There are two major reasons to garden in raised beds. The first is to ensure a dynamite, healthy garden with an excellent harvest. The second is to allow a visual garden to have multiple levels of plant and structure without altering the foundation (which may be a deck, a small backyard, balcony, etc).
In either case, building the raised bed has many fundamentals that, once grasped, make for easy and successful gardening.
Raised beds come in kits you can buy and put together in a few minutes or you can build your own to have a customized garden for your needs and wishes. The choice is up to you, but we will assume you are building your own. If not, the following step-by-step will still be helpful as a guide towards utilizing your raised bed garden kit.
Step by Step Guide for Building Raised Garden Beds
1- Site Selection – this is key, since it will decide several factors about your raised beds. Optimally, you will want an area that receives full sunlight, all day (south-facing or fully exposed). At the same time, however, you’ll want the location to be as close to your home as possible for easier access. If full sunlight is not available, then opt for an east-facing location so that you can maximize use of the morning sun – which is more important to plants – and then plan your plantings themselves accordingly.
2 – Protection – the site you choose should have protection from prevailing winds. Most areas have winds and weather that comes in from a specific direction the majority of the time. Your raised bed will need protection from that either naturally (a hillock or hedgegrow) or you will need to install it as part of your garden plan. A simple windbreak fence can do the trick.
3 – Drainage – one of the biggest advantages to raised bed gardening is absolute control over drainage, which is crucial to both plant and soil health. Three things will play into the drainage capability of your raised beds: the type of soil in the beds, the materials the beds are built from, and the underlying foundation upon which the beds lie. That third consideration is your primary concern before the beds are designed. So at this point, consider what your beds will sit upon. Is it bare dirt, sand, concrete, or what? How will the foundation react to having the garden beds on top of it? Bare dirt, even of relatively poor quality, can be tilled to allow easy drainage from above as well as to give extra room for plant roots to push down. Concrete should have no “puddle” areas – spray it with water or check it out after it rains and see whether any puddling is taking place. If so, you’ll need to fix that or move your beds to avoid it.
4 – Choose the Materials – after you’ve chosen a location, begin considering the materials you have at your disposal. You may have an old fence, leftover materials from a remodeling project, or something else you can use. Some of the simplest and most decorative raised beds have been made from discarded bathtubs, old cabinets, bookshelves, brick or masonry leftovers, and more. Inventory what you have to work with before you begin to design so you can design around those materials.
5 – Design Carefully – design your garden beds with all of the information gathered so far in mind. Add to that your needs as a gardener (space, access, etc.) and remember that you can only reach so far, only bend so low, and only walk so far when tending your garden. You cannot easily climb into most raised bed designs (and shouldn’t, since this compacts the soil), so build them so that you can easily reach through them to access your plants and soil. Four feet is usually the maximum width for this. Also be sure your soil is deep enough and the materials you’re using are placed in such a way that they allow good drainage.
6 – Build a Mockup First – if this is your first raised bed, then build a mockup of it first. Using your materials, put them together in a non-permanent way (use clamps, temporary nails, etc.) and build the bed in place temporarily. Now test it. Check the dimensions, the utility, the location, etc. Once you’re satisfied that it will work, build it permanently and add your soil.
7 – Choose Excellent Soil – start out with the best soil you can get and keep it that way. It’s much easier to start with near-perfect soil than it is to attempt to create near-perfect soil. Start out with the best soil you can manage and then work to maintain it and make it even better.
Tips for Building Raised Garden Beds
When selecting material, be sure that it’s not going to leach nasty chemicals into your garden, will be able to withstand the pressure of the (often wet) soil within its boundaries, and that it will hold up to the rigors of the elements for years.
Also keep in mind any additions you may with to use on your garden such as tunnels, cold frame lids, and so forth and integrate those into the design of your raised beds. Raised beds can instantly become ready-to-go cold frames if the right design is given to the beds and cold frame lids!
Above all, remember that gardening is fun, so don’t work so hard at it that you lose your enjoyment. Here are some resources to learn more about raised garden beds: