How to Build a Raised Bed vegetable garden (My Take on it, Anyway…) Part One: Choosing the Location
Welcome rookie gardeners! If you’ve been thinking about the joys of having your own bounty to tap into this summer of your very own produce, this may be one of the most important posts you’ll read on here. Since it is a multi-step process I will make it a series. Based on my experience starting last spring and now on my second year with elevated gardening, I’ll be walking you from start to finish.
If you’ve decided this approach is for you as it has been for me, woohoo! If you’ve got rocky orange-red clay “soil” that’s untenable to work with and a flat environment, that’s two reasons for the green light.
The most important thing I’ll be starting with is…Location.
Pin for Later? 🌷
Mapping Out Your Backyard
Now, with regard to scoping out the area. It can be on grass or soil, whichever you have the most of, you should plan accordingly. An area populated sparsely with grass will be excellent. If your backyard is as flat as mine is, you’re golden. If you’ve got sod and grass in abundance, there’s going to be more legwork involved.
You may have to use a tool sharp enough to get under the layer of sod and turn it over. To keep the grass from regrowth, you may need to add a layer of straw to inhibit its growth. The roots of your prospective plants may extend below the line. Your soil mixture may produce much better root development and less evaporation. A layer of cardboard can help too.
What’s the Ideal Length and Width For Raised Beds?
OK, now that you’ve chosen your designated spot(s) how large (or long, or wide) do you want your beds to be? That one is going to be entirely yup to you and it may be contingent on the size of your yard.
Some people use the square foot approach when mapping out their beds’ dimensions, which is a good idea to provide ample growing space around each plant. We didn’t take that quite a precise design, just kind of counted out about 8″ between each plant and dug a small crevice for each of them. Either way is fine. Just keep in mind each bed you design will need to be at least two feet wide on that side. The length – you could have small beds that are 4 ft, or much bigger. I mean longer.
All three of our beds are 22 feet in length and four feet wide (well, when I measured them, it came out to 52″ with the timbers factored in, so I rounded off a little). Just know that with bigger or longer beds there will need to be that much more topsoil, and I’ll reiterate – we probably used about 100 bags to fill up all three beds last spring.
Shape and Design
Rectangle, square, or even triangular? Your bed(s) could be any of those shapes, as long as it’s (somewhat) linear, it’s within your grasp of design. Another one I’ve seen is the “keyhole” design which is circular with a narrow space in the middle, allowing for the gardener to full access on all sides.
We’ve got another bed in progress here…this one in the front yard. It’s a semicircular layout…John used wood timbers here, and as you can see, it’s somewhat angular because boards will only allow for so much arrangement, the reason for this placement is that there is a water main on the other side of this space we were trying to avoid building on top of.
As far as what we are going to be planting in that spot….it’s probably going to be something conservative like that variegated grass, prior to this cypress vine grew there on its own, but it died when one of the groundskeepers sprayed with weed killer…Not happy about that. So we could only rake off the remains of what was left of it and sow anew.
John’s been talking about putting a few vegetable crops there. I’m coming around to it, but I was opposed to it at first, as I thought having a small veggie garden in the front yard could attract the wrong kind of attention…as in the neighbors trying to steal our fruits of labor??Lol….Or maybe I’m a little bit paranoid 🙂
How Deep Do Your Beds Need to Be?
The average raised garden bed is between 8 and 12″ in depth. Each of our beds are about 8″ in depth. Your depth should be at least 5″. Know that with greater depth, you have greater opportunity to enrich the soil with compost and other materials that can add nutrients, boost the fertility of it, and promote higher crop yields.
Materials for Building Bed Borders🌷
Once you’ve chosen the ideal locations, do you know what you plan to build the bed walls with?
Creating the border walls can be done with several types of material, including bricks, concrete blocks, and lumber – a series of two by fours is very common. I have heard of people using tin or galvanized aluminum, like these here I saw one day when out shopping:
Blocks and Bricks
I have heard of people using cinder blocks, yes, these can work too. They’re large and about 6″ in height, so you could stack the walls about 2 blocks high on all sides and that would be adequate as far as the depth goes. They also have the added bonus of the two large openings in them which, I daresay you could plant small things in, too – the depth would be just about acceptable.
I don’t like handling cinder blocks as they’re gawky and rough to handle (no doubt I’ve been scratched on them before) but they do make for good elevated bed material. I’d wear gloves when moving them, as they are kind of heavy, and sometimes have sharp edges.
Personally, I like the look of red bricks better, where I come from, the local home improvement stores carry your classic red bricks at about 80 cents a pop. You’d definitely need more of them than cinder blocks, your average brick is 2″ in height and 8″ long.
But they would make for a nice looking bed, not to mention the pop of color is appealing to some people.We use red bricks to line many things in our backyard, so they’re a great material for building the walls. Depending on how many beds you plan to design, you’re going to need a sizeable amount of them – I’d plan for at least 50, if that.
But I think lumber is the best material, We used a series of long sheets of lumber, all of them 2″ thick and 6-7 feet in length, and stacked about 3 on top of each other. We also used stakes at the corners for added stability; John cut the corner pieces with a miter saw. Two by fours, as they’re commonly called will be sturdy and you’ll need a lot less than you will red bricks.
I do know of garden bed kits….they are pre-sized, such as 4 ft by 8 ft, 4 foot square, etc., I never got into kits all that much. John got a good deal on the lumber we used from someone on FB Marketplace ( something to look into)
Planning the Walkways
Don’t forget to take into consideration how the pathways between the beds should be designed. Many people fill their pathways with natural materials like gravel and wood chips. We used landscaping fabric (which is sold by the yard, on a roll) that we tacked down in between each bed, and filled with scattered wood chips.
They look great. Occasionally, weeds do get through, but I’m happy as can be – no more mowing, or slip-sliding in the mud after a rainy day.
Hopefully I have demystified the whole process….Be sure to join me for part 2 of this series, where I will talk about the nitty gritty of filling your beds. Hopefully you’re excited and ready.