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.)
Buy 2x8’s, non-pressure treated at lumber yard, in 8 foot lengths
At home cut into 4 foot lengths with a saw
With drill, screw together at ends with three screws, to make a box
Place boxes in garden.
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 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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