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How to Build Raised Beds

Today I’m here to share with you a few different ways to build raised garden beds no matter what your DIY skill level is. After hanging out with a few “not-so-savvy” gardening friends, it came to my attention that we had no viable explanation of how to build a garden bed on our website.

So thank you friends; this one is for you and I sure hope you find it useful! Especially because you kinda feel like an idiot when you have multiple friends say, “hey can you explain how to build a bed, I tried going to your website, but there’s nothing there.” While sitting there honored that a real-life friend was on our website, I was dismayed that such a crucial subject and one that we don’t shut up about most of the time was missed!

Here it is, the ultimate guide to building raised garden beds! From the “not-so-DIY” method to the full-on DIY Master style!

Preparing Your Plot for a Raised Bed

preparing your plot for raised beds2

First things first, you want to be sure the plot of land that you’re putting your raised bed on is properly prepared. Of course, you will be filling the bed with well-aerated soil, but the roots of your plant friends will grow well below those 12-inches of soil and you want to be sure they can do so easily!

Note: Not everyone will need to prepare the land prior to building the bed. In some areas of our lot, we must prepare the area by tilling thoroughly to break up the rocks. However, other areas we can just start building the beds without the plant’s ever having any issues.

Due to no one’s land being the same, you will need to make a judgment call here and go with it. If you are in doubt, we recommend preparing the area just to be sure! After all, you wouldn’t want to find out next Spring that nothing will grow in your beds due to the ground being too compacted!

To prepare the area, it’s totally dependent on the type of soil you have and what’s already there.  Most often, you’ll need to prepare the land if it’s fully grassed or chock-filled with rocks. And, if you’re lucky enough (like we were), you’ll discover you live on a giant rock and preparing your land may take a while!

Just remember the end goal is to have soil that plant roots can easily penetrate under your raised bed.

If your yard is fully grassed and you’ve just had it with mowing or would prefer to get something for all your hard work out in the yard, you will definitely want to rip out the existing grass. Additionally, you will want to break up large rocks or any compacted areas, whether the area is grassed or not.

This can be done using a shovel (book a massage for afterward though) or an electric tiller that you can rent from your local hardware store (that massage may still come in handy). Of course, if you have access to large farm equipment, you won’t be needing that massage, just relax while the machine does the work for you!

Building the Raised Beds

Now with the area ready, it’s time for the fun to begin; bed building!

This section is kind of long, so if you want to skip to a certain part, just use the links below to go to the various raised garden bed styles:

Using Wood to Build Raised Beds

With this method, the set up is fairly straightforward. You will use purchased wood boards from your local supply store to build beds to the sizes that you’d like.

Typically, you won’t want to go wider than 4-feet, so it’s easy to reach to the center of the bed without having to step on the living ecosystem. However, you can run the boards for as long as you’d like! Literally hundreds of feet, or just a couple; whatever works best for you and your gardening plans!

completed raised bed with soil

Materials Needed for a 4′ x 8′ Bed:

  • 3 – 2″ x 12” x 8′ wood boards
  • 4 – additional boards (2″ x 4″ or larger) to screw each corner together securely
  • A box of long screws (at least 3” long)
  • A drill to screw the boards together
  • A saw to cut the boards to size (or you can have the supply store cut them to size for you)
  • Soil

Steps to Setup:

  1. If you didn’t have the supply store cut the boards to length, you will need to cut one board in half, so that you have two 4-foot boards for the ends of the bed.
  2. Once your boards are cut, bring all of your materials to where you intend to build the bed.
  3. Grab one 8-foot board and one 4-foot long board, along with your drill and screws. Then, screw the two boards together at a 90-degree angle.
  4. Next, grab the other 8-foot board to screw into the other side of the 4-foot board.
  5. Finally, grab the last 4-foot board and place it in between the opening at the other end; screw one end and then the other. You should now have a box formed from the boards.
  6. At this point, grab your soil and start filling the bed!

Notes: If you have spare wood or railroad ties laying around, you can totally use these to form a raised bed for super cheap!

For example, when we bought our property, there were some old railroad ties laying around. So, we took 4 of them and formed a box, filled it with soil and have a beautiful raised bed now. Even better, it barely cost a thing!

using railroad ties to build raised beds

Using Rocks to Build Raised Beds

Typically, you will only use this method if you live in a rocky area or happen to have a lot of rocks laying around to use. Like we did, with a giant pile of rocks and even more we could dig up, it seemed like another cheap alternative to not buying lumber from the hardware store!

Of course, you can go buy truckloads of rocks for this too though! It just may get expensive, very quickly.

Materials Needed:

  • Rocks (a lot of them!)
  • Soil

Steps to Setup:

  1. Bring all of your rocks to the area where you want to build your raised bed.
  2. Once you have all of your rocks (or you think you do), you can begin building.
  3. We like to start with a corner, find some of the larger rocks and begin forming a corner. For now, we will just be doing the bottom layer. You will continue like this until you have your rectangle formed (possibly more of an oval shape).
  4. After the first row is in place, you can begin stacking upwards until you reach the height you want your bed to be. We recommend at least 12-inches high, but it can be as low as 6-inches off the ground. Remember: you can always add more layers to increase the height over time, which will also help in adding new organic matter to the bed as well.
  5. Now that you have the bed formed, it’s time to fill it with soil and get to planting!

Using Logs to Build Raised Beds

For this setup, again it’s cheap! And, we love cheap! Seriously, who doesn’t? Anyways, if you have some downed trees on your property or forests near you hugelkultur one is simple.

Wondering what hugelkultur is? Check out this article.

Better yet, check with your local Forest Service. Most National Parks and other land controlled by the Forest Service have permits available, so you can go remove downed or dead trees for a small fee. By us, the fee is roughly $30. Luckily, we have plenty of downed trees of our own to use, for now anyway.

Material Needed:

  • Logs, branches, tree limbs, stumps, and basically any kind of dead or decaying tree.
  • Compost
  • Soil
  • Shovel/backhoe/tractor; something to dig a trench easily where you want the bed

Steps to Setup:

Preparing the plot for hugelkultur is slightly different than that of other raised garden bed options out there. Ideally, you’ll dig a trench roughly 2-3 feet deep and as long as you’d like the bed to be. By doing this, it allows you to continue adding new material to the bed each year without it going over your head quite quickly.

With the trench dug, you can begin filling it with the logs that you collected. We recommend starting with the largest logs first, and possibly ones that are already decaying, as they will help build a solid foundation for your beds.

You will continue adding the logs, branches, and other decaying matter until you’ve formed a small mound. Then, fill in the holes and any openings with mulch, leaves, and compost. You can even just put the dirt you bug out for the trench back on it. The goal is to just fill in the holes with more nutrients for the plants to use as they grow.

Now that the beds are formed, you can start planting! As the tree limbs and other matter begins decaying, it will release nutrients back into the bed for your plants to soak up.

Choosing a Raised Bed Option That’s Best For You

Honestly, it just depends on your space and what you already have on hand, as to which one of the above will work best for you.

And, if you don’t think any of them will work, there are raised bed options you can simply purchase. These can be used in smaller areas (or not!), propped up higher to avoid bending over for long periods of time, and truly are very versatile setups for the novice or even expert gardener to utilize within their garden.

The options are limitless and really anything that works as a retaining wall can be used for build a raised bed! Whether it’s a rectangle, “L-shape,” or oval, make the bed work for you and your yard!

Have questions? More raised bed suggestions?

Share in the comments below! We’d love to hear about them!