to preserve the ties but since these are at least 25 years old leeching isn't much of an issue. I also faced the interior side of the ties with heavy black plastic in order to avoid direct contact just in case. Since plants haven't been shown to be able to take up creosote I don't see any issue. In your case, the lumber is probably not CCA treated but ACQ which is pretty innocuous for this application. Likewise, the material you are using for your siding should also be fine. Even if it does leech some small amount of petrochemical compounds I really doubt that your plants would be able to take them up.
SaveOurSkills (author)  rapier12 years ago
Thanks for the comment. I'd love to learn more about what plants can and can't take up. So I can have a better rebuttal than "shut up dude"


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