A Raised Garden Bed Is Perfect
For Backyard Vegetable Gardening!
Preparing a raised garden bed can be simple. We order our pre-cut, raised cedar beds online. They are very easy to piece together and require no nails or screws. Each year, we buy another one to expand our vegetable gardening space.
There are many different models available for purchase. They vary greatly in price and materials. In our experience, good quality is not directly tied to cost. Our favorite bed is affordable and made from beautiful Vermont White Cedar by The Farmstead (and they aren’t paying us to tell you that!)
Expect to pay 30+ dollars for shipping these oversized products via FedEx or UPS no matter which supplier you buy from. Remember to calculate that extra cost into your budget.
The DIY Approach
You can also build your own frame out of lumber from a home improvement store. Just don’t buy wood that is treated with harmful chemicals. Only use nails for constructing the bed if you don’t mind rust staining the lumber. You may also need to repair the bed if the nails work loose over time. You don’t have to worry about this with beds that have mortise and tenon joints held together with pegs.
Make sure the sides of the bed are at least eight inches high. Some people prefer theirs higher – maybe a couple of feet. Whatever the height, you will need to fill it up close to the brim with soil. The bigger and deeper the bed, the more dirt you will need. Keep that in mind when you plan.
The idea behind a raised garden bed is to create height for the growing space so that it will have even drainage when you irrigate. The bottom is open to the ground.
Take advantage of the pre-existing soil to fill up the bed whenever possible. If it is not the right type of dirt for the kind of vegetables you want to grow, buy soil mixes instead. Just keep in mind that it could take lots of bags to fill the bed!
You will need:
- A raised garden bed frame
- A plot of relatively flat land
- 4 wooden stakes
- A tape measure
- A full sized hand spade(We like to use an Army issued entrenching tool)
- A power tiller to make things easier (Using a hand cultivator takes a loooong time. Trust us – we’ve done it that way before!)
- A sturdy metal garden rake
- Several bags of compost to amend the soil
- An electronic pH soil tester to monitor the changing soil conditions
- Leather garden gloves
- Some muscle to put things together.
Setting The Stage
Mark off exactly where you want the raised garden bed. You can use wooden stakes and some twine to do this. Begin digging the inside boundary with the spade. You can lay the bed out over the area as you go along to make sure you aren’t making mistakes in the size and shape. You can remove the frame afterward to keep it away from the power tiller during the next phase.
The soil should not be wet when you till. It should be barely moist. To test your soil moisture, scoop up a handful and try to form it into a firm ball. It should begin to crumble as you squeeze it. For clay dirt, you will probably need to wait until it has not rained in more than a week. Sandy soil drains faster and can be worked sooner after rainfall.
Work the existing soil first. Follow all safety instructions in the power tiller manual. It might even give you specific tips to make things easier. You want to till about 8” to 12” deeper than the bed itself.
Loosening the soil will create extra volume. This is helpful since it can be mixed with the compost or soil amendments later. Loose dirt may only take 15 to 20 minutes to process with the power tiller. Hard, compact soil can take several hours.
Here in North Texas, we have black clay soil that is highly compacted. We use the edges of the raised garden bed to keep the soil inside of the bedded area while we’re tilling. If you choose this approach, dig the edges of the bed area out by hand first. This will give you some extra room to work.
Inserting The Frame
Next, secure the borders by laying the bed frame over the tilled area. Use a spade along the outside of the longest edges of the frame. By removing the soil directly underneath these sides, you are allowing the frame to sit flatter against the ground.
Only do this along the two long, parallel sides. The short sides and any overhang at the corners will prevent the frame from slipping completely into the dug-in area.
Amending The Soil
The pH tester will help you identify any amendments you need to buy or prepare. Rake the soil so that it is somewhat even throughout the bed. Then add a single bag of compost or garden mix, depending on the pH results.
Till the bedded area again. This should mix everything thoroughly across the bed. The second and third tilling will be much easier and should only take a few minutes. Rake the soil again and test it with the pH monitor. Repeat this series of steps until you have enough volume to fill the raised garden bed.
You will want to slowly increase the dirt volume so that an even layer of soil comes within an inch of the top of the frame. Add any needed fertilizer last. You can take several days to do all this. Just make sure you finish in plenty of time to transplant any seedlings into the bed.
Image courtesy of CC license by Flickr user suburbandollar