Friday, April 17, 2009

How to Make a $10 Raised Garden Bed Tutorial by ChristineMM


I had my father and husband make our first raised beds in 1996 with non-pressure treated wood based on specs in the book "Square Foot Gardening". One issue with the ground in that yard was the garden spot would get very wet after heavy rains and in the spring. Using elevated garden beds is one way to tackle the issue of starting a garden on ground that is too wet at that level. This is also an easy way to garden when starting a new garden plot.

In case you are wondering how long these non-pressure treated wood raised beds last, I can share my experience. Half of the boxes lasted five years, until we moved and took them out of the garden, some were too rotted to use after disturbing them (they would have lasted longer if not moved). The other half were still usable thirteen years later, but when we moved them to rearrange the garden, they broke and had to be discarded (those would have been fine to keep using if we had not moved them).

In sprng 2009 I set out to make a new edible garden with a real fence to keep the deer out. I needed new 4x4 foot raised beds to grow vegetables and herbs in. Again I had the help of my father and husband to do this task.

Apparently gardening in raised beds which formerly was best known by the phrase "square foot gardening" is now also referred to as "high density gardening".

Gardening in raised beds is ideal for backyard gardening for families living in suburbs or in small city yards, or in city community gardening plots.

How to Make a Raised Garden Bed, 4 feet x 4 feet x 8 inches high


Non-pressure treated wood, 2x8’s, 16 feet per box, cut in 4 foot lengths (cut by lumber yard or at home) . Cost at my local Home Depot for wood for one box was $10

OR use 2x12's for taller boxes which will cost about $12 per box.

3 inch Screws

Power Drill with Screwdriver head bit

(If doing some of the cutting at home, need sawhorses and a saw. If you don't have a saw, ask the lumber yard to cut it for free or pay a small fee for that service.)

Before shot:

Step One

Buy 2x8’s, non-pressure treated at lumber yard, in 8 foot lengths

Step Two

At home cut into 4 foot lengths with a saw

Step Three

With drill, screw together at ends with three screws, to make a box

Step Four
Place boxes in garden.

After shot:

The Soil

Preparing the ground underneath the box and how to fill the box:

Ideally, the ground under the box would be an amendment of what is called ‘double digging’. In this case, the gardener would dig down one shovel depth to disturb the soil. Large rocks would be removed. That soil can be amended with compost, fish emulsion, or other soil enchancers as necessary based on the kind of soil in the ground.
The area where my garden is is uneven and rocky and has some ledge under it. These conditions are not ideal but it is what I have to work with so it will have to do. I was unable to dig down deeply in this area.

Don’t dig up the area that is the walking path, just the 4x4 foot area where the garden will be.

Put the box on top of this prepared area.

Fill the box with good humus soil. If you have some excess soil at your disposal, use that, and amend it with compost and manure and other good stuff. However most people don't have excess soil in their suburban yards, so it must be purchased.

Try to get humus amended with natural stuff, organic if possible. I buy soil from a local dirt farm which is an organic mix intended for use in growing vegetables or flowers. I use 2/3 humus with 1/3 of my homemade compost. I put most of my homemade compost on the top as a top dressing.

If you don't have a good place to buy premixed soil as I do, can use soil from a garden center or Home Depot (not an expensive sterile mix intended for house plants, look for screened top soil). You would amend this with composted manure and compost, purchased in bags at stores if necessary also.

Call local farms or check Craig's List to see if local farmers or home owners who own a horse or two, or have some chickens give the manure away for free or sell it for low prices (you usually have to shovel it yourself and pick it up in your own vehicle). Some will charge higher prices to sell it to you and charge a delivery fee if you must resort to that. Note that fresh manure can burn plants so ideally the manure you get from a farm has composted for a while and is not as 'hot'. If you can't get composted manure from a farm, you can buy it in bags from a garden center or Home Depot. You can also get some free fresh manure this year to compost in your yard to use as a soil amendment next year.

Call your town's transfer station, landfill or dump and ask if they have free compost for the taking. Many towns chop up leaves and green plant debris to make their own compost. You usually have to shovel it yourself into your own vehicle but it is always free for the taking when available.

The Path
The area around the box is the walking path. If this area is currently lawn or weeds, you can lay down a few layers of newspaper, then put a top dressing of free wood chips from your town’s transfer station (dump or landfill). You do not need to use the expensive BARK mulch, regular wood chips are fine. You don't need cedar mulch, any old wood mulch will do for this garden path that is located away from the sides of your house. (Wood chips can attract carpenter ants or termites so never put them right next to your house.)
You can also call a local tree removal company and ask if they are in your neighborhood, to dump some off to you for free, they are happy to be relieved of those chips.
Another option if the chips are expensive or not available is to buy straw at an animal feed store and use that for paths. That is not the best thing for windy sites though as it may blow away.

Leave 1.5 to 2 feet in between raised beds for a walking path.

To Learn More

I learned this method from a book called Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. The book was based on a PBS series which I’ve never seen. The book is excellent and teaches everything a person needs to know to learn general information about how to grow edibles in a garden as well as how to use this specialized method to get high yields from small garden plots that also require less maintenance than a traditional garden patch with rows of plants.
All the basic soil amendment information including composting and manure information can be further researched online or through gardening books. I provided some basic information for the beginning gardener but can't go into the level of detail that some new gardeners may need.

4/22/12: Edited to remove statement about arsenic in pressure-treated wood, see comments if curious.

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Meadowwood Garden said...

Very timely and excellent information! This is well-written and easy to follow.

The irony is just this past weekend we made our own raised beds and used pretty much the same materials and process. Our beds were just a bit longer and more difficult to build.

For the paths we have a couple suggestions. If your budget allows it black Landscape Fabric works very well as the first layer next to the ground.

To top the paths off some sort of small gravel is an excellent choice too. Some pea gravel or rock dust spread over the fabric/newspapers will last practically forever and help keep the weeds down.

Thank you for such an excellent article!

Dana said...

Great information! We made some raised beds a couple of years ago as part of a homeschool project and they are still holding up fine. They are great for the strawberries because it makes it so much easier to cover them once they start to fruit and need some protection from birds and bunnies!

Kelly said...

Great Article!!!

We did it this year for the first time.

I don't see how it can be for $10 though - we paid 60 just for the wood, though it was 4x8. Would love to hear any more tips on this.

Also, i've thought about trying old box springs to keep them out of the landfill, but I'm worried about what kind of chemicals might be in the wood from those.

christinemm said...

Hi Kelly,
That is the accurate price for the wood per 4x4" bed 2x8's and the 2x10s we made were just a couple of dollars more.

I don't see a need to use 4x8's, the 2x8s work fine for us.

I use non-pressure treated wood as that is inflused with arsenic and I don't want arsenic near soil that I'm growing edibles in. Pressure treated is more expensive than $10 per box too.

What kind of wood did you use? Cedar? If you used cedar it would be really expensive.

As I said in the tutorial some of my beds made in 1996 have lasted 13 years and would have been fine for more years had we not moved them and caused them to fall apart. I don't see a need to pay a fortune for wood that is supposed to be more rot resistant.

I think that for $10 per 4x4' box it is worth it to go with cheap pine rather than invest in cedar. I mean, 13 years or more from a $10 box seems a great deal especially since it is wet a lot of the time due to watering the veggies.

The wood is from Home Depot in Connecticut in the most expensive county in the state...we have no family owned lumberyards in our area open to the public (they are wholesalers to the construction trade only).

scrappychica said...

thank you for the great tutorial on the the raised garden bed. I have been scouring the inernet for tutorials and am learning alot, I have never done any dardening, yup I'm a city girl. I want to make sure I know what I'm doing before jumping in and appreciate the warning of using treated wood. I think I want to go with cedar so I'll be taking a trip to the home improvement store and begin taking notes. thank you again and off to see the rest of your lovely blog.

ChristineMM said...

Scrappychica, Glad it helped.

I was in Costco the other day and was shocked to see a plastic raised bed system. It was interlocking plastic about the same height as this. There were 2 units in the package to make 4x4 foot raised beds. The price was $400 for the 2 sets.

So my 2 sets would cost $20 and whatever a few screws cost. Wow what a savings.

Mr.D said...

The wood in the truck sure looks like pressure treated lumber to me.

ChristineMM said...

Hi Mr. D,
I brought your comment to my husband's attention. He said, "If it is, pressure treated, we didn't pay for pressure treated because that's a cheaper wood."

I had specifically asked him NOT to buy pressure treated.

I went to the garden and pulled the label off a piece. It's from Home Depot and is marked 2x8 8" Grn DF S4S HDC which from what I just found on the net means green douglas fir that is used in New England for framing.

The upc says 7 61542 20808 7


mg650c said...

Nice blog. Regarding pressure treated would here's some food for thought that might help dispel some common misperceptions. Cheers and happy gardening, whichever type of wood you choose to use. :)

Deanmc said...


You just made my day! I built two 4x4's yesterday and after reading this article thought it was a wasted effort! Glad I read all the comments and the article you referenced!

ChristineMM said...

edited today to remove the line about arsenic in the pressure treated wood due to additional info as discussed in the comments.

Happy gardening everyone!

ChristineMM said...

I was in Lowe's 2 days ago in Hoiston TX. The price of wood has risen. Pine 2x8x12 would come to $30 per 4x4 foot box now. Wow.