While it’s definitely easier to just buy a raised garden bed, kits or other premade/ prefabricated beds, I do think that building them from scratch is a great way to go. I’ll explain why in a minute. The idea of using raised beds was, at first, a ridiculous idea to me. I’ve got great soil, why do I need a bed? But after our first garden flopped, maybe learning how to build raised garden beds is a better idea.
What are raised garden beds?
Simply put, it is a structure that sits on the ground that you add soil, compost and other organic material to grow things. That’s it. But it is definitely more than that. You see, our soil in Georgia is usually red clay. But there’s a reason why Georgia is a huge agricultural state, we can grow just about anything in this soil. That also means that our weeds are super plants, too.
A raised bed is a great way to keep weeds from growing and stealing water and other nutrients from your plants.
Raised beds also help those with ailments or disabilities that can’t be on their knees in a garden.
Also raised beds help create a designated spot for fruits or vegetables that you want to save seeds from.
And they look prettier.
Susan over at Learning and Yearning as a great guide to raised beds. I took a lot of inspiration from her and Kathi over at Oakhill Homestead when I was brainstorming, designing and building our raised garden beds.
To Buy Or Build A Raised Bed
Well, that’s the question, isn’t it? There are somethings you need to consider when it comes to building a raised bed. Things like your skill level, cost of materials, and customization. If you are not handy with tools or don’t have any skill, building a raised bed may not be a good option. The cost of lumber is extremely high in some parts of the country and that makes building one out of reach for some people. If you are looking for certain dimensions, building one may be a better option.
When we were looking at raised beds, I wanted to conceal the area in front of our front porch. The gutters get overrun when it rains and creates a lot of issues with run off.
Our dogs like to dig and wreak havoc in the front yard. The goats like to hide under the porch and the chickens like to lay their eggs under there too.
So I wanted to help hide some of this as well as keep creatures out. In front of the front porch is a 12ft section on each side of the stairs. And one side has a walk way to the porch, and the other side is wide open. The raised beds/ planters had to be tall enough to keep goats from walking right up to it. Trying to find something that was prefabricated was going to either be insanely expensive or not the right size.
It Was Better For Us To Build Raised Garden Beds
We found a couple of prefab’d raised beds like this one, and this one. But those are really expensive and still not the right fit for what we needed. So Jared and I brainstormed what we could do. I told him what I wanted: 2.5-3 feet wide, 12 feet long, and about 24 inches tall. He got to work designing and sketching and handed me a material list.
I went to Home Depot and got 45 dog ear pickets and 6 3x4x 8ft posts and he went to work. We also got some lattice to discourage the critters from going under the deck on the sides that would be open until we could build more beds.
How To Build Raised Garden Beds
It was pretty easy for Jared to build the beds and he got them both done in a day.
He stared with cutting all of the lumber to size.
Pickets- cut off the dog ear. Then find your half way point (should be 5′ 5″) and cut there. If you are doing a custom size, cut to that number
3×4- Cut in half
Take your extra pickets (we bought 5 extra) and cut those to 18 inches
On a flat and level surface (unless you want your beds to follow the contour of the ground), screw each picket onto a 3×4 timber.
Do this with the front and back of your bed.
Line them up so that you can attach your side picket. Do the same for the other side. You should have a rectangle.
Then start attaching pickets all the way up until you have your desired height. Ours was four pickets high.
Then go in and screw those 18in pickets half way between the 3x4s to help stabilize the pickets to help keep them from bowing when the bed is filled with soil.
Prepping Your Garden Beds
To start, I highly recommend using a liner. Katie over at The Homesteading RD has a great article all about different liners and why you should use them. Now, we didn’t use the cedar like she suggested for two reasons; one, cedar is still pretty expensive and two, because I didn’t to go BACK out to the store. Instead, I used our woven ground cloth.
If you are going to use any kind of plastic or cloth for your beds, I suggest stapling it to the sides of your pickets. But make sure you use plenty of slack in your liner, the weight of the soil, compost and other filler will tear it.
Since our beds were 12 feet long, 2.5 feet wide and 2 feet tall, we needed a TON of filler. Now, we could have gone and gotten a bunch of soil, but that’s expensive AND the soil will get compacted over time. That’s not what we want.
About 2 months ago, Jared went through the property and cut down a bunch of mountain laurel. If you don’t know, mountain laurel is extremely toxic to pretty much everything. But our goats didn’t get that memo and without fail someone always eats it and gets sick.
So I had this giant pile of laurel that needed to go. After a ton of research, including calling the Arbor Foundation, I found out that laurel doesn’t leach toxins as it decomposes. Score.
I filled the beds with as much laurel as possible. We cut down big branches and stuffed them in the bed, being careful not to puncture the liner. It took about half the pile but my beds were about 80% full.
Next, Chase filled the beds with compost. He’s in that wonderful teenage stage where he likes to pick things up and put them down. Repeatedly. But hey, it works for me. He did a fantastic job and the beds were about 90% full….. Or so I thought.
I ordered my soil, peat moss and the rest of the things I needed for finishing off the rest of the area. Including Halloween Decorations.
I wish I would have realized before buying all of this that it was heavy. I knew it was heavy, but I guess I didn’t realize HOW heavy it would be.
Driving home, on curvy mountain roads was a test of not only my driving skills but also my patience. But we all made it home in one piece and nothing fell off the back of the truck. Score.
What you fill your beds with is totally up to you. As I said above, I would highly recommend using some sort of filler that is decomposable and a liner. When it comes to soil, we used regular top soil since we were adding peat moss and already had compost and the laurel in the beds. Also, since we aren’t 100% sure what we will be planting in these beds long term, I didn’t want to put in something that was going to be highly acidic or alkalotic.
What does well in raised beds? Literally everything. I want these beds to house our garlic, onion, and carrots. I may even put our regular potatoes and sweet potatoes in there. Again, I’m not entirely sure. But for now, I threw in some great fall plants and we’ll see what they can do.
Our Take Away
We figured out that raised beds are a great way to go to help conceal the disaster of the front porch.
It takes a TON of soil and other filler to fill these beds so take that into consideration when building these things. Not just height but width and length too.
Run hardware cloth around the top if you want to keep chickens and goats out.
Do not compact the soil in these beds! As you add soil, spread it around so it can fill holes in your filler but don’t cram it in there.
The beds themselves only cost about $60 each to build but ended up running us about $100 each to fill. Keep that in mind when you start this project.