Thursday, June 9, 2011

Building a Raised Garden Bed

Before landing on the decision to largely expand our garden with the help of raised beds, there was a lot of debating, waxing & waning, and muling it over...and over. We did a lot of research about the benefits, cost of building our own, and even looked into several premade, synthetic versions. There was really no doubt that we wanted a larger and more awesome garden (Jim is already plotting out where to put more beds next year!), I think it really came down fear. Fear that building the beds would be more difficult than we thought, which happens A LOT with projects; fear that we would invest the time and money and not accomplish what we had envisioned; and fear that we'd end up with some kind of unexplained garden catastrophe.

As for a garden disaster, we just try and do our best to pay special attention to the plants for signs of distress, pests, etc; watch the weather and make necessary changes to watering patterns or perhaps building a little garden tent at 9 o'clock at night to shade our lettuces during a major heat wave; and just in general obsess and fret over it all. What else can you do? Other than that we're really pleased with the results. The beds turned out amazing (you rock Jim!), building our own ended up being cheaper than any of the synthetic ones, and construction ended up being relatively simple and was completed in one afternoon.

We basically followed along with the instructions found here. We debated about construction materials, but decided to go with cedar planks which we found at our local Lowe's. We purchased 8 planks and one 4 x 4 along with decking screws. I forgot to take pictures during the construction phase. oops.

But within a few hours Jim accomplished this....

Then we positioned them in the desired areas, cleared any weeds or grass, dug holes for the posts, and leveled the beds. This was a little bit of work for us because one bed is on a hilly area but certainly easier than clearing and tilling the soil to create a new garden area.

After the beds were in place and any loose soil was leveled, we layered the bottom with newspaper to act as a weed barrier. The newspaper helps block out the sunlight but will eventually decompose.

...then we added hardware cloth to prevent moles and other critters from coming through the bottom and getting to the plant's roots. Jim used fencing shears (I don't know the technical word) to trim the metal mesh for the corners. We searched around the yard and found sticks with little hooks on them to use as pins to keep the cloth down until we added the soil.

The website recommends an additional step using PVC pipe to create an arc for bird netting. We skipped this step but did add a bracket on each long side to keep the planks from separating from the pressure of the soil.

Then fill 'er up!!!

Our neighbor is a landscaper, so we ordered 2 yards of sifted top soil from him. We actually ended up with 5 yards because the guy thought we could use some extra dirt, but that's another story. We mixed the top soil with our compost as well as bagged organic humus from Lowes.

And there you have it! Raised garden beds. You'll have more control over weeds and pest; better soil quality and drainage; easier accessibility to the crops which allows for closer planting and higher yields; a longer growing season because the enclosed soil will warm up sooner than the ground; and you can plop one down pretty much anywhere and turn the area into a beautiful vegetable or flower garden.

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