The completed raised garden bed

“Raised beds can solve problems of difficult soils, improve production, save space, time, and money, and improve your garden’s appearance and accessibility,” it states in Garden Wisdom & Know-How: Everything You Need to Know to Plant, Grow, and Harvest. “Raised-bed crops are more productive because they grow in deep, loose, fertile soil that is never walked upon.”

Typical raised beds are 3’ – 5’ wide and various lengths. This width allows gardeners easy access. They usually have depths of between 1’ – 2’, with 6” being a minimum. They can be made with wood, bricks, rocks or cement blocks.

Garden bed site

Getting Started

First, choose a location that is flat with lots of sunlight. Proximity to a water source will save you time and effort when watering your garden. If you are growing vegetables, fruit or herbs, you may want to locate the garden conveniently near the kitchen, if possible.

Remove grass and weeds from the site and outline the dimensions of the garden. Save some of the topsoil to be put in the raised bed later.

Four posts with first layer of boards

Building and Filling the Frame

Posts need not be dug into the soil, but they add stability and provide solidity to the walls. We used four cedar logs and dug them 2’ – 3’ deep at the corners of the raised bed.

Next, fasten the walls to the posts. We used cedar planks, which are rot-resistant and should last many years before needing to be replaced. Do not use wood that has been painted or stained, and do not use chemically-treated wood. Attaching the cedar boards to the posts with galvanized screws will allow you to easily remove the boards when they need to be replaced.

Filling the bed with soil

Leave one wall off of the raised bed until you have filled most of it with soil and other garden material. This will make it easier to deliver most of the material using a wheelbarrow. When this has been completed, attach the last wall and add the last of the garden material. You can cut the posts to a desired height, but you may want to leave them high enough so that you have the option of adding a layer of boards later to increase the depth.

Along with high-quality topsoil, a variety of material can be used to fill the bed, including compost, leaves and grass clippings. Mix in more compost from time to time, as required.

Cedar planks

Creating a Raised Garden Bed on Any Budget

Depending on the materials you have or can gather, you can create a raised garden for little cost other than your time and labor. Otherwise, there are kits that you can buy. If you don’t want to scrounge materials but buying a kit isn’t in your budget, you can purchase high-quality lumber that is rot-resistant, such as cedar, and build your own beds.

If you have access to some of the materials needed, you can substantially reduce your costs. We got the cedar planks for the walls at a local sawmill. While buying some pine boards for our fence, I noticed a pile of wood that was in a “discard pile”. Some of the pieces were the outer cuts from cedar logs and the owner kindly allowed us to take some at no cost. These were flat on one side and, after removing the bark, were ideal for the raised bed’s walls.

Living on a country property, we were able to get dead cedar trees to use as our four posts. We also gathered enough topsoil and sand from our property. To this, we added compost and leaves. We even found the remnants of an old manure pile (courtesy of horses we had years ago), which made a great addition to the raised bed. In all, we carted about 20 wheelbarrows of material, mostly soil, to our new garden. Besides our time and labor, this project cost us only the price of 64 galvanized screws!

The completed raised garden bed with stepping stones added

Be Creative When Necessary

While raised beds are often 3’ – 5’ wide so that gardeners can access the entire garden from outside of it, we selected a site of about 7 feet square. We could have created two narrow gardens separated by a path, but this would have been more labor intensive and we would have lost significant garden space. We decided to create a 7’ x 7-1/2’ raised bed. We can reach most of the garden from the paths surrounding it and, after installing two flat rocks in the bed, we can easily reach the interior parts too.

When we cut off the tops of the posts, we left enough room to add another layer or two of boards, since mixing in compost will slowly increase the depth of the 16” deep bed.

Create a Raised Garden Bed

Text by N. Glenn Perrett
Photographs by Lynn and Glenn Perrett

N. Glenn Perrett and his wife Lynn grow a variety of fruit, vegetables and herbs at their home in Mulmur, Ontario.

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