Raised beds are the perfect addition to any backyard, especially if you are interested in growing your own vegetables and herbs to harvest. The advantages to raised beds are numerous; better drainage, higher yields, they're easier to water and weed, and they make it possible to grow on trickier sites such as rooftops, solid rock or cement. Here's a peek inside our process of building a raised bed…There's nothing more satisfying to us than spending time in our garden. But first, given that all we had was a rectangular dirt pad, we had to build one. Last year we transformed our small city backyard by adding a DIY stone patio and a few flower beds. We knew our grand plan included building a raised vegetable bed, but we fell short on time and money.
While there are numerous kits for purchase online or in garden centers, we decided to build ours from scratch. For lumber, we chose cedar wood (for the boards and the corner posts) instead of treated wood, which can leach chemicals into your growing soil (Redwood is also a safe alternative). The cedar will mellow to a lighter ash color over time, giving the wood an aged look. With the boards cut to size, we lined up the plank boards with the corner posts. Holes were drilled and galvanized carriage bolts were inserted to fasten them together. Once the entire box was connected, we moved it into location, resting it on leveled soil. Metal stakes were tapped into the ground by the corner posts, and then screwed into the frame, giving the box added stability. Triangle boards were cut from the remaining wood scraps, and used to cover the corner posts, which also allows us a place to rest a pot or two. An additional board was screwed into the top front of the box - this extra ledge is a great place to set tools, harvested vegetables, or can even be used as extra seating.
Once the boxes were complete (we built two), and given that we had spent most of our budget on the materials, we knew we needed a cost-effective way to fill them. One borrowed trailer and a 3 hour drive to family later, we had compiled enough free compost and dried horse manure to fill our square raised box. Because of the sheer height of it, it took a bit more soil than we imagined. (Note: We wanted to build our boxes this high to help keep the neighborhood pests out. A bed this deep is not required for growing herbs and vegetables.)
This year our vegetable roster includes heirloom tomatoes, okra, tomatillos, cucumbers, sweet peppers, hot peppers, artichokes, squash and zucchini. We also have an extensive herb garden, horseradish, strawberry plants, and blueberry bushes. As far as what is growing in our raised bed, it will be a bit of trial and error when it comes to the planting arrangement. We have learned that the peppers do not grow as large, or as fast, and will be better suited growing in the ground next year as to not be too shaded from neighboring tomato plants. Bamboo poles were staked towards the back, and by weaving rows of twine up the poles, this will add a trellis for cucumbers or other climbing plants.
A couple of books we found invaluable during the process were All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space! and The Backyard Homestead: Produce All the Food You Need on Just a Quarter Acre!.
(Re-edited from a post originally published on 6.10.2010 - CM)
(Images: Kimberly Watson)