How to Build a Raised Bed for an Organic Vegetable Garden (Part One)

Raised Cedar Potager, originally uploaded by espeedy123.

This photo shows the bed thus far…

I have a sunny patch out behind the garage that should work great for growing veggies. To improve the soil and make the beds easier to weed I am building a raised box frame.

I hunted around for awhile for which plan to follow. I wanted something simple that didn’t require a lot of cutting that was also economical. The best option I found was this plan on the Sunset Magazine website.

I used cedar because…

  • It’s untreated and no chemicals will leach into the soil,
  • It’s naturally rot and insect resistant,
  • It smells and looks good,
  • It weighs less and is easier to drill into than some other woods.

Because cedar is so great it’s also a bit pricey. The lumber required for this project cost around $90. I considered cheaper alternatives but in the end am really glad I chose cedar because it makes me happy every time I look at it.

Galvanized lag screws and washers on raised bed

I would advise anyone building a box like this on their own to follow the Sunset plan and consider the following tips…

  • The wood doesn’t need to be treated with stain if you don’t mind letting it age naturally. I want mine to eventually look like my untreated cedar fence.
  • My dad suggested using lag screws instead of wood screws, and I think it much improved the structure and look of the box. Lag screws have a hexagonal head. They are sturdier, and you are less likely to encounter stripping problems wood screws might present. I also used washers. I bought galvanized hardware because that type doesn’t rust. You will need a lag driver attachment for your drill, and you’ll need a socket wrench to tighten the screw all the way.
  • My screwdriver would get the job almost done, but then I had to finish it with the socket wrench.
  • Err on the side of having posts that are shorter. Then you won’t have to dig as big of a hole.
  • Removing the grass and digging the posts will take a LONG time. As long as building the box.

That last suggestion will be the first part of my second post on this topic, yet to be written about how to set the structure and fill it up. Check back for updates on how the garden’s going!!!

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62 responses to “How to Build a Raised Bed for an Organic Vegetable Garden (Part One)

  1. Kristina Goode

    Hey! That looks so good! What an inspiration for anyone who wants to build a garden. Well Done!

  2. It looks like a lot of hard work. Do you recommend getting help, or did you do all the building/digging yourself?

  3. I built the structure all by myself. I suggest getting help digging, or maybe spacing out the digging over a few days. I also suggest giving thanks and credit to all those who help you dig. 😉 Thank you Michael.

  4. When filling up your raised bed, I highly recommend using the soil mixture described in the Square Foot Gardening book. Even if you don’t do the rest of the square foot gardening method, your plants will do great with that soil recipe. I was amazed last spring when I tried it for the first time.

  5. It’s got a lot of vermiculite and peat right? You think that will work better than expanded shale mixed with compost?

    Did you raise your bed? If so what did you use for the sides?

  6. Teresa Bristol

    Hey – Found you on garden web – So funny – but I just built the same exact bed as this and I too am very excited to start using it . .I love you blog! I have a wordpress blog page too – but am still trying to figure out how to use it. . I would love to subscribe to your blog (we seem to have the same interests!) tell me how to do this so I can receive updates on your projects .. Take Care, Teresa

  7. Hi Erin,

    # 1/3 Peat Moss
    # 1/3 Vermiculite
    # 1/3 Compost

    If you use purchased compost, he recommends buying 5 different kinds and mixing them up, because most purchased compost comes from only one type of material. (Cotton burr compost. Composted cow manure. Etc.)

    But if it is compost you made yourself, that is ideal. If you are using your own compost, make sure it’s really finished, because unfinished compost can stunt the growth of plants. I made that mistake a couple of seasons ago when I thought, “Oh, this looks like it is finished enough!”

    http://www.squarefootgardening.com/html/body_what_s_new4.html

    I use this raised bed planter:
    http://www.cleanairgardening.com/reccedraisco.html

    It isn’t as big as yours, but it’s also unfinished cedar. I’m too lazy to saw and build everything myself. That one came predrilled and sawed and only had to be screwed together.

    I also use these containers with the Square Foot Gardening soil, and they have worked great too:

    http://www.cleanairgardening.com/easyplanter.html
    http://www.cleanairgardening.com/gardenkit.html

    I have a giant bag of course vermiculite here at work if you need some. It is left over from last year, and just sitting around taking up space.

    The soil you end up with is so light and airy that roots can just fly through it.

  8. You do realize that you can pay people to do all of these things for you? It is people like you do it yourselfers that slows down our economy. Great blog though.

  9. Pingback: Filling the Raised Vegetable Garden Bed « erin covert * hands on

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  11. Ummmmm……Our economy is one of the reasons that makes us want to do these things for ourselves in the first place. Some of us…make that most of us…do not have the money laying around to pay someone to do this…especially something that we can do for ourselves. It’s also a matter of the gratification of seeing a job-well-done each and everyday when we walk into our backyards, knowing that we did it ourselves.

  12. I have the best of all worlds: someone to do it for me without pay and sharing in my wife’s DIY satisfaction for a job-well-done. Life is good.

  13. I would assume any of us here do indeed have the resources to “out-source” the work, but I won’t even comment on the larger implications of this. This project, and way of life, has for me it’s very important purpose and great meaning. I am a hard working, self-employed mortgage banker who can easily afford the produce from Whole Foods Market, but why not take it a step further, or perhaps that step is actually a step back and do it ourselves. I have no doubt the markets would adjust and our projects, not to mention our rewards will be just as sweet, spicy and fresh… Think over these hypothetical claims from the chef of the evening “look at the $9 tomatoes I got at Whole Foods” and then “Everyone you must come taste these organic compari tomatoes we grew on a raised planter on our 4th floor patio” ….. any thought?

  14. I think the biggest takeaway from a project like this is the change in the way it makes you think. Because I grow some veggies and collect rain in a tank, I think differently about the food I get elsewhere.

    It’s loads easier and (maybe?) cheaper to buy some nice looking tomatoes, but the process teaches me something and makes me think. That’s the value. I think about the value of water, about how much of it is wasted. I think about how much food gets thrown away and what a tragedy that is, given how hard it is to produce on a micro level. I think about where food comes from, not because it’s chic to be a locavore, but because I just do.

  15. I just built a wall for a vegatable garden 18’x12′ out of diamnond block..weighed 72 lbs each and had to dig a 1 ft deep trench in hard clay..man it was tough but organic veges..are worth it

  16. Treeguy do you mean this sort of block? http://www.anchorwall.com/Product-Detail.aspx?ProdID=9 You should share photos of it!!

  17. Pingback: Organic Vegetable Garden with a Raised Bed « Green Transformation

  18. Erin,

    I wanted to thank you for posting information about this raised bed. We built if over Memorial Day weekend, and it has been flourishing ever since. Here is the link if you want to see the result.

    http://greentransformation.wordpress.com/

    Todd

  19. Todd I am so happy that you like your bed! I just changed out some of my plants and am planning to post some new photos of it soon.

  20. My raised beds that were made of white oak boards finally fell apart after six years. I would like to rebuild them and am considering using the recycled plastic boards that decks are made out of, but wonder if they leach some horrible toxin into the soil. Does anyone have any information about this?? I don’t want to use cross-ties or treated lumber for this reason. Thanks!

  21. Gardengirl I asked about the plastic boards when I built my beds, and the cost was what stopped me. If durability is the number one consideration, concrete blocks are a good choice.

  22. I am actually building this, and following the plan you did. I just have one question…

    Did you have to use longer screws to install the 1″ pipes? My hubby tried and couldn’t get it to work. He blames the short screws.

  23. Do you mean the PVC pipes inside the bed walls that are specified in the Sunset article? I didn’t install those. Email me … covert.eATgmail.com if you’d like to chat more specifically.

  24. Hi Erin – thanks for this article – I’m thinking of building it myself – one question – did you use rough-sawn lumber or surfaced-4-sides? looking at the picture it looks like the lumber is rough sawn – not surfaced – I found that cedar is cheaper if rough sawn (and thicker / stronger), but not sure if it will risk causing splinters, etc. Let me know if you know.

    thanks,
    Karl

  25. We are going to make raised garden boxes. I have a question. I saw Suzanne Sumers garden boxes on T.V hers were about 3 feet tall. I love this idea for weeding and rabbits. Does anyone have any ideas or seen these before?

  26. Erin,

    Thanks for posting pictures about your project, and especially for linking back to the source plans at Sunset Magazine. I’m looking forward to building something very similar once spring finally hits our area.

    Ryan

  27. Erin,

    I think it looks great… I’d like to do my new vegetable beds this way.

    I’m curious if you noticed any warping in boards on the “long” end of the bed?

  28. Thanks everybody for the comments! This is the most popular post I’ve ever written on this blog. I am starting my second spring season with this raised bed, and I will post soon on how it’s looking. To answer questions – I believe this cedar is rough sawn. It’s whatever they sell at Home Depot as they only sell one type! And so far, no warping.

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  33. I am interested in making the planter box but am unable to find the plans. I guess it is possible that they have taken them off. Is there any way for you ti send me a copy? I would greatly appreciate.

  34. Do you have any idea’s as to a waist high raised garden bed, what else have you come upon since this first article.

  35. Danielle Brisbin

    This is all great information….I am a new at all this so it is a bit over whelming. We are looking to plant spinach, romaine, carrots, tomatoes, red bell peppers, cucumbers, onions, potatoes, and green onions. We are a family of 3 1/2 (our 3 yr old doesn’t eat vegtables and we are hoping that growing our own will encourage him to try new things)
    Question 1: How big should our raised garden be?
    Questions 2: What do you use to catch your own water?
    Question 3: What other useful advice can you share with a newbie!
    Thanks Soooo Much!

  36. Those are a lot of good questions, and it sounds like you are quite ambitious! For all you list, you will need more than a 4×8 bed. I would encourage you to research splitting up your space into some raised and some in the ground. Not everything needs a raised bed to do well, and it’s a lot of effort to raise all your beds. Start small so you don’t get frustrated. Find some good gardeners in your area to seek advice from. I am not an expert at all and learn something new about this all the time.

  37. Whats up Erin! Totally random I am building a vegetable garden box and I googled “how to build a vegetable garden box” and you were the first that came up! Small Internet no? I havent even read it yet but, looks pretty helpful, learned anything new since this was written?

    Also you got any gardening tips, my large tomatos last year all went to insects, but my cherries did alright. What do you grow?

  38. Did you put the metal screen down for gophers & moles? Doesnt seem like we have that problem out here

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