Raze Your Worthless Soil With Easy To Build Raised Garden Beds

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raised garden bed

Some people believe that the secret to success in the garden is all in the thumb. But we know better. Even if you were lucky enough to have been born with a coveted green one which predestined you to become a Gardening Guru, you won’t get anywhere with lousy soil. Whatever color your thumb is, we thought we would do you the favor of showing you how easy it is to throw together very basic raised garden beds to help you out with your soil. The main purpose for building a raised garden bed is to overcome the problem of poor soil conditions. Good soil condition translates into happy plants. Happy plants will earn you that green thumb. Simple as that.

before raised bed
The soil in my garden area is far less than ideal for growing anything other than some unruly wildflowers, some yucca plants, and maybe a cactus or two.

I’m doubling my raised garden bed area this year to increase my yield of vegetables. The great thing about raised garden beds is that you can choose what material to build your bed from. You can determine what size works for you, too. Raised garden beds can be made from stones that you pile up or pavers that you stack. They are often constructed from wood too, and a wood frame raised garden bed is what I am building.

For gardening, some wood works better than others. Pine is an easy and inexpensive wood to work with, but it’s a bit soft and can rot fairly quickly in some regions. Oak is harder, so it might last longer, but it’s more expensive. Cedar and redwood are good choices for many outdoor projects – raised gardens included. Beware of any woods, particularly pressure treated lumber, that might be treated with preservatives though. The chemicals in the preservatives can leach into your soil and into your edibles. Chemical preservatives might be cool if they would preserve a few quality years of human life, but they have been found to do the opposite. Anyway, you get the idea. Just make a decision that works for you.

Squares and rectangles are easiest to build with wood. Cut your wood to the dimension you want. Don’t go too big with your dimensions, though. Remember that you are going to need to weed, water, and harvest your garden without having to step into it so your soil remains in good shape.

For my project, I went picking out behind my good friend’s barn for some boards. Old wood that has turned grey has often outlived any chemicals that it may or may not have been treated with, so I try to hunt down old scrap pieces. I chose two pieces of oak, and I am building a structure that is identical to a bed that I already have. With the decisions of size and wood made, this garden will be ready in no time.

raised garden bed in progress
Some gardeners like to build their gardens knee high or taller so they don’t have to bend down to weed or to harvest. This is my 6″ tall raised bed garden frame ready to be filled with soil.

My garden will be a 4 foot by 4 foot square, so I marked my pieces, and grabbed my miter saw. After I zinged my pieces with the saw, I drilled 2 holes for screws into the four ends of my boards. You can use nails, too, but screws grab the wood better and they hold tighter over time.
I now have a square frame to lay on relatively level ground. I live in hilly country, so leveling is not always easy. A bit of a slant is not a bad thing since it can aid in drainage, so don’t feel like you have to grab your level. Just eyeball it, and do your best. You’ve already completed the structural part of your raised bed garden!

So now, let’s talk dirt. Remember how it was mentioned earlier in the article that success is in the soil? The soil is really where the garden all comes together. So, fill your raised bed garden with excellent soil. Start with some regular garden soil. Then add some soil conditioner to lighten things up. If you are lucky enough to live where dark, rich, peat is available, use some of that. Use compost or well rotted manure. If you have to, buy a great organic mix from the store. Most nurseries will sell bags of soil specific for raised bed gardens, and that is a great option too, if you don’t have a way to amend your own soil with lots of different types of organic matter. The goal is to have soil that feels light and airy. When you squeeze a handful in your hand it shouldn’t form a ball or squish with lots of moisture. It should be like champagne powder – only it’s dirt.

raised garden bed
With good soil, you are ready to plant your new raised garden bed. This project took under an hour.

Two green thumbs way up!

Photo of author

About Amy

Amy spent her early years roaming a neighbor's corn field, much to her parents' distress, and eating tomatoes like apples in her Midwest grandmother's garden. She learned to snap green beans like a machine by the tender age of four. Later, as a Colorado gal, she battled the elements and finally had success growing a celebratory rhubarb plant in a high altitude garden setting. At that point, there was no turning back. She gave in to her green thumb and, in order of priority, is currently growing vegetables, flowers, kids, and pets on the high plains south of Denver.

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4 thoughts on “Raze Your Worthless Soil With Easy To Build Raised Garden Beds”

  1. Mel Bartholomew’s wonderful book, “Square Foot Gardening”, has tips on making soil mixtures for raised beds, among other topics. Also: You should research treated lumber–that which you buy at your local lumber yard for homeowner use doesn’t contain arsenic, and hasn’t for years.

    • Thanks for the tip on the book Lee. As to your comment about treated lumber no longer containing arsenic – we are aware of that. Nonetheless, I personally wouldn’t recommend treated lumber used in close proximity to edibles. Per our friends over at Wikipedia,

      Wood treated with modern preservatives is generally safe to handle given appropriate handling precautions and personal protection measures. However, treated wood may present certain hazards in some circumstances such as during combustion or where loose wood dust particles or other fine toxic residues are generated or where treated wood comes into direct contact with food and agriculture.

      • I have to admit that we used rough-sawn 2×8 Western Red Cedar for the ten 4×4 raised beds in our new community garden. But it was mainly to avoid any controversy concerning treated lumber, and not the fear of using it. The cedar looks great,too.


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