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Farmers Almanac
The 2014 Farmers Almanac
Farmers' Almanac

Build Your Own Raised Bed Garden

Build Your Own Raised Bed Garden

Growing your veggies in raised beds offers many benefits to the average backyard gardener. One of the most common refrains among gardeners every spring is that they can’t wait to get started. Raised beds offer the opportunity to do just that. Because raised beds are built above the ground, the soil in the bed is warmer than the soil in the ground, meaning you can get gardening earlier by growing in them. By getting started earlier, you can harvest food earlier. You can also harvest longer into the end of the season, extending the length of your growing season.

Another great benefit to raised beds is that you can customize the soil that you grow in. Once you build your frame for the bed, you will be able to add mulch, compost, topsoil, manure, and anything else that will help your garden grow. You can customize your growing medium to best suit your needs. You will also maintain better soil drainage by growing this way.

Building your soil from the bottom up means you will not have to till out rocks, roots, and other matter that inhibits healthy plant growth. You will also not be trampling on your garden, which inhibits root growth and drainage.

Raised beds are also space savers. You can grow your plants closer together for higher yields. You can also companion plant. Most plants grow better when they are planted with other, specific plants. You can perform some very easy research on the Internet or in organic gardening books to learn which plants grow well together.

The basic construction of a raised bed is simple. Decide the size you want, based on the area you have to work with and the amount of gardening you want to do. Remember not to overwhelm yourself with beds that are so big you could never find the time to take care of them. You also don’t want them so small you won’t have enough produce to satisfy your needs.

You can choose to buy pre-fab kits for your raised beds. It will make building them a little easier, but they can be very expensive. Besides, part of growing your own food is the enjoyment of doing it yourself. Everyone should learn to be as self sufficient as possible, especially during these tough economic times.

Use 2×6 or 2×8 lumber for the frame. Cedar lumber is the best choice, because it will outlast any other wood for this application. Some people use pressure treated lumber, as it lasts for years and years in the harsh weather, but doing so is not recommended for any project that has anything to do with fruits, veggies, or livestock. Though pressure treated lumber is much safer today than it was years ago, it is still chemically treated and can leach chemicals into your produce.

You can make your beds as long as you like, but it’s best not to make them more than four feet wide. Weeding, planting and general maintenance will be easier if your width isn’t too large, and your back, muscles and joints will all thank you for it. Cut the pieces of lumber to your desired size. Pre-drill your holes where you will connect them, then screw them all together. Make sure when constructing your beds that they are all level and square.

Now lay them out in the area you will use them to make sure they are level on the ground. Remove any sod, or rocks that keep it from being level. You might have to add material in areas that are lower than other areas. This part of the process is important, because you do not want any water run off in your raised bed, which will inhibit growth.

Now add your growing medium to the level you like and start planting. Six inches of soil is the ideal depth for most vegetables. If you are growing root crops, you’ll need ten inches of soil. Just add another level of lumber over the first layer, or use 2×10 or 2×12 boards. Once you have your plants in, water well. You will now be on your way to easy maintenance veggie gardening!

24 comments

1 JoAnn { 04.08.14 at 8:18 am }

I keep a thick layer of straw on top of my raised beds & that seems to have stopped the cats from digging in the beds, plus it’s great for the soil. Squirrels kept digging up my garlic so I laid chicken wire over the top of the bed.The garlic grows up through the holes & is easy to lift off at harvest & the squirrels stay out.

2 Amboni46 { 08.24.12 at 3:00 pm }

Squirrels are bad for your birdfeeders and gardens. When I put out bird seed I add chili powder to the feeder along with the seed. Birds can’t smell it but the squirrels can and the won’t go near the feeder.

3 BW { 04.23.12 at 8:20 pm }

I need help in ways to keep squirrel’s out of my bird feeders. I have seen those feeders that swing the squirrel off, but they cost is very high. When I was younger, with my Dad, we went squirrel hunting, but in my yarn since I do have people living around me. Need all the help I can get. Thank you in advance for your help.

4 LYNDA { 03.21.12 at 11:06 pm }

Use newspaper as your first layer.

5 LYNDA { 03.21.12 at 11:06 pm }

I’ve used newspaper to kill existing grass under my above ground garden. I just placed the newspaper – a few pages thick directly on the ground, then I added a layer of landscaping mesh, then added my soil mixture (compost, vermiculite and peat moss). I’ve read Square Foot Gardening by Mel Batholomew to get the correct mixture.

6 Mary G. { 03.20.12 at 8:58 am }

The BEST way I know of killing the grass (and weeds) is to burn a brush pile (or firewood) on top of it. Once it’s burned down to ashes/cinders, you can till that into the soil, thus adding potash to your amendments! =)

7 Ramona { 07.25.11 at 6:37 pm }

Just a FYI, after moving to Florida and our soil is almost 90% sand, we decided to make raised gardens. We decided to try something different as the dollars were scarce from the move and buying a new house. We decided to make our raised garden with sand bags. We purchased around 300 poly bags at around 30 cents a bag, and the sand is free. We stacked them 2 bags high, 4′x28′ and plan to have 3 of this size and then a smaller strawberry bed and then decided to cover the white bag with ground cloth to preserve the bag from sun rot. It is very solid and completely weed free, we have placed pine straw around the perimeter to keep outside weeds at bay. We just planted a few things to see how our soil is and we now have a nice crop of beans and other things popping out even in this hot summer.

8 cure2011 { 07.08.11 at 2:40 pm }

I built our above ground garden with large rustic brick border, it is about 15″ high and about 15 ft long. I put down a earth layer cloth to keep the weeds out and dug into the ground to take off the layer of grass off as well. I filled the garden with approx 750 lbs of various dirt consisting of Maneure, Scotts organic garden soil, and basic top soil. The garden has flourished with greens! Cilantro, Bezel, parsley, tomatoes, red onion, zuccini, string beans, lettuce, cucumber, and egg plant!

9 Jnona { 05.15.11 at 1:16 pm }

Does anyone have a way to kill blackberries? I fight with them every year in my flower beds. any help would be appreicated thanks

10 Jaime McLeod { 05.10.11 at 1:45 pm }

Hi Janelle,
You might try planting “Scaredy Cat” plants around the perimeter of your beds. These stinky plants are purported to repel pets and wildlife from your produce. Also known as “Dog Gone” or “Piss Off” plants, their scientific name is Coleus canina. Best of luck!

11 Janelle { 05.10.11 at 11:46 am }

I would like to know more about how to keep the cats out of the garden

12 S Doucette { 05.07.11 at 7:05 pm }

This is a great idea, we started this years ago with three 4′x12′ beds, and have added one more 4′x12′ and two 3′x16′(for potatoes). 3′ spacing in between the 4 4x12s and I made them out of regular Doug Fir 2×12″s (cost reasons). Since the ground they’re in is not level we dug out about 6″ wider than the box and positioned it to be level and secured them with four 3′-4′ garden stakes (of the heavier duty variety) so some of them are a few inches above the ground on one end and nearly all 12 at the other, but the soil inside is level and they work great.

The potato bins are built the same way but only 3′ wide and 4′ longer and are designed to have another ‘box’ stacked on top as the dirt gets mounded. Actually a lot like concrete forms, and the lumber simply screwed together with 3.5″ screws (2″ screws to secure the boxes to the stakes), no brackets or other hardware needed.

The reasoning behind the four foot width is that it is a reasonable distance to be able to reach in from either side and have everything accessible. I suppose you could go as long or as short as you wanted depending on your needs. We find the 3′ width between them convenient also because we can use a 3’2″ piece of 2×12 to use as a portable seat for planting, picking, weeding, etc.

@Marissa, if you’re going to put a garden where you’ve got grass it’s best to use a shovel and remove it by hand (compost it). You’d typically also be bringing in some gardening soil and/or organic matter so removing some of the existing soil is actually to your benefit. Besides, any nasty chems you use to kill the grass would surely contaminate your garden.

13 sara { 04.27.11 at 6:15 pm }

Any ideas about what to do about the neighborhood cat who likes to visit my raised beds? Last year we used wire frames to surround them, and put lots of red pepper flakes on the surface which seemed to work. But over the winter, the bad cat got in the habit of visiting again…

14 carolyn { 04.27.11 at 5:28 pm }

Please don’t use Monsanto Round Up. According to the Organic Consumer’s Association, Round Up has been linked to cancer, birth defects and a number of other health problems. There are also claims that the use of Round Up has also led to a proliferation of herbicidal resistant weeds that threaten our food supply. If you’re going to go through all the time and trouble of growing your own food, why not try doing it without dangerous chemicals?

15 Connie { 04.27.11 at 3:28 pm }

Also Melissa, using straight vinegar will kill weeds too, takes a bit longer than poison but it does work.

16 Connie { 04.27.11 at 3:27 pm }

Melissa, Roundup is ok to kill weeds but mine is poison ivy/brush killer and you have to wait 30 days after using it before being able to plant anything. I don’t want to plant behind a chemical anymore than I want to spray my food with chemicals.

17 Connie { 04.27.11 at 3:26 pm }

you can nail them together, use L brackets, screw them together, any of these methods will hold the boards together and hold in the weight of the dirt. Some have even tapped short boards on the outside of the bed boards as anchors. We also covered the inside of the boards with black plastic. It keeps the dirt from washing out and keeps the plant roots warm even incold snaps and goes farther into the seasons.

18 Outdoorsman { 04.27.11 at 9:24 am }

Paragraph 8 explains. Pre drill your holes where you will connect them, then screw them all together.

19 jane hyden { 04.27.11 at 9:00 am }

u dont say how to put the boards together—do i nail them together or what?

20 Outdoorsman { 04.26.11 at 5:44 pm }

Great recommendation Jim, thanks.

21 JT { 04.26.11 at 5:40 pm }

@ Marissa…Round Up is the best weed killer I have found for this, after the grass dies off you can till it and plant whatever you want.

22 junebugc25 { 04.26.11 at 9:28 am }

I have been growing my garden in raised beds for a few years now , and I think it is the best , and I might add a very nice view in the backyard, kind of pretty

23 Jim { 04.25.11 at 7:33 pm }

This recommendation would be for planning your plot in the Fall. Secure heavy guage black plastic. Cut to the size of your intended garden. Put in place and weigh it down with full lengths of lumber, 2×4′s will be fine. Extra weight of rocks, bricks, or cement blocks on top of lumber will keep all in place throughout the winter. In spring remove everything and use a garden tiller. Especially for the first year it will have the power to break up and till all that dead turf into the surface. This method will still work in the spring, but your plot will be delayed for use.

24 Marissa Dobbs { 04.25.11 at 9:15 am }

When starting an above ground garden, what do you use to kill the existing grass to avoid contaminating your crop.

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