Tales from an amateur handy-dad Vol. 1: Building raised garden beds.

First of all- this blog isn’t dead yet! I’ve been way too busy with school to write anything that didn’t have a prescribed word count to think about this blog but as my last semester winds down I’m hoping to find more time to post here. Now onto the post.

So I decided that it would be a good idea to build some raised garden beds this year. Last year I half-assed tilled up a patch of my yard and got some corn, peas, beans, and…squash(?) out of it but it was messy and a pain. So I got a bug up my ass on Saturday and ran to my local co-op for the black stuff and then to a big box hardware for the lumber.

This was pretty easy to do. And you can do it on the cheap. When it comes to lumber, here’s a few things I learned:

*Don’t get treated lumber.
*Use reclaimed wood if you can.
*If you can’t use reclaimed wood, go with cedar or juniper.

I chose to go with cedar fence boards for the walls of my beds. I could have bought some cedar 2x6x8s but those are about $15 a pop. The 8′ cedar fence boards are $2.35 a pop. Doesn’t make much sense to spend a ton of money for something that will just hold dirt.

As for the dirt, pro tip: use as much o your own compost as you can. Don’t have any yet? Start a pile now and you’ll have black gold this time next year. Mine consists of veggie scraps, chicken  crap, wood shavings, grass, and leaves. Seems to be the right mixture as I had a lot of really rich, dark soil at the bottom of my pile.

So on to the instructions. I’ll start with the materials I use for two 4’x8′ beds:

Two 2x4s
Two 2x3s
Twelve 8′ cedar boards (about 5.5″ wide)
Screws (shown below)
Paper bags (or cardboard, you’ll see in a minute).
Dirt & compost.

First, I measured out 8 14″ sections of the 2×4. These will be the corner posts.

Swanson speed square is a *must have* item, and keep the book that comes with it!!

Then I cut them of course. And did the same for the 2x3s (8 in total for supports)

Yeah I'm know there's no safety guard on there but the miter saw was free...

Then I cut the ends of the 2x4s on an angle to make stakes.

If the garlic bulbs don't keep the vampires away...

Okay next I ripped four of the fence boards in half, giving me eight 4′ sections. The lumber pile looks like thus:


Okay, time to screw! I like these star headed screws because they seem to strip less easily, but maybe that’s just me..

There's stars upon thars...

So the reason I cut the 2x4s to 14″ was to leave an inch over the top and another two inches for the stake end below. So that’s why I lined it all up like this. These are the 8′ sections here.


Then I screwed in the 2×3 supports 3′ in from both sides of the fence boards. This will prevent the boards from bowing out because they are on the thin side. It’s also really easy to sink your screws too far since the wood is so soft. (Go ahead and make the joke, you know you want to…)


I repeated this until I had four long sections. Then I lined them up in my yard where I wanted them. Remember to have the long sides facing south if you can to maximize sun exposure.


The next part is where we prepped the grass. And by “prep” I mean “murder”. If you have access to a tiller, use that!! If not, you can do what I did. I set my mower to the lowest setting and mower, then went over that area with a weed whacker to get as much as I could. Then we sprayed the area with vinegar (yeah, it kills grass. Use it in your driveway instead of roundup, only takes a few minutes to work and WAY better for the environment). Then I hand tilled the area to break it all up. When I say ” I” , I mean my wife. I had to bail and she took over this part for bit.

When that was all done the grass looked deader. So then we attached the 4′ sections to either end and pounded down the stakes to try and hold it down and in place.

See! Grass is deader!

Next, we lined the bottom with paper bags. I grabbed these lawn bags at aforementioned big box store because we didn’t have any on hand. This will ensure that grass stays even deader than before.

Suffocate the grass!

Next, I started to fill it in with compost from our compost pile. This is a terrible photo of our compost pile and the black gold found underneath.

Terrible photo of rotting things.

I was able to grab about 4-5 wheelbarrow loads of the stuff per each bed. Given a 4 yard Barrow, and it was about 82% full each time and the beds were 4×8…I dunno…math…

Although the quality is generally terrible, child labor is free.

After I scooped as much worm poop as I could, we then filled in the beds with top soil that I bought from our local co-op/feed store. You can probably get it cheaper another way but I didn’t feel like trolling Craigslist for dirt on a Saturday.

Dirt was sourced locally and creep-free.

And voilà! Raised garden beds! I left the supports and corner posts higher in case I ever wanted to attach something there. Next year I’ll use flexible PVC and turn these into mini greenhouses. I might also add a trellis or something for beans to grow on.

The only thing I might do over is to leave the supports an corner posts one inch higher, and the stake ends of the corner posts one inch lower.

So, that’s that. I’ll post photos when we have vegetables in there, and we’ll see what we end up with this year. It’s already looking like we’ll have more cherries than last year, and hopefully some pears, apples and plums to go along with those.

Let me know if you have any questions or extra tips in the comments.