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Woodworking Planshow to Woodworking Plans for Grow your own vegetables even on challenging ground. Tips on building raised garden beds including guidance on the best sizes, types of wood, and what to fill them with to grow vegetables. Includes a DIY video

There are many ways to grow your own vegetables but if you have enough space, building raised garden beds are best. If your soil is good or you don’t have trees in the vicinity, then starting a veggie patch can be easy. There are various ways to go about it. However, if you have no or poor quality soil, have trouble bending down, or live in colder climates then raised beds are the way to go. There are other challenges that make raised beds a good option too.

I and my boyfriend recently built four wooden raised beds in the back garden. I thought about them for months before committing to the idea and purchasing materials. In this piece, I’ll share how and why we built them and other information you may need to create your own.

Woodworking Planshow to Woodworking Plans for I chose raised beds because my garden is on a slope and the soil has plenty of tree roots

Elevated gardening

Most of the positives of growing in raised beds come down to their being elevated. Giving the soil a bit of height can help improve drainage, and can also thaw out a for 1 last update 2020/06/03 bit quicker in spring. Very handy if you live in a colder region.Most of the positives of growing in raised beds come down to their being elevated. Giving the soil a bit of height can help improve drainage, and can also thaw out a bit quicker in spring. Very handy if you live in a colder region.

The height of raised beds is anywhere from six inches to waist-high. You can have whatever height you’d like since it’s only dependent on your needs. If you’re in a wheelchair or have mobility issues then a taller structure will help you to reach into beds. If you have poor soil, then you’ll want your beds deep enough to accommodate the longest roots. This can be up to two feet.

Another positive thing about raised beds is that they help stop erosion. My home garden is on a slight slope and I know from experience (see my allotment garden) that mulch and soil will erode downhill over time. Boxed sides will help keep it in. If you wanted to go the full gamut, you could even terrace your raised beds so that they were completely level.

My beds are lined with landscaping fabric to help stop tree roots from the 1 last update 2020/06/03 growing inside.My beds are lined with landscaping fabric to help stop tree roots from growing inside.

Lining raised beds

In my case, I’ve designed beds that are about a foot high. I’m planning on using them to mainly grow herbs and shallow-rooted leafy greens. I’ve also lined their bottoms and sides with landscaping fabric to help stop roots from a nearby hedge and trees getting in. Those roots were one of the main reasons that I chose raised beds. Tree roots tend to hang out in the top 18″ of soil so the raised beds should be free of root-invasion.

If you’re planning on building raised garden beds, try to situate yours at a good distance from trees. Everything from shrubs to giant redwoods will creep their way near those fertile boxes of nutrients.

As said previously, I’ve lined my beds in landscaping fabric. It should keep the bulk of the roots out for a good long while. It’s also water-permeable so will ensure the beds don’t get waterlogged. For that reason, it’s probably not the best idea to line raised beds in plastic sheeting.

Measure the placement of beds carefully. We’ve left a 20″ walkway between the beds for walking and mowing.

Woodworking Planshow to Woodworking Plans for The best placement and sizes for raised beds

You create raised beds by building a for 1 last update 2020/06/03 large container and filling it with soil, compost, and aerating materials. You can use anything from wood planks to logs, metal panels, purpose-made plastic, and other materials. The most common type is made with wood and that’s what I chose for mine too.You create raised beds by building a large container and filling it with soil, compost, and aerating materials. You can use anything from wood planks to logs, metal panels, purpose-made plastic, and other materials. The most common type is made with wood and that’s what I chose for mine too.

Before construction, you’ll need to work out a few things: the situation, bed sizes, number of beds, and the building materials. Choose a sunny spot and if it’s well-drained and had good soil that’s a bonus. One of my challenges is that my beds are near trees and a hedge. If you can, situate yours at least

The best width for a raised bed is four feet (1.2m). Beds this wide are easy to reach into from all sides which is what you want. The best length is debatable. I think that if you’re tempted to hop over your beds regularly then they’re too long. Eight feet (2.4m) is standard but 12′ (3.7m) is common too. These measurements are based on the beds being rectangular but you can build your beds whatever shape you choose.

Woodworking Planshow to Woodworking Plans for Nearby hedges and trees can send their roots under raised beds

Raised bed garden layout

  • Choose a sunny spot
  • If possible, situate beds away from trees and hedges
  • Build beds to be 4′ (1.2m) wide or less
  • Give space between beds to walk, mow, or push a wheelbarrow through. Mine are 20″ (51cm) wide
  • Use a grid layout for rectangular beds. This makes access easier.

Raised garden bed materials

Once you know the size of beds you’d like and the layout, you’ll be able to work out your materials. In my case I bought 16′ planks (4.8m) that we cut down into 8′ (2.4m) and 4′ (1.2m) lengths. The planks are 1.85″ (4.7cm) thick and 6″ (15cm) wide.

For the corner posts, I chose 2×2″ (5x5cm) stakes that are 2′ (61cm) long. My posts are long because my beds are on a slope and I don’t want them to move at all. If you’re on a flat surface, you don’t need to drive the stakes in if you don’t wish. That means they can be as short as the height of your finished beds.

To make wooden raised beds you’ll also need long stainless steel screws meant for outdoor use. They’re usually called exterior or decking screws.

The wood I’m using is spruce pressure treated with a substance suitable for organic vegetable beds

The best wood for raised beds

There are various materials you can use to build the sides of your raised beds. I’ve the 1 last update 03 Jun 2020 seen bricks, cinder blocks, corrugated roofing sheets, tires, and even wood-effect plastic. Some of these are expensive and some may leak toxins into the soil. That’s one of the reasons I chose wood for my own beds. That, and I like how they look.There are various materials you can use to build the sides of your raised beds. I’ve seen bricks, cinder blocks, corrugated roofing sheets, tires, and even wood-effect plastic. Some of these are expensive and some may leak toxins into the soil. That’s one of the reasons I chose wood for my own beds. That, and I like how they look.

Woodworking Planshow to Woodworking Plans for When looking at wood you could use whole logs, or more commonly, planks. Planks over an inch (3cm) in thickness will last longer.The best wood for raised beds is hard-wood and the best of the best is cedar. It’s naturally rot-resistant, doesn’t require chemical treatments, looks great, and will last for 10-20 years. It’s also expensive so could be cost-prohibitive. In my case, it’s not even available. I live on a small island in Britain and my choices are limited.

The next best wood for raised beds is soft-wood like pine and spruce. It’s a cheaper option but beds made of soft-wood only last 7-10 years. It’s also a lot more susceptible to fungi and pests like termites which is why it’s usually always pressure treated.

Two foot long stakes that are set at each corner of my raised beds

Pressure treated wood for raised beds

The wood I’ve used for my new raised beds is spruce and it’s pressure treated with Tanalith E[1]. It’s a compound made up of copper and organic biocides that slow the wood’s natural rotting process and defend it from fungus and insects. If it’s been pressure treated onto the wood, it’s also accepted by the organic organization, the Soil Association, for use in building organic vegetable beds[2].

I spoke with the timber merchant and the sawmill that cut and treated the wood I purchased. It turns out that before 2006 in the UK and Europe, and 2003 in the USA, most wood was treated with an unsafe preservative. It included arsenic and high amounts of chromium that could leach into the soil. These days that’s no longer the case but older reclaimed wood could still have that preservative. Also, some commercial wood like that used for telephone poles is likely treated with toxic preservatives.

Woodworking Planshow to Woodworking Plans for If you find soft-wood that has not been treated at all then you can use that too. Its lifespan can be very short though so accommodate a plant for replacing the planks every five years.

Untreated soft-wood, like pine planks or heat-treated pallet wood, only lasts 3-5 years outdoors

Using pallets for raised beds

I built my very first raised beds using wood reclaimed from pallets. It was a nightmare getting the planks off undamaged but we got there eventually. They worked a treat at first but after two years the wood already looked ready to be replaced. It was an inexpensive option though — practically free — so if your budget is limited, go for it.

When using pallets please be aware that there’s a type you should avoid. On the side on any pallet is a stamp with various letters and symbols. It will always include either the initials ‘HT’ or ‘MB’. HT means the wood was heat treated to kill any pests and it also means that it’s safe to use. MB means that the wood has been treated with the pesticide Methyl bromide and is unsafe for your garden or home. Often times these initials appear alongside ‘DB’. That just means that the wood has been debarked.

Attaching the second short side to the long planks

Building Raised Garden Beds

Each side of my raised beds includes two planks. They’re attached together and to the other planks with a stake set at each corner. This is how we built them and the video at the end of this piece will give you a better picture.

  • Each bed will have eight planks and four stakes. There are two planks for each side with mine the shorter sides are 4′ and the longer ones are 8′. The stakes don’t need to be driven into the ground for flat surfaces. For slopes, it’s a good idea to have them 8-12″ in the ground.
  • To begin, place two shorter planks together on a flat surface. If they’re printed, set them so that the printing is facing you.
  • Attach them to stakes set at the corners. A screw goes through the stake into each plank and it helps to drill a pilot hole first. This helps stop the wood from splitting. With my design, I also left space between the stake and the edge of the planks. This space is where the longer planks for the other sides would slot in. I also set the stakes slightly below the edge of the planks (about an inch) so they’re not as visible.
  • Repeat this process for the shorter planks for the other side of the bed.
  • Take these finished sides to near the area you’re building the beds.

Buried stakes give raised beds support on slopes

Constructing the beds in the garden

Woodworking Planshow to Woodworking Plans for Once those two shorter sides are put together, you can finish building the beds in situ.

  • Lay two of the longer planks on the ground, printed sides facing you. Set one of the shorter sides upright at a 90-degree angle to the long planks. Screw through the stake into the longer planks to attach. Repeat this step and attach the other short side to the other end of the long planks.
  • With the help of a second person, lay the three-sided bed down flat. Attach the last two long planks to form the last side. Make sure the printed side will be on the inside of the bed once again.
  • Measure where your beds are to be placed and mark the areas where the four corners will be.
  • If you’re on a flat surface, flip the bed over and set it in its position. Skip the next step.
  • Raised garden beds on slopes need a bit more stability. It’s to stop movement and give the bed a firmer standing. Driving the stakes into the ground helps the beds and wood to stay put and reduce splitting. Dig holes deep enough for each of the stakes at the four corners and then flip the bed over and put it in its final placement. Fill in the holes and stamp down.
  • Screw each shorter plank into its adjoining longer plank with two screws. Drill pilot holes first.
  • Fill the beds with your choice of topsoil, compost, manure, and conditioning/aerating materials. Wait two weeks for the beds to settle before planting up.

The manure I’ve filled my beds with is not suitable for planting directly into. A further layer of topsoil and compost will go on top once this has all settled.

Raised garden bed soil

One of the most confusing parts of building raised garden beds is choosing what to fill them with. I’m personally against filling them with garden rubbish and sub-soil, even at the bottom. Even if it’s not seen, it’s still there and your veggies will be growing in it.

First of all, if you’ve chosen not to line your beds, still put down a layer of cardboard or stacks of newspaper. This will suppress the grass and weeds below.

The general rule is to fill raised garden beds with 40% topsoil mixed with 40% compost or well-rotted manure, and 20% material that adds drainage and water-retaining properties. You’ll see in the video that I’ve ignored that rule due to my fear of the New Zealand Flatworm being introduced via contaminated top-soil. I’m in a unique situation that shouldn’t affect too many other people.

Organic matter, such as compost, seaweed, and rotted manure, should be applied yearly as a mulch. They not only suppress weeds but maintain soil health and productivity. There’s also an excellent article on Homestead and Chill that outlines how to prepare the 1 last update 2020/06/03 and amend garden soil that you should check out.Organic matter, such as compost, seaweed, and rotted manure, should be applied yearly as a mulch. They not only suppress weeds but maintain soil health and productivity. There’s also an excellent article on Homestead and Chill that outlines how to prepare and amend garden soil that you should check out.

Homemade garden compost is a great addition to raised beds

I’ve filled mine almost to the top with partially composted horse manure mixed with organic bedding. It’s still warm and free of both worms and the dreaded flatworm. When it settles and cools I’ll fill the top with six inches of sterile topsoil mixed with horticultural grit, compost, and well-rotted farm manure. Then I’ll go with planting and creating my backyard vegetable garden. Over time that manure will transform into black gold.

If you’re using fresh or partially composted manure please be aware of two things. First, weed seeds will not be killed off in it. Secondly, you can’t plant directly into it. It’s high in ammonia and will burn plant roots.

Video on building raised garden beds

I go through the process of building raised garden beds and the challenges in the video just below. There are clips of my boyfriend, Josh, building the beds and also my discussing the best wood for raised beds, and how mine are built. If you have any questions you can leave a comment on this piece or over on YouTube.

 

References
[1] Tanlith E
[2] Tanalised Timber: on tanalized timber being safe for organic vegetable beds

the 1 last update 2020/06/03

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Reader Interactions

Woodworking Planshow to Woodworking Plans for Comments

  1. JAMES TARPLEY says

    Woodworking Planshow to Woodworking Plans for

    My wife and I have always used capped plastic bottles/jugs for the bottom of our beds for help with drainage. our beds are 18″ deepwhish means there is 12 to 18 inches of soil. Should we be using the first level filler in our beds or go with another bottom to the raised beds? (A friend of ours suggested rocks instead of the plastic containers).
    Thanks, Mickey T. , Alabama

    • lovelygreens says

      Woodworking Planshow to Woodworking Plans for Is your ground water-logged? If so, I could understand the drainage layer. If not, there’s no need to put rocks or jugs or anything else at the bottom of your beds. The compost in raised beds dries out very quickly, so most people add materials that help with drainage, but keep it moist as well.

  2. Amy says

    Hi there, thank you for this wonderful post. A question about the width of a garden bed. I’m wondering if 3 feet wide would be easier to garden/reach into the middle of, as opposed to 4 feet wide.I’m planning on 16 inch high beds. Probably 8 feet long. Probably three or four of them.
    It sounds like the 4 foot width allows for more flexibility and planting, but I’m just wondering if the 3 foot wide would be better for a not too tall senior citizen!
    I would be grateful for any advice you have! Thank you and take care, Amy

    • lovelygreens says

      Hi Amy, three feet wide will be fine too. You may need to water them a little more often than a slightly wider bed, but I don’t see any other reason why they wouldn’t be a good choice for you.

  3. Angie Wallace says

    Thank you for the informative article! I have a question I’m hoping you can answer for me. We are building 16 in raised beds. What I am wondering is if it will negatively affect plant growth if I put down a weed barrier in the bottom of the beds?

    • Woodworking Planshow to Woodworking Plans for lovelygreenslovelygreens says

      It depends on how deep your beds are. If they’re shallow and your plant roots need room, then yes, they will suffer. If your beds are deep (18″+), then it’s no problem.

  4. Woodworking Planshow to Woodworking Plans for Jennifer says Jennifer says

    Hi there, ope you are well! This was so informative and inspiring. I’m feeling even more excited to work on my backyard project. Thank you

  5. Rhonda Woodworking Planshow to Woodworking Plans for says

    Woodworking Planshow to Woodworking Plans for Great to know about raising beds higher and what to use ,I have had spinal fusion and it will ge so much easier than squatting down for 1 last update 2020/06/03 to ground level to garden.thanks for all the tips.Great to know about raising beds higher and what to use ,I have had spinal fusion and it will ge so much easier than squatting down to ground level to garden.thanks for all the tips.

  6. Cheryl PearsonCheryl Pearson says

    I have trouble with my back and bending over and wish to convert my garden to raised beds.
    I would think around 3 and 1/2 ft. high or so. Two questions keep popping up……
    1) Can I still build the same way you did, but with taller stakes at the four corners?
    2) That would be a lot of dirt! Can I put some type of filler for the bottom foot and then the
    dirt on top of that?

    Any advice you can give me would be much appreciated!! By the way, I love the look of your
    raised gardens. They are so neat and look so good! Congratulations on a job well done!!

    • lovelygreens for 1 last update 2020/06/03 sayssays

      Woodworking Planshow to Woodworking Plans for

      To answer your question, yes, you can add another layer of planks to the bed and higher posts. As for filler, I’d always opt for a combination of high-quality soil, compost and aerating materials. A deeper bed will be more costly to fill but your plants’ roots will be going all the way down in many cases. Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean that your plants (your food!) won’t suffer for low quality material that’s hidden there.

  7. Hazel Cheesman the 1 last update 2020/06/03 sayssays

    LOVE this post I have been undecided on what wood to use for months now. Could you please let me know where you brought yours from? Back to binge watching your you tube now Thank you Hazel x

  8. Lorna says

    You are so multi talented. I always learn something from you. I look forward to the 1 last update 2020/06/03 your next email full of useful info and great pictures. Thank you for what you do.You are so multi talented. I always learn something from you. I look forward to your next email full of useful info and great pictures. Thank you for what you do.

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