How to Build a Raised Bed Garden (when you are not even slightly handy!)
My Grandfather (Sal) moved in with us when I was very young. One of his main passions in life was his vegetable garden. I still remember getting paid five whole dollars to weed his giant garden each summer. We put our bathing suits on and he would water the garden while we wandered through tomato and cucumber plants that were staked up so obsessively well, that they were taller than us. It was like being in a rainforest and it was wonderful! I was only 11 when he passed away but I decided to take over his garden and keep it going year after year.
My grandfathers garden was well placed behind my parent’s garage. It had the perfect south sun exposure. He would turn and prep the soil every spring and he grew his own seedlings from the seeds of the best fruit the year before. The first year I took over his garden my father helped me prep the soil and we bought our baby vegetable plants from a local garden center. We planted the same number of plants grampa did. At harvest, however, we were overwhelmed with veggies especially tomatoes. It turns out grampa Sal was feeding half the neighborhood with his garden. He would make up baskets of vegetables and take them around to everyone. Apparently, 12 tomato plants make a lot of tomatoes!!
Because of college and veterinary school, it has been a few years since I have been able to grow a vegetable garden. Finally settled with my own house I was excited to start planning the garden. I live in the city so my yard is not very large and there are several mature trees in it. After careful inspection, I found the only sunny space is the side of the garage. There is about a 3-foot x 15-foot long space that faces south between my detached garage and my fence. How could I fit a garden in there? Raised beds that’s how!!
My new garden would have to be scaled back due to space and time limitations. Raised beds were a new concept for me and my carpenter skills were at about 0% so they would have to be simple. I thought about buying the pre-made kits you can put together but they were expensive and very flimsy.
After careful google researching, I came up with my own plans:
I would have three 2.5ft x 4ft beds each 1ft tall.
Hardware Store Adventure!
I set off to Home Depot to buy my supplies. I love Home Depot, even if the employees are not around to help me out I can generally find a random patron who is more than willing to point me in the right direction. If you stand in the section that has about a million different nails and screws long enough, apparently someone will ask if you need help. Even if they do not work there!
There is also always the slightly more worrisome Home Depot encounters. For example: As I loaded all of my lumber onto my cart a slightly creepy but harmless older man walk by and said: “I love seeing a woman handling lumber.” Unsure how to take this comment I just laughed and thanked him. Clearly, he had no idea how he came off and thought he was paying me a compliment!
For the wood, I had grand ideas of using cedar. Turns out cedar is expensive and does not come in two inch thick boards! I went with untreated 2in x 6in pine boards each 8ft long. Each bed took 2 boards. I could have had Home Depot cut the boards down but I wanted an excuse to use my new circular saw. I cut them myself into 4ft by 2.5ft sections. I also found a few nice 4×4 Douglas fur posts that were 8 feet long. I cut these into 1-foot sections. I then screwed the boards to the posts directly stacking the boards on top of each other making the beds 12 in tall (see picture below). If you do not have a circular saw just have Home Depot cut the boards and post for you.
A lot of the plans I found for raised beds have you screw the boards to each other, but having the 4×4 post in the corners really makes the beds more sturdy and stand up longer.
Grampa’s Secrete Soil:
I leveled the ground where they were going and put down some garden fabric under each bed to prevent weeds. Filling your beds with quality soil is very important. Good soil is expensive! if you have some dead leaves or mulch to put as a layer on the bottom of the beds it will help take up space and reduce cost. Each bed has a mix of garden soil, topsoil, and several small bags of manure and peat moss (this I learned from grampa Sal). I cannot give you an exact ratio. As with many Italian recipes in my family noting is measured or written down! I used about 2 small bags of manure and 1/4 large bag of peat per bed. The rest is Maricle Grow garden soil.
I had these three beds for 2 summers and just this spring I built a fourth bed in front of the garage with cedar 1in x 6in boards, this bed is 4ft x 6ft. I also built a drip irrigation system to water this year due to my laziness (it is on a timer!) and the fact that Quinn freaks out at the hose every time I water!