During my first winter in my new-to-me house, I developed an urgent need for raised garden beds. Like I had to have them that spring or I was going to die. Sound like you?
I checked out as many gardening books from the library as they would let me carry out of there. Suddenly I was learning about perennials, annuals, companion planting and composting.
This all surprised me more than anyone since I had never had an interest in gardening or anything close to yardwork as a kid. But now here I was with a borrowed copy of Backyard Living in one hand and a shovel in the other.
If you too find yourself needing a vegetable garden immediately, here are the steps to build your own simple DIY raised beds.
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How to Build Raised Beds
1. Gather Materials
- 2”x12”x12’ cedar boards (two 12’ boards per one 4’x8’ bed)
- 2”x2”x36” untreated cedar baluster (one 36” baluster per bed)
- Tape measure
- Carpenter’s square (right angle measurement tool)
- Circular saw for cutting the big boards
- Chop saw for cutting the balusters
- Electric drill
- 3” deck screws (24 per bed)
- Metal rake
Why Cedar Boards?
I used untreated cedar boards for my raised beds because they naturally resist rot and pests. I didn’t want weird chemicals leaking into my vegetable beds. They do gray over time but they hold up.
2. Measure and Cut Your Cedar Boards
My beds are 4’x8’, but you can cut to any rectangular size that works for your yard. Keeping the width no more than four feet makes it easy to reach any part of the bed.
Use your tape measure and a pencil to mark out your preferred board lengths. You can use your square angle to make sure the pencil mark is square with the rest of the board.
Cut the boards with your circular saw.
3. Prepare Your Balusters
Measure and cut each baluster into four equal 9” pieces. For each bed you will use the 9” pieces of baluster wood to connect the corners, providing extra support and strength to hold the beds together. At this length they won’t show above the dirt at the top of the bed.
4. Assemble Your Raised Garden Beds
Lay out your boards the way you want them set up in your garden. Put a baluster piece in each corner.
Use your electric drill to screw the boards and baluster pieces together with at least six screws per corner of the bed: two screws connecting the cedar boards at each corner and four screws going straight into the baluster piece at each corner.
5. Prepare Your Land
Now pick a spot that’s at least a couple feet away from your house, gets southern sun exposure, and maybe has protection from the elements.
If your land is uneven, shovel away some dirt and level it out with a metal rake. Remove any large plantings, rocks or obstructions in the way.
Chances are your preferred garden bed spot has grass and weeds like mine did. The good news is you don’t have to remove all of it. Boy I wish I had known this.
I spent several long afternoons in the rain in late winter digging out the grass to create two perfect little 4’x8’ rectangular spots in the lawn. Such. A waste. Of time.
All you really need to do is lay down some cardboard. This will kill the grass and weeds and eventually decompose to add nutrients to the soil.
Related: How to kill unwanted plants with cardboard
6. Position Your Raised Beds
Get a friend and carry each bed to your newly prepared gardening spot. Carefully lay the beds down, with the balusters on the bottom.
Use your tape measure to make sure each bed is equidistant from the other and square with nearby objects like your house. Unless you’re going for an offset look, then yay, less measuring.
Hold your level on the tops and sides of the beds to check if they are level. Add or remove dirt until you get them nice and even.
7. Fill Them Up and Start Planting
Pretty soon you’ll be picking out seed packets, planting strawberries and harvesting tomatoes. But right now you have to put an unholy amount of dirt into these beds. Are you suddenly wishing you had gone with 3’x5’, or maybe that whole square-foot gardening trend?
Here’s what one wheelbarrow load looks like. Keep taking it one at a time and you’ll get there. Just think of all the character you’re building with me.
Related: Learn how to attract pollinators to your new garden
Growing Food Is Fun…
With two new garden beds ready for planting, I ordered my seed packets and purchased a canner for all of the bountiful harvest I intended to reap that season. Oh boy.
The canner sits on a shelf laughing at me. Building the beds is the easy part. Getting food to come out of them is tricky. Let’s call it a work in progress.
In the meantime I did spruce up the area around my garden beds. Here are my tips for raised bed landscaping using pavers and pea gravel.
Find more ideas for your new raised garden beds:
- Where to order plants and seeds online
- The easiest foods to grow in your garden
- Basic gardening tools and supplies you need