Step by step, with all my little tips and tricks added in, this is how to make a raised vegetable bed:
1.) Start with a design.
It can be simple, or elaborate. Just keep the beds to around 4 ft wide so that you can reach across easily to weed the bed and also to harvest your vegetables.
|Looks like a puzzle!
2.) Figure out materials needed, and the co$t.
Raised beds are an investment, so figuring out the cost before you begin the project is very important.
3.) What will be under your raised beds?
We have Bermuda grass, which is notorious for being extremely difficult to get rid of. On my first set of raised beds, I only put down cardboard under the dirt in my raised beds, thinking that the grass would not be able to work its way through to the top. I was wrong. :( Eventually, I removed those beds, and reconstructed them over pieces of steel roof panels, with weed fabric outlining the beds. This has worked well. This time, I thought it would be easier to use weed fabric inside as well as outside the beds. I purchased the weed fabric from Gempler's.
|Not sure I'm completely sold on the weed fabric for inside my beds.
However, I garden my vegetable beds organically, and I now wonder what kind of chemicals will be leaching out from the weed fabric. So, that might be something to think about, too. I think next time I'll go back to the roofing panels.
If you don't have Bermuda grass to worry about, you may be able to get by without some sort of barrier between your soil and your raised beds. I've seen photos of raised beds next to green grass, without any concern of the homeowner having a problem with the grass taking over their raised beds. How I wish I that would work for me!
And, if you don't want to put down weed fabric or roofing panels, it might be possible to remove the grass entirely before erecting your beds.
4.) Lay out your design, then put the beds together.
This is actually quite simple, because I use raised bed corners from Gardener's Supply. Of course, you don't have to use these, but they make the construction extremely easy. Personally, I can't even put four boards together and trust my own construction, so they were worth it to me.
|The corners just screw into the boards
I used 1"x12"x whatever length I need. Of course, you can use a shorter height if you prefer. It depends upon which vegetables you'll be growing. It also depends upon the base of your vegetable beds. A base of weed fabric or roofing panels is different than a base of soil. You may also want to use a mix of different heights for a more interesting design.
Use non-treated lumber. I know most people use treated lumber when using boards outdoors. However, treated lumber has chemicals you don't want leaching into your vegetables. Since these boards are not treated, it's best not to put the beds up next to your house. You don't want to introduce termites into your home, and a board touching your home would give the termites a direct route.
5.) You're almost done! Time to add the dirt.
You can purchase bags, but I try to buy in bulk, as it's more economical. Here's some tips for buying in bulk:
Figure out how many cubic yards you will need. Click HERE for a handy-dandy calculator for doing just that.
But don't worry - if you can't figure it out, the dirt supplier can figure it out for you. Just be sure to have the measurements of your beds when you call or go by.
|That tree will probably have to go at some point, or my beds moved.
Another tip for buying in bulk is to ask about their delivery charge. Some will deliver for free, some will have a set charge. I have found that this depends upon the company's own trucking situation. Some have their own trucks. Some must use a delivery service, which charges them. Some companies will charge you for over a certain yardage amount, but might allow a small amount to be delivered free of charge. Again, this depends upon their trucks and the number of yards of dirt their trucks will hold. For example, you may be able to get nine yards of dirt delivered free, while 10 yards would cost you dearly. Ask questions!
And, while you're buying soil, ask questions about it, too. Here, most companies will offer you two different types of soil, with two different prices. One is plain dirt. Around here, that's mostly sand. The other option is called "organic mix", "garden blend", or some other name, which is just sand mixed with wood shavings. The first year, this vegetable bed will not perform any better than if you just had plain sand, but the second year it will break down to a nice quality.
After I have put the soil in the beds, I also rake in some organic fertilizer. I purchase this in bags, and just add a bag or so to each bed.
|My vegetable garden is tripling in size this year!
6.) You're done! But before you plant, there's one more thing you need to think about.
Do you need fencing? I do. We have deer that think our vegetable beds are their own salad bar. It also helps to keep our cats out. You don't want cats to use your vegetable beds as their litter box! The cats and the deer could both easily jump over our fence, but they don't. If you don't want to put up a fence, I would suggest a motion activated water scarecrow. They really work!
7.) Finally! It's time to plant! :)
I would suggest buying Mel Bartholomew's book on Square Foot Gardening. It's not absolutely necessary, but it's worth a read. And Gardener's Supply has an online kitchen garden planner for determining the number of plants for each square foot. I love it!
My final piece of advice would be to start small. You can always add more beds. I started with three 4x4 beds. It was the perfect beginning for me. I eventually enlarged those beds, and now I'm adding even more. But, starting out small gave me the confidence I needed.
|My first set of raised beds.
Good luck to you! All the work will be worth it when you taste your first fresh-from-your-very-own-garden veggies!