How to Build a Raised Bed

Attach side and end boards to each other, then to stakes for stability. (Click for larger image.)

Like many vegetable gardeners, I’m a huge fan of raised beds. They look neat, they allow gardeners to control their soil better, they require less water, they are more productive than on-the-ground gardens, and the soil in raised beds tends to get warm faster. If you are at all concerned about the quality or safety of your garden soil, raised beds are the way to go. (For a neat and inexpensive way to build up your soil, see my post on lasagna gardening from 20o9.)

Raised beds are essentially boxes in which you put soil and plants. To build a raised bed, you will first need to determine how large you want it to be. It’s a good idea to choose a size that is based on typical sizes for lumber, such as 4 feet, 6 feet, 8 feet, etc. Consider how tall you want the bed to be, as well. If you are starting from scratch in terms of soil, taller is generally better. My raised beds range from just 4 inches above ground to nearly 14.

Step 1: Purchase lumber and supplies. For the last raised bed I built, I purchased three 2-by-10 inch boards, about 10 feet long,  and three 2-by-4 inch boards of the same length. I had at home some scrap  2-by-4s that I used as stakes. I also had deck screws and the tools I needed: an electric drill, a screw-driver and a hammer. The guys at the lumber yard cut one of each width of board in half, so I ended up with two short boards (about 5 feet long) and two long boards (10 feet long) of each type. If you do not have power equipment, by all means, ask the lumber yard employees to cut boards to size.

Step 2: Connect the boards. Figure out how you want the boards to line up. (I usually do short side outside of long side — see photo. Measure where on the short board you want the connections to be, mark it and drill pilot holes for the deck screws. Add two or more screws per connection (one every 3 inches or so) to make sure it is solid.  Then use deck screws to connect the long boards and short boards.

Step 3: Add the stakes. Once your basic box is together, flip it over (if there is a top) and add 2-by-4s or other scrap pieces at the corners to reinforce the connections. If you are building a double-decker box (like the one in the photo), attach each box to the reinforcing pieces at the corners. The reinforcing pieces should be longer than the box, so they can act as stakes when you put the box in the garden.

Step 4: Install in garden. Once the box is built and attached to its reinforcing pieces, carry it (get a helper!) to where you want to install it. Flip it over, stake side down. Dig holes to sink the stakes. Then mound soil around the edges of the box so it doesn’t slip. Add soil and plants and you’re ready to go.

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