Gardening

How to Build a Raised Bed

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This easy 4- x 8-foot raised bed for vegetables and herbs has just enough style to fit most anywhere in a garden design, even by your patio. Using 2×6 lumber, you can make it as shallow or deep as you wish—1, 2, or 3 boards high. Ours is 3 boards high (not quite 18 inches). Two people built it in less than 4 hours. Click through the slide show below for instructional photos.

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    Step 1. Use measuring tape to lay out the approximate location of the bed. For simplicity, we will call the frame of the raised bed the "box." You can mark the location of the bed on the ground with lime, which is white. This step is optional, but it will help you locate the box in the right place.
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    Step 2. The outline of the box will give you a realistic idea of positioning and a last chance to make sure it is where you want it. The ground should be as level as possible.
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    Step 3. Cut 3 of the 8-foot boards in half. Mark the cut at 48 inches. Lay out the first course of boards to make the box.
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    Step 4. Using an electric drill and 2 1/2-inch deck screws, attach the boards at the ends. Screw together in two places.
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    Step 5. When the base of the box is assembled, lay it in place.
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    Step 6. Check to make sure that the box sits level on the ground.
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    Step 7. If it is not level (it probably won’t be), set the box aside and use a blunt-nose shovel to level the ground.
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    Step 8. Set the box back in place and tap the boards down into the soil with a mallet or dead-blow hammer.
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    Step 9. Using a little lime again, mark the inside corners of the box. This marks where you will later dig to set the corner posts into the ground. Move the box aside so that you can dig 1-foot deep holes with a post-hole digger at each marked corner.
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    Step 10. Use a pencil to mark the 4x4 at 33 inches to cut the corner posts. You will get 2 corner posts from each 6-foot 4x4 with a little left over. (If you choose to make your bed only 1 or 2 boards high, reduce the length accordingly.)
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    Step 11. Use a speed square to mark all four sides of the corner posts 1 foot from the end. This is how deep the post will go into the ground. The mark is the guide where you will line up the box for attachment.
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    Step 12. Use a speed square to check the corners of the box to make sure that they are square.
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    Step 13. Prepare to attach the 4x4 to the box, placing the boards so that the 1-foot line on the 4x4 is even with the bottom of the box. Pick up the box and set it on its side to work. Use bar clamps to hold the pieces together while you work.
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    Step 14. Attach the board to the 4x4 post, screwing together in three places. Repeat until you’ve done all four corners.
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    Step 15. Set the box, with corner posts now attached, on the ground so that the bottom of the posts rest in their proper holes. Check to be sure that it is level. Make a slight adjustment by tapping the posts in place with a mini sledge hammer.
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    Step 16. Fill around the post holes with soil. The box is ready to receive the rows of boards that will be the sides.
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    Step 17. Add the second row of boards. Screw in three places on each end. Add the third row of boards along the sides.
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    Step 18. The 8-foot sides will need stabilizing to keep them from warping. Cut 2-foot lengths from a piece of scrap wood to make stakes. If you don’t have scrap wood, you need to buy a 2x4 long enough to make 2 stakes, each about 2 feet long. Cut one end of the stake to a point that you will drive into the ground.
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    Step 19. Drive the stake in to the ground inside the box, midway along its length and down into the ground deep enough that the top of the stake will be below the soil level when the box is filled. Be sure to get as close to the boards as possible.
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    Step 20. Screw the stake to the sides of the box.
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    Step 21. The "box" is now a raised bed. Fill it with good soil to within an inch of the top.
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    Step 22. Place the decorative copper caps on the posts, or choose any other finial you like.
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    Step 23. Wind a 25-foot soaker hose up and down the bed. It will be just long enough to make 3 passes down the length of the bed. Use wire pins made to pin down landscape fabric to hold the soaker hose in place.
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    Step 24. Lay your plants out to the proper spacing before planting. Spacing is on the Bonnie stick label. Be sure to put the tallest items to the north end of the bed so that they don’t shade other items.
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    Step 25. Turn on the soaker hose to be sure that the soil gets thoroughly moistened. The first watering will take longer as the soil going into the bed from bags or bulk may be on the dry side. Also mulch if the weather is warm. Now you are ready to grow.

Tips

  • It is very important to buy boards that are straight. Reject any that are bent or warped.
  • Because boards are not always exactly 8 feet, it is a good idea to measure them all first and trim them, if needed, to be sure that they are all exactly 8 feet.
  • If your ground is a bit uneven because of grass or because you’ve dug up the turf, you can level it with some builders’ sand.
  • If you want the raised bed to be parallel to an existing structure, measure equal distances from the existing structure.
  • You may line the box it with heavy-duty plastic sheeting to put a barrier between the soil and the boards.
  • If you have difficulty getting the screws to go into the wood, predrill the holes.
  • Take the time to moisten the soil thoroughly before planting. Turn a sprinkler on the bed for a couple of hours. As the soil settles, you may find that you need to add a little more.
  • It is not necessary to mulch if the weather is still really cool in early spring. The soil will warm up faster without the mulch. Apply it later, though, to keep down weeds and protect the soil from drying and heat as the weather gets warm.
  • The main expense of this project is the soil. If you do a little digging, you might be able to find an inexpensive source of soil such as municipal compost.
  • Instead of using wire pins to tack down the soaker hose, you can weigh it down with stone or bricks; after a while it will stay in place after you remove the weights because it takes up the shape that you lay it out in.
  • Keep plants well fed throughout the growing season by fertilizing them with a continuous-release plant food such as Miracle-Gro® Shake ‘n Feed® Tomato, Fruit & Vegetable Plant Food.

List of Materials

  • 9 8-foot 2×6 boards
  • 2 6-foot 4×4 posts
  • Measuring tape at least 8 feet long
  • 1 pound of agricultural lime
  • Paper cup
  • Mitre saw
  • Electric drill with #2 Phillips-head bit
  • Post hole digger
  • Blunt-nose shovel
  • Bow rake
  • Level
  • Square (speed, carpenter’s, or other)
  • 2 12-inch bar clamps
  • Mini sledge hammer
  • Safety glasses
  • Ear protection
  • Pencil
  • 1 1-pound box of 2 1/2-inch deck screws
  • 40-plus cubic feet of soil*

*The exact amount will vary depending on how fluffy the soil is; we used 20 2-cubic-foot bags of purchased garden soil and 5 50-pound bags of cow manure. Another good option is to use a premium quality soil made specifically for raised beds, such as Miracle-Gro® Raised Bed Soil.