Building a raised vegetable garden is a very easy and with the right planning can also be very inexpensive. First you need to answer a few important questions before you get started.
The first you have to pick a location. There are a few things to keep in mind when choosing the location; sun, water, convenience, and competition for nutrients.
SUN - You want to pick a location where the plants will get adequate sun for success. If this is an area where you will be growing summer vegetable a southern facing location should be used. For other cooler crops East/West facing should suffice.
WATER – You want a place that is convenient to water your plants. If you have to unravel/coil up 200 feet of hose every time you water you most likely will begin to have under watered plants during the summer months. If a hose is not really even an option the method of filling a couple five gallon buckets and bringing them to your garden is great exercise.
CONVENIENCE — The more often you walk by your garden the more likely you will not forget about (or neglect it) If it happens to pass it on your trip from my car to your back door you most likely will notice suffering plants or potential additions for tonight’s dinner to harvest.
COMPETITION FOR NUTRIENTS — Make sure your garden is not too close to other planting such as established plants or trees. This will force both sets of plants roots to compete for water and nutrients where both may end up coming up short.
Now you know where to build your garden next is to determine the best materials to build you garden out of. Personally I like cinder blocks since they never have to be replaced, relatively inexpensive, have ability to hold solar energy and as an added bonus have great little holes to grow strawberries in. Now on the negative side I will be the first to admit they are not the prettiest thing to look at and don’t really make the most comfortable bench to sit on.
Below I have included some of the pro and cons of various building materials.
|Building Material||Cost per linear foot||Tools required||Pros||Cons|
|Cinder Blocks||$0.97||None (other big muscles)||Extra plating area in holes||Hard to sit on, not as aesthetically pleasing|
|Chiseled Wall blocks
|$5.96||None (other big muscles)||Most aesthetically pleasing||Expensive|
|$1.36||None (if dry stacked)||More aesthetically pleasing than cinder blocks||Expensive, and mortar may be required depending on height|
|Wood — Cedar
(.75” X 8”)
|$1.60||Drill (screws)||Looks good, natural appearance||Wood is organic so eventually will decompose. Some assembly required|
Third step is actual construction of your raised garden bed. I agree with Mel Bartholomew’s recommendation (from Square Foot Gardening fame)where he suggests limiting the width of the garden bed to no greater that 4 feet. This allows for easy watering, weeding, and harvesting of your vegetables without any serious reaching. This also works out good since lumber normally comes in 8 or 12 foot increments so very limited waste.
For all methods I recommend digging about 2 inches around your perimeter of your planned raised garden bed. This first will give you a visual idea of your new space but also give the blocks/bricks/wood a good foundation to prevent slipping. Speaking of foundation the weight of block/bricks is enough to keep the dirt in place, though with wood I would recommend creating a 4 foot 1X1 as a cross support every 4 feet to help spread out some of the load as you add soil.
Finally it is time to fill your your garden bed with some great soil. If you happen to be luck enough to have this in your backyard go ahead and fill it up. For the rest of us this is a great time to start your garden off to a good start. I recommend a recipe of three main parts (compost, filler, and “fluff”) of equal quantities. Compost should be self explanatory, great organic material thriving with life. For filler I recommend materials like coconut coir, peat moss, or even some good topsoil. For “fluff” add a material such as perlite or vermiculite to add some moisture retention and some great aeration for your plants roots.
Now all my recommendations above all mention a height of less than 12 inches. There are some good reasons for this given there are not too many vegetables you can’t grow in less than six inches of good quality soil. Assuming you are lucky like me and have an abundance of clay in your backyard this means significantly less soil to purchase when filling. Now this is harder on the back bending over so for someone with limited mobility you can bring up the garden bed to a more comfortable height though there really is no reason to fill the garden bed with 2-3 feet of soil. This is an area to be creative, maybe some free fill dirt for the first couple feet, aluminum cans, anything that can take up space and not use your precious garden soil.
Now if your selection of tools are limited or you just want to get some beds up quickly to start growing some vegetables, there are a many commercial raised garden kits out there.