Six Ways to Build Raised Garden Beds

If you've never used raised garden beds before, you may be surprised at the size of the harvest they produce. Build raised garden beds with one of these six methods.

| March/April 1985

  • Raised Garden Beds And Dog
    Raised garden beds can produce significantly larger yields than traditional beds. Get started with one of these six options.
  • 092-070-01
    A raised-bed option for every garden and every gardener.

  • Raised Garden Beds And Dog
  • 092-070-01

My wife, Sherrie, and I first attempted to build raised garden beds as a rather desperate means of dealing with a garden site that offered only rocky, dead, chemically abused soil. There was little literature on the subject that we knew of, but we did remember reading that the Chinese have been planting in loosened mounds of earth for 40 centuries. 

Much to our surprise and excitement, the beds of composted clay soil that we prepared and planted that spring soon produced an abundance of healthy and delicious vegetables. Visitors ran for their cameras as soon as they saw our attractive jungle. We wondered how we could have gardened for years without discovering that with a bit of effort we could have doubled, tripled and quadrupled our yields while halving, thirding and quartering our garden work.

We saw, too, that we no longer needed to buy or hire a plow, or drag a cultivator, a tiller or even a common hoe. To dig in raised garden beds, we needed only four tools: a fork, a rake, a shovel and a hand trowel — all inexpensive.

The Cautious Approach to Building Raised Garden Beds

If you're not ready to commit yourself to raised-bed gardening without some evidence that it works, try the following experiment: Mark out one or two plots in your garden (make them about 4-by-8 or 4-by-12 feet) and — using a four-tined garden fork or an iron bar — loosen the soil as deeply as you can drive in the tool. Once that is done, don't step on the loosened soil, or you'll undo some of the good that your hard work accomplished — namely, aerating soil to overcome the heavy compactness that discourages plant growth. The loosened soil's increased capacity to hold oxygen and water should result in plants that are noticeably bigger, healthier and more productive.

The worked beds will likely be a few inches higher than the surrounding compacted soil, but they may not be high enough to warrant borders of planks or logs. Then again, you might want to outline them anyway, if only to remind yourself to avoid stepping inside the beds.

Mulch these areas with compost, to add more nutrients and a bit more height. Then go ahead and plant intensively ... that is, sow the seeds just far enough apart so that when the plants are adult size, their leaves will just barely touch those of their neighbors. This will provide a shade mulch that helps to keep down weeds.

5/5/2018 9:28:07 AM

We just purchased raised beds as a means to make gardening easier as we age. I am in a quandary as to what to fill the beds with. I purchased 2 cedar beds 2 x 6. If there is a recipe "out there" that would help, we would appreciate it.

4/13/2016 12:06:52 AM

I am a big fan of vegetable gardening now..!! Every spring I start dreaming of all the veggies and fruits I’m going to plant. But as we have only a small back yard in our home I couldn't fulfill that dream till last year. Last year I came to know about raised beds from my brother. He got a job in 'In the Backyards' ( ), raised bed experts in Canada With their help, we installed 2 wooden beds near the back yard last year and the result was really great ! :)

1/18/2016 3:08:15 PM

Wow! I guess in 1985 it wasn't common knowledge how incredibly toxic to the environment even OLD railroad ties are - as well as treated landscape timbers. There are several types of landscaping timbers that ARE perfectly safe to use. Untreated woods that are naturally pest and weather resistant such as cedar, juniper and redwood are ideal for garden use. We just had the unfortunate experience of discovering that the concrete blocks we used for our raised bed, square foot organic vegetable garden are also toxic! They contain a deadly substance called Fly Ash that is commonly used as a Portland cement replacement. I found this old M.E.N. article while looking for safe alternatives. Guess we'll be looking for untreated landscape timbers (unless I can find a longer lasting alternative that is 100% safe for growing organic vegetables).



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