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How to Build a Cheap Raised Bed

You want to build a raised bed, but the price of wood has got you down? 

I have heard of people using old tires or cinder blocks, but I still think wood is the way to go.  So don't worry, there is a lot of old redwood or cedar boards out there that may no longer be safe as a deck but can still give you years of life as a raised bed.

raised bed

 

What are raised-bed gardens?

Raised beds are planting areas enclosed within a structure and constructed aboveground in a sunny spot. While you don’t need raised beds to harvest great-tasting produce, they offer many advantages to gardeners:

  • You can start fresh with enriched, uncontaminated soil, allowing you to create the right environment for your plants.
  • You can create an isolated area for growing herbs so they don’t take over the entire garden.
  • Weeding is less overwhelming with raised-bed gardens—you can weed one planter at a time.
  • On sloped property, raised beds allow level, easy-access planting areas, which means less bending over—saving you from a great deal of back pain.
  • During spring, raised beds also warm up faster than those at the ground level, giving you an edge on the growing season.
  • It keeps people from walking on the beds and compressing the soil.

Wood in the US is insanely expensive, so a DIY raised bed is the practical way to go. With a few leftover deck boards and handy tools, you can easily build your own raised-bed.

Here I will show you how I built my raised bed from an old redwood deck, and you won’t need much to build your own too.  

 What you will need:

  • Lumber from an old deck or fence
  • 3" Deck screws
  • Electric drill
  • Hammer or crowbar (to remove old nails)
  • Tape measure
  • Square
  • Pencil
  • Circular or hand saw
  • Optional 4x4

1. Sourcing and Transporting the Wood

I think this may be the most difficult part for some people if you are not lucky enough (or really unlucky, in that case I'm sorry!)  to replace your own deck.  Great places to find deck wood include:

  • Facebook Marketplace (there is even a "notify me" setting when something meets your criteria)
  • Buy Nothing Facebook Group (search for 'Buy Nothing name of your town'). They usually also let you post an ASK for what you are looking for.
  • Craigslist
  • Ask contractors you may know

A few tips:

  • Be picky. Look for good wood with some dry rot in the middle and bad ends that can be cut off (exactly how my 10' deck turned into a 9' raised bed).
  • Plan ahead. Don't wait until spring, it may take a little while to find something good.

If you don't have a pick-up truck or (better) a friend with a pick-up truck there are a few solutions:

  • Home Depot rents trucks at cheap prices, and you may need to get screws and 4x4 from them anyway.
  • There are Uber/Lyft type services for pick-up trucks like Bungii.com that will connect you with a local driver and pickup truck to deliver your wood from the pick-up location to your doorstep. They even help load and unload.
  • Or if you car can only hold 6' long boards, that may become the length of your bed.  Bring a cordless power saw with you and cut them there.  Be sure to dispose of then ends and sweep up the sawdust.

2. Measure and Cut

Once I’ve decided where to place my raised bed (remember, vegetables love the sun!), I used a tape measure and ruler to work out how big my raised bed should be.

My raised bed is 3 feet wide x 9 feet long based on Robert Kourik's idea that a narrower bed is easier to work on, but Kellogg Garden advises that you should aim for 4 feet wide beds that are at least 6 to 12 inches deep for best results. You can choose whatever length works for you based on the size of the deck.

circular saw cutting old deck board

Remove old nails, then cut off those bad ends.

Smart tip: Make sure there are no nails where cutting and ALWAYS wear safety glasses.

3. Assemble

Pre-drill holes and use 2 1/2" to 3" deck screws.  For extra strength, put a 4x4 in the corner.  Put it on a flat surface and get it roughly square - these are great projects to learn from, so think about inviting kids or anyone who wants to improve their woodworking skills.

measuring your raised bed using electric drill and ruler

I cut mine at a 45 degree angle, but you can cut them flat and butt one against the other.

Smart Tip: Always make sure you can reach the middle of your bed, otherwise what’s the point? Also, it's better to work in the shade :-) 

framework of DIY raised bed beside electric drill and screws

You can easily make the beds taller, but you are going to need a 4x4 in the corners and a 2x4 or 2x6 in the middle to hold them together. 

Smart Tip: Instead of going higher, dig out the bad soil on the bottom of the bed and replace it with rich compost.

If you are on a slope, cut the bottom side boards at an angle.

raised bed framework secured with wood offcuts
Alternative method: If this assembling looks like too much effort, for a few more dollars, more you can use raised-bed garden blocks and rebar to hold the corners together.
raised bed garden block
4. Fill with Compost and Start Planting
There you have it! You can start filling your raised bed all the way up with nutrient-enriched compost. I basically plant what I like to eat, but you can check out this quick guide by the NC State University on what to plant on raised-bed
two raised beds filled with compost soil

 

This is what we are doing and we hope you find it helpful.  I hope to get some plants in here soon and give you an update.  Let us know what you are doing.

As always, happy gardening!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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