How to Build an Easy DIY Raised Garden Bed

 reading time: 13 min



Are you itching to grow your own veggies, but don't have a garden? Or maybe you do have a garden, but the native soil quality in your area isn't great (too rocky, too sandy, too clayey …), or you have an issue with moles, rabbits, voles, gophers in your backyard … or, let's face it, you just don't want to strain your back and knees hunching over the low-lying garden beds all the time …

Make way for the raised garden bed!

Ever since moving out of my parents' house twelve years ago, I haven't had the luxury of a garden to call my own. Most of the time I lived in shared flats, and it was only four years ago that I moved into a shared house that came with a pretty big roof terrace. Since we don't have any lawn or dirt up there, we've had to make do with lots of planters and raised garden beds. Or until recently, only one raised bed.

So I decided that another one was called for.

What our roof terrace "garden" looked like 3 years ago: 1 relatively new DIY raised bed, and a bunch of planters ...

... versus what the old raised bed looks like now, compared to the new one. What was once a sea of Swiss chard is now drowning in calendulas, lol!


But even if I will have a "real" garden one day (which is the ultimate goal! A nice small house with a large garden, loads of edible and medicinal plants, and space for our guinea pigs and future chickens …), I will definitely keep the raised beds! Firstly because of all for the reasons I just mentioned, and secondly because I like the look of them. I think they look very tidy and pretty, and since they are more or less mobile, they can be placed anywhere on your property, whether that's on the balcony, a patio, along the house wall, or in the midst of your in-ground garden beds.

Plus, making your own raised garden bed(s) is very easy – and not very expensive!

But see for yourself ...



YOU WILL NEED:

  • (optional) 1 wooden pallet to allow drainage (mine measures 120 cm x 80 cm x 13.5 cm / 47 x 31.5 x 5.3 inches – not needed when placing the bed on soil or lawn)
  • 6 cedar or fir boards the length of the pallet (mine are 120 cm x 11 cm / 47 inches x 4.3 inches)
  • 6 cedar or fir boards the width of the pallet (mine are 80 cm x 11 cm / 31.5 x 4.3 inches)
  • 4 cedar or fir posts (either the height of your raised bed, which in my case would be 46.5 cm / 18 inches, or higher – I chose to make them stick out, so they are about 55 cm / 21 inches long)
  • hardware cloth or garden fleece that matches the floorspace of your raised bed (mine is 120 x 80 cm / 47 x 31.5 inches)
  • pool liner or dimpled sheet enough to cover the inside walls of your raised bed (in my case 400 cm x 33 cm / 157.5 inches x 13 inches)
  • 52 screws (mine are 2.5 cm / 1 inch long)
  • 8 screws (mine are 7 cm / 2.7 inches long)
  • (optional) 24 nails (I used roofing nails – only needed when using dimpled sheet)

  • power drill
  • screwdriver
  • staple gun
  • measuring tape
  • pencil
  • straight edge
  • sandpaper or sanding machine
  • work gloves
  • safety glasses
  • (optional) hammer (only needed when using dimpled sheet)
  • (optional) jigsaw (only needed to cut your boards/posts)

HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN RAISED GARDEN BED (10 Steps):


Step 1 – Gather all of your supplies and tools

Make sure you have all your materials and tools ready. I actually decided to tackle this project on the spur of the moment, and luckily we had all the necessary supplies for the garden bed frame at hand.

Charge your drill, if it's battery-powered. Do you have something to drink nearby? Then let’s get started!

On day 1 we only had the supplies for the wooden frame at hand. Lining and filling to follow on day 2 ...


Step 2 – Layout and measure

In my case, the measurements of the boards are based on the measurements of the wooden pallet. Even if you don't have this guideline (e. g. because you are planning to place your raised bed in your garden and don’t need that drainage), lay out all your pieces on a flat and level surface, and see what the outline of your planter would look like.

Do the pieces fit together, or is there some trimming to be done? Do you have enough space to work?

In my case, I happened to have 6 wooden boards that measured 200 cm / 78.8 inches, so exactly the length I needed to produce 6 boards 120 cm / 47 inches in length (for the long sides aka “front” and “back”), and 6 boards 80 cm / 31.5 inches in length (for the short sides). These would all be attached to the 4 posts that in turn were to be screwed to the pallet.


Step 3 – Cut wooden boards and posts to the right length (if they aren’t already)

If you, like me, weren’t able to have your boards and posts cut to the right length at your local hardware store, you will have to cut them accordingly now, using a jigsaw. Layout and measure again to make sure you’ve got everything at the right length.

Sand down the edges and corners of your wood using sand paper or a sanding machine, if necessary. You don’t want to have any splinters left on your boards.



Step 4 – Drill holes into the boards and posts

The next step before actually assembling the pieces is to pre-drill holes all the way through the boards and through the posts. This will prevent the wood from splitting.

Using a measuring tape and a pencil, measure and mark where your holes need to be. I drilled 2 holes into each post, where it made contact with the pallet, and 4 holes per board, where they made contact with the posts – except for the 2 top boards at the “front” and the “back” which got an additional fifth and sixth hole for more stability.

Drill straight down into the wood and try to keep it as level as possible.

Drilled holes into the boards. You can see we've already started to attach the posts to the pallet as well.


Step 5 – Attach posts to the pallet


Install the four posts in each corner. They will ensure that the planter doesn’t slip from the pallet.

For every hole you drilled into your posts, you will need to insert a long screw that will go through the posts and into the pallet, so 8 screws in total. I used 7 cm / 2.7 inch screws.

Again, do your best to screw straight into the holes, keeping it as level as possible.


Step 6 – Attach boards to the posts


Once the posts are fastened, take your first set of three
120 cm / 47 inches long boards (for the “front”).  I used 2.5 cm / 1 inch screws to screw the boards onto the two “front” posts from the inside, one at a time, starting at the bottom (4 screws for the lower two boards, 6 for the top board).

2 screws on the two bottom boards, and 3 screws for more stability on the top board.


Repeat on the other side with the other three
120 cm / 47 inches long boards (for the “back”).



Next, attach 3 of the shorter boards (80 cm / 31.5 inches) to one of the short sides, screwing them onto the posts from the outside this time.

The short sides are attached to the posts from the outside, as opposed to the long sides.


Repeat on the other side with the remaining three 80 cm / 31.5 inches long boards.

Already looks like a pretty neat garden bed, eh?

Yay, a raised bed!


Step 7 – Attach hardware cloth or garden fleece to the bottom of the planter

Now that the frame is done, it’s time to prepare the inside. Depending on whether you have gophers, voles, or other troublemakers in your area, you will need to use a hardware cloth or something similarly sturdy to keep off those nibblers!

If your bed will be placed on concrete or your patio (like our roof terrace), you won’t need any wiring – something like the garden fleece I'm using will suffice.

If aggressive weeds are a concern, add a layer of weed-blocking landscape fabric as well.

Whatever you choose to line the bottom of your planter, make sure it’s water-permeable to allow for drainage! Never seal off the bottom of the planter.

Use a heavy-duty staple gun (or wide head cabinet screws) to attach the wire or fleece to the pallet and/or the bottom sides of the bed, all along the edges.

Alternatively, flip the garden bed frame upside down, and attach the wire or fleece to the bottom edge of the bed.



OPTIONAL MEASURES FOR LONGEVITY:
- Consider adding a mending brace or a thin wood slat each to your long sides to support the boards and prevent them from bowing with time!
- If you want to prolong the lifespan of your garden bed, it’s best to seal the wood from the outside and the inside using a non-toxic wood sealer or natural tung oil.
- And if you want to go the extra mile, consider sealing the gaps between the boards using clear silicone.

On day 2 we attached the garden fleece to the bottom. When placing your raised bed on soil/lawn, make sure to use hardware cloth instead or in addition to this!

Step 8 – Attach pool liner to the sides of the planter

To prevent the wood from rotting over time (and also prevent any leaching of chemicals from treated wood into the soil), I highly recommend lining the sides of the garden bed with pool liner or dimpled sheet (dimples facing toward the boards). Use a staple gun to attach the liner to the wood, going all along the top edges, or use roofing nails to secure the dimpled sheet.

And ta-da! You’ve just built your own shiny new raised garden bed!! (Well, more or less shiny if you use an old pallet and old posts like I did, haha!)

We used dimpled sheet and roofing nails to line the inside of our raised bed.

Step 9 – Place in the right location (if it isn’t already)

The last – well, second to last – thing to do is put the raised bed in place. Definitely do this before filling because by then this thing will be heavy!!

It’s best to choose a location that is as level as possible, and receives full sun (or as much as possible). Also, keep in mind that your raised bed might cast a shadow on its surroundings, so make sure nothing is unfavourably shaded by it.



Step 10 – Fill your planter

Now comes the fun part: Filling the planter with all sorts of goodies! Since most common vegetable plants need a minimum of 30 cm / 12 inches of soil to thrive, your raised bed should have a minimum depth of said 30 cm / 12 inches (or even better 45 cm / 18 inches).

In our case, the soil depth comes up to 33 cm / 13 inches, so all good.

https://i.pinimg.com/564x/7c/f2/1b/7cf21b2d7db127bc63be60ce237b9f22.jpg
Different layers of soil in a raised garden bed. (source?)


The other important thing to know is that you don't want to put "potting soil" only into your planter. Instead, you want to make sure to put in 4 layers of filling (which should be replaced every 5 years):

  • 1st layer (about 1/3 of the planter volume, so about 10 cm / 4 inches): coarse airy wood waste layer as drainage such as thin branches, twigs, shrub waste, rootstocks, wood chippings
  • 2nd layer (about 5 cm / 2 inches high): thin layer of chopped branches, leaves, turned sods, lawn clippings, plant residues
  • 3rd layer (about 1/3 of the planter volume, so about 10 cm / 4 inches): nutrient-rich layer of semi-mature compost, worm castings, animal manure (horse, cow, chicken, guinea pigs) and bedding
  • 4th layer (about 1/3 of the planter volume, so about 10 cm / 4 inches): dense layer of high-quality garden soil or potting soil, mixed with some mature compost (press down lightly after spreading, and replace annually after each harvest!)


1st layer: branches, twigs, and rootstocks

2nd layer: twigs, leaves, and grass clippings

3rd layer: guinea pig bedding with old hay and piggy manure

3rd layer: semi-mature compost from our garden compost, mixed with store-bought mature compost

4th layer: good-quality potting soil, mixed with some more store-bought mature compost


Now the planting can begin!

If you are just starting out, I suggest beginner-friendly plants like strawberries, squash, Swiss chard, lettuce, or radishes.

Look into companion planting, as some plants get along better with some than with others, and some can even cause issues when paired! For example, onion pairs very well with Swiss chard, and strawberries are good neighbours for beans – whereas potatoes and tomatoes are "foes", as are carrots and dill, which is why they should not be planted next to each other.

I highly recommend also including beneficial herbs and flowers that will a) attract and feed pollinators such as bees and butterflies, and b) help deter certain pests. Plus, it just looks very pretty to have a few bright blooms in the planter as well! You can't go wrong with calendula (especially great for tomatoes), basil (especially great for tomatoes, peppers, and oregano), thyme (especially great for cabbage), nasturtium (especially great for squash, cabbage, cucumber, and tomatoes), and cosmos.

To make things easier, you may also consider installing drip tape irrigation to save water – and mainly save you a lot of time. Because let me tell you, watering all those plants every day in summer takes time!


The finished raised garden bed with direct-seeded radishes, spinach, Swiss chard, lettuce, beetroot, and nasturtium. I also marked where our red cabbage and kohlrabi plants are going to be transplanted next month (centre and top).


THE PRICE POINT

Of course, the actual cost of a self-made raised garden bed depends on many factors, such as the type of wood you choose, what you use to line the bottom and sides, whether you add wood sealer, and which soil you purchase.

For example, at our local hardware store you can get:

- 6 Douglas fir boards (200 x 14.5 cm / 78.8 inches x 5.7 inches) for 45 € which is enough to make the entire frame
- 1 piece of fir wood slat (200 x 4.8 x 2.4 cm / 78.8 x 2 x 1 inches) which is enough for the four corner posts for just 1.70 €
- 2 square meters garden fleece for 3.98 € (you'll only need part of it)
- 4 square meters pool liner for 6.38 € (you'll only need part of it)
- a packet of 100 2.5-cm screws for 5.95 € (you'll only need half of it)
- a packet of 20 7-cm screws for 4.95 € (you'll only need half)

Total: 67.96 €

For reference, at the same hardware store a ready-made raised garden bed of similar size costs about 100-150 €. That means, if I'm doing the maths correctly, you are saving about 32-72 € with this do-it-yourself raised bed! And you have the liberty to design everything exactly the way you want it (or use leftovers and spend next to nothing on this!).

You'll notice that the wooden pallet isn't listed above. That is because it's a) optional, and b) you can usually get one-way wooden pallets for free from companies that have a warehouse (for example, the publishing house I used to work for, had plenty of them, as does my neighbour who owns a construction company). So it's definitely worth asking around instead of purchasing one!

In my case, we actually only spent as little as 3.98 € on our DIY raised bed! Why? Because we made do with what we already had at home: the old wooden pallet was gifted to us from said neighbour years ago, the posts were lying around in our garden, and the boards were left for us from the former house owners (they are actually spruce panels with tongue and groove and a transparent varnish – we were thrilled to finally have found a use for them!). We also got leftover dimpled sheet from my mum’s community garden for free, and the screws were also "leftovers" from other projects. So all we actually paid for was 23.18 € for 40 litres of organic raised bed compost (half of it for the 3rd layer, the other half for the 4th layer) and 80 litres organic raised bed potting soil (you will need about 100 litres of humus soil for the 4th layer), and 3.98 € for the garden fleece! That's zero waste for you! đŸ˜‰

Since we used a bunch of old wood, it might not last as long as using high-quality cedar or redwood that has been sealed – perhaps only 5 or 7 years instead of 10 or up to 20 years – but honestly, that’s still worth it to me! (After all, our other DIY raised bed has been going strong for 3 years now, also using an old untreated wooden frame of some sort and an old untreated wooden pallet that were both gifted to us, and there’s no sign of it falling apart any time soon!)

All and all I can only urge you to always use what you have instead of buying new stuff! I mean, you don't even need a fancy pool liner or dimpled sheet – just use some old covering sheet if you have some lying around. Or, if you don't have any material lying around, you can get things like scrap wood off of craigslist or the like for free or very cheap.


August update. What the raised bed looks like almost 1 month later: radishes (centre), nasturtium (front), beets and lettuce (left), swiss chard and green onions (right) are thriving! The red cabbage has been transplanted and is hiding amidst the radishes that we are going to harvest this week. The two large brassicas in the back are Brussels sprouts (left) and savoy cabbage (right back). The kohlrabi is already waiting to be transplanted in the left back. Success!
The only thing that didn't make it is the spinach, unfortunately. But I might direct-sow another round once the radishes are gone ...



Happy gardening, my fellow crazy plant ladies and lads!




Maisy

0 Comments