With spring just around the corner (sweet relief!), many of us are at least thinking about heading outdoors to get our horticulture on in the garden. A great, inexpensive way to kick off the spring gardening season for novices and experts alike is to build a raised garden with, yep, your own two hands.
There are numerous advantages to growing vegetables, herbs, perennials and pretty much whatever you fancy in a raised bed. For one, you aren’t dealing with native soil (although you can incorporate it if it’s not completely worthless) that may be plagued with weeds and pests or may be straight-out difficult to work with. Instead, you can fill your bed with fresh, fertile soil. Low-maintenance raised garden beds are all about control and accessibility, not fighting against the possibly cruddy soil that Mother Nature may have provided you with. Plus, raised garden beds do a body good – saving you money on aspirin and knee braces – since you don’t have to bend as far down to plant and harvest. Additionally, elevated garden beds drain better and are quick to warm in spring so that you can get a head start on planting that bumper crop.
All sound good? Here’s how to construct your own raised garden bed in just a few easy steps.
Three important considerations to keep in mind when picking a spot to build your raised garden bed are light, level ground and ease-of-access. Picking a flat, not-too-shady location (the spot should get at least 6 hours of sunlight per day) will require less effort (e.g. digging) on your part and help your garden grow to its maximum potential. Don’t build directly under trees or too far away from water sources. For maximum sun exposure, orient your bed in a north-south position. If you plan on building multiple beds in a row, make sure there’s ample space, at least 2 feet, between them for you to maneuver.
In terms of size, a bed three or four feet wide is generally considered a good place to start so you don’t have to step into the garden or strain yourself reaching across the bed. The minimum depth should be 6 to 8 inches although you can go as high as 1 to 2 feet. How high you should build varies on the condition of the current soil (the worse off the higher you should go) and the kind of plants you plan on working with.
By far, rot-resistant lumber – cedar and redwood are fine choices – is the most popular building material for raised garden beds although some folks opt for other materials for aesthetic reasons such as bricks, concrete blocks, driftwood and tree limbs and recycled plastic composite lumber. If you plan on growing edibles, avoid pressure-treated wood and railroad ties as they may be treated with toxic chemicals. Many lumber centers sell Forest Stewardship Council certified lumber. If available, go the FSC-certified to give your green space some extra green cred. Plus, if you purchase your wood at a lumber center and you know you exact measurements, they’ll cut for you in you aren’t too handy yourself with a saw.
After taking the appropriate measurements and assembling your lumber frame using a drill and exterior screws (it’s easy as that), dig a 2-inch deep trench in the spot where you plan on installing your bed. Position the frame into the bed, backfill the soil and make sure that your frame is firmly in place. Use a level to ensure that the frame is level all around. Inside of the frame, remove any trench and weeds, loosen the soil and add a thin layer of gravel to improve drainage. Next, line the bed with a layer of landscaping fabric or newspaper that will help keep aggressive weeds at bay. Or, line the bed with a layer of chicken wire that will prevent burrowing pests from popping up in your new garden.
Top off time
With your frame standing and the drainage-improving, pest-preventing bottom of the bed ready to go, it’s time to fill your bed. Feel free to get creative here and add a customized mixture of topsoil and various soil amendments such as rotted manure, compost, sand and peat. Be sure to mix the amendments into the soil and not to bury it. Remember, if your native soil is workable, you can incorporate that into the mix to cut costs. Finally, rake the soil level, stand back and admire your handiwork. Now, it’s time to plant away!