Introduction: Raised Bed Garden [for Those With Only Hand Tools!]

About: Designer. Thinker. Doer. Hiker. Lover.

Growing my own produce in my backyard has been a dream of mine for years. We moved into a new place and I prioritized getting new plants in the ground before I unpacked boxes to take advantage of the growing season. It definitely paid off!

Resources to Get Started
These two books helped me get started for growing things here in the Bay Area:

  • Golden Gate Gardening. A much-lauded book for the region, and with good reason. This book has helped me more that I realized I knew at every stage of gardening.
  • California Fruit & Vegetable Gardening. A quicker read than the previous and a nice complement to skim over while you're in the early planning phases.

Design Considerations

Wood choice. I used redwood. Other types of wood might be more available to you in your neck of the woods. It's important that the wood is untreated if you're growing things you plan to eat. Otherwise, you can use the lower grade lumber that isn't aesthetically pleasing like you'd use for building furniture.

Dimensions. I had a flexible amount of space and decided to use the board length availability to set a constraint. To make a 6'x4' raised bed, you can buy 12' boards and ask for one cut per board (or cut it yourself if you have the tools) into a 6' and 4' piece each. This will make a double height bed (one foot deep) with even board coverage around all sides. I also couldn't fit a 12 foot board in my car, but the 8 foot fit just fine. Just things to consider :-)

Soil. It's important to learn about what grows in your climate zone and both plant and plan your soil around these. You'll want a blend and remember that your plants will need lots of food to grow, so give them all you can for a healthy start.

Step 1: Gather Your Supplies

This build was relatively simple thanks to two things: the paver blocks from Home Depot that accept a 2x6 (or 2x* board) and the fact that Home Depot will cut a board for you. I love tools but didn't have my shop space built out yet at the new house when I wanted to get the garden in, so I used these other options to get plants in the ground soon enough to grow.

Here's what you'll need to build your own!

- 4 12' untreated 2x6 lumber boards, cut into 8' and 4' pieces
- 8 raised bed pavers
- Chicken wire
- Newspaper/packing paper
- Mix of soil/compost/etc

Step 2: Layout the Bed

I did a rough layout to get a feel of the space before working to get the fit right. Once I got the layout in place, I started to fit the blocks into the corners and work my way up.

Step 3: Layer in Chicken Wire

Before adding soil, consider critters who might want to access your new raised bed by burrowing underneath.

EDIT: I used chicken wire on the recommendation of family gardeners, though several in the Instructables community have commented that hardware cloth works better than chicken wire for them and serves a dual purpose of weed and pest control. I can't speak to this and haven't had any issues with rodents accessing the raised bed from underneath, but wanted to call out this helpful suggestion here. If you're making your own, consider these options and do what's best for your garden and your region.

With one layer in, I rolled out the chicken wire and added the second layer to the bed.

Steps to build:

  1. Tuck the first edge under blocks on one side
  2. Start unrolling the wire
  3. Extend the wire to be slightly longer than the length of the long boards
  4. Cut the wire
  5. Fold back the edge to the midpoint of the second set of blocks
  6. Tuck the second edge under the second blocks
  7. Add on the second layer of blocks
  8. Add on the second layer of boards

Step 4: Step Back: Re-level Ground

Okay - I'll fess up: I took a shortcut. I wasn't sure how important it was to completely level the ground and did the dry fit before convincing myself I should take the time to get it right before adding anything more. The good news is this only took about 15 minutes to fix and was the right choice! The bed looks great now.

Step 5: Rebuild

Releveling the bed made the other steps come back together much faster. Here's the bed, fully rebuilt.

Step 6: Add Paper

Since I had recently moved, I had packing paper on hand instead of newsprint. My mom suggested four sheets of paper consistently on the bottom to keep any weeds from growing. She swears four sheets is the magic number to keep any weeds from growing without having too many to potentially have mold issues. Mom knows best!

Step 7: Add Soil

Again, look into what you need for the best balance for the plants you want in the climate you're growing in. The result should be light and broken up easily to give way to healthy roots of your plants.

Step 8: Layout Your Plants in Pots

Before you start planting, I recommend laying out your seedlings in their planters to get a sense of spacing. Most plants have recommendations for how the rows or plants should be spaced. I didn't follow this exactly and probably overcrowded the bed, but, as the woman from the plant nursery says, my green thumbs are still growing ;-)

Step 9: Water and Watch 'em Grow

My garden took off! I thank the Bay Area's weather for that - especially the drought-ending rains we got this winter. Between the first and second photo here was about the span of a month and the last just a week after.

Step 10: Eat It Up!

First rule of gardening is to not plant more vegetables than you need and I don't want to be wasteful. I am finding that I used to have salad from the grocery store go bad in the fridge but now, I just pick what I need and the rest stays on the plant and keeps growing. Whatever stems or pieces I don't eat go into the compost and become better soil for future gardens. Pretty neat.

The yields from the garden will change depending on where you are and what your garden is like, but I hope you find this simple project encouraging to build your own some afternoon and see about what you can grow in your own backyard!

Gardening Contest

Runner Up in the
Gardening Contest