Raised bed gardening is a desirable option for gardeners as it causes your soil to warm up faster, a desirable outcome especially in colder climates. Raised bed gardens are also easier to work with, as most boxes are within reach of gardeners that prefer to use a stool or other raised object instead of sitting on the ground. If you have arthritis or some other physical disability, raised bed gardening may be right for you.
You can buy a raised bed gardening kit that is easy to assemble, but if you prefer to build one yourself, you can do that too. The following instructions are for a simple 4×8 garden and will take you through the steps to build a raised bed using easy to obtain lumber, a few tools and bolts or screws to hold it all together. For additional gardens simply double or triple your supplies as needed.
1. Locate your garden. Choose an area of your yard that receives ample direct sunlight, usually eight hours per day for the summer months. Locate your garden on a flat, clear area or prepare it accordingly. Do not place your garden where signs of insect infestation or animal activity is present — you’ll have a more difficult time dealing with these problems later if ignored earlier.
2. Obtain hardwood plank lumber. Use untreated locust or oak lumber for your beds. Avoid pressure-treated wood, railroad ties and wood containing copper sulfate, curpinol, creosote or pent chlorophenol, chemicals that are toxic to your plants. What your vegetable plants absorb, you’ll eventually eat. This means not painting your boards too.
3. Prepare the lumber. To build one bed, choose three eight-foot lumber beams that are approximately one-foot tall and two inches thick. The longest sides will require one beam each; the shortest sides will be half that size or four feet long and that beam you will cut in half with a circular saw.
4. Match an 8-foot length with a 4-foot board at the corners. Drill three holes, evenly spaced from near the top to near the bottom through the 4-foot board and into the end of the 8-foot board. Your holes should be about 1 inch from the sides. Clamp into position or have another person hold these in place for you. Use 2 1/2 or 3-inch lag screws to connect the corners, for a total of 12 screws.
5. Repeat the third step for each of the three remaining corners. Once done, all four corners should be secure, forming a rectangle. The long end of your bed should be placed facing south to ensure that plants receive even sun exposure.
6. Line the box bottom with plastic to prevent leaching in heavy rain. Spread soil evenly across the bed. Use gardening soil, containing organic material. If you have compost available, include that with your soil. You’ll need to replenish your soil annually as it loses nutrients advises Greg Seaman writing for Eartheasy. Add in an organic fertilizer and rock phosphate to encourage vigorous plant growth and early maturity, an especially important additive in climates with a short growing season.
Have your soil tested to see how best to improve it. You can buy a soil analysis kit from your county extension office or conservation district office, submit same with a dirt sample and receive a report detailing what you need to do to improve it. Consult a gardening guide to determine plant placement and care. Observe what grows best in your garden and note growing and harvest times in a notebook to reference for subsequent seasons.
Cornell Cooperative Extension: How to Make a Raised-Bed Garden http://counties.cce.cornell.edu/chemung/agriculture/publications/raised-bed-garden.pdf
Eartheasy: 6 Tips for Building Soil for Your Raised Garden Planters http://eartheasy.com/blog/2012/01/6-tips-for-building-soil-for-your-raised-garden-beds-and-planters/
Jay Preston is Brand Manager at ToolHQ, Australia’s leading supplier of Makita Tools.