The Best Raised Garden Bed Project – Part 1

Early last spring, the plan a plan was born; I would build raised garden beds for a vegetable garden in the backyard.  The book, “The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible” by Edward C. Smith‎ was the catalyst for planning my first raised garden ped project.  In

the vegetable gardeners bible

This is a great book, and in my opinion, far surpasses the usefulness of any other bibles.

the book, Smith touts all of the benefits of raised bed vegetable gardening.  The primary benefit, is this: Raised garden’s have extra-deep, uncompacted soil that allows vegetables to grow deeper with less resistance, resulting in healthier, more-vigorous plants that provide greater yields.  The idea of having an ample supply of fresh, delicious produce motivated me to move forward with this project.

My goal was to build raised beds that were cheap and reasonably attractive.  They also had to be large enough to support the wide variety of vegetables that I had planned to grow.  Initially, in keeping with my desire to keep the project low-cost, I tried to find viable on-had materials.  Though I did have some materials that would have worked, I did not have enough of any one material to build consistent, attractive raised beds.  Some of the materials that I had on-hand that would have potentially worked for building raised garden beds, included rocks, scrap lumber, logs, and cinder blocks.  Here’s how I evaluated each of the potential contenders:

Potential Raised Garden Bed Materials

Stone raised garden beds

These are fantastic, but involve way more effort and money than I wanted to spend.

Rocks – I had many rocks that are roughly the size of softballs.  However, there were only enough of these rocks to produce one raised bed of approximately 5’x10′.  Depending on the type of rock you have available to you, rocks could be a very attractive and doable option.  Our local rock is not exceptionally attractive, but they could be dry stacked or mortared together to form the sides of the raised bed.

Since I did not have enough of the rocks to build all of the raised beds I wanted I passed on using this material for the beds.  Another potential issue I foresaw was that dry-stacked, the gaps between the rocks would be a nightmare to maintain; weeds and grass would find a way to grow in every nook and cranny.  This likely wouldn’t be as much of an issue if the rocks were mortared together.  Also, living in area where we encounter rapid freeze-thaw cycles, I would expect that there would be issues with cracks forming in the walls.  On to the next material…

Wood raised garden bed example.

Here’s an attractive and functional wood raised bed. Very nice. It just seems like lot of work to build, and too many potential issues.

Lumber – Between my garage and storage shed, I have an abundance of scrap lumber.  I determined that I had nearly enough scrap lumber to complete the four 5’x10′ raised garden beds that I needed to build.  Sounds good, right?  If only it was that simple.

The majority of the scrap lumber I had on hand was not pressure-treated lumber.  Building the raised beds out of standard interior-grade lumber would work, but it wouldn’t be long before the wood started rotting due to moisture and sun damage (as much fun as I have working on these little projects, I usually don’t want to revisit them anytime soon once they are completed).  Not having enough scrap treated-lumber to build anything substantial, I decided to keep looking for another option.  I also didn’t want to risk any chemicals from the treated lumber leaching into the soil.

Logs – I very nearly chose to use logs to build the raised garden beds.  I’ve seen photos of raised beds online that others have made using logs and tree stumps; they’re aesthetically pleasing and rustic-looking.  Looking around my yard, I had plenty of logs to get the job done.  Raised gardens built from logs – this looked like a potential option at the time.  I started building a side-wall out of logs to determine how they would perform.

In the end, I found that using logs as a building material was more difficult than I had originally anticipated.  To support the weight of any substantial supply of soil, the base of the logs had to be set into the ground a few inches.  When testing this out, I found that with the logs set three inches into the ground, they remaining portions of the logs weren’t tall enough to give me the minimum 2′ height I wanted.  The other issue was that the individual logs would have to be bound together in some way to prevent them from shifting and allowing dirt to escape.  Alas, it was not meant to be.

Example of a cinder block raised garden bed

Here’s an example of what you’ll get with standard cinder blocks. Absolutely functional and cheap, but ugly as hell.

Cinder-blocks, Pavers, & Bricks  – There are many online examples of people using cinder blocks to build raised garden beds.  Though somewhat economical, I don’t like the look of them.  They seem too industrial-looking for my taste.  Pavers and bricks look great, but they are very expensive unless you can find them used on Craigslist or the like.  Since I had very few on-hand, and determined that I was too lazy to put forth the effort required to acquire and build with the material, I scratched this as an option as well.

The Best Raised Garden Beds Ever

It became my waking obsession to find the ever-elusive attractive, yet functional and economical raised garden bed material.  As my hunt progressed, I happened upon some some raised garden bed kits in a gardening catalog I received in the mail.  As my eyes set upon them, I could not contain my excitement.  This was it!  The answer to all my raised garden bed hopes,

galvanized corrugated steel

Attractive, durable, and weather-resistant galvanized, corrugated steel sheeting.

dreams, and desires.  These were the best raised garden beds ever, and they were constructed using galvanized corrugated steel inside a cedar frame.  My god.  These were a thing of true beauty.  They were a sort of contemporary, yet rustic at the same time.  Oh, the titillating way the soft cedar frame outlined the contrasting shiny curv-ed steel.  Indeed.  This was it.

My excitement was short-lived.  Though I had no intent to purchase one of these goddesses-of-the-garden, I was immediately deflated upon seeing the price demanded in that shameful-rag of a gardening catalog (the name of which I shall not utter).  The kits include all the materials to construct one 4’x6′ raised bed that was only 10″ tall and the price for one kit was $725.  Ugh.  No! How could that be!?  How is that at all possible!?    My plan was to build four 5’x10′ beds that were a minimum 24″ deep.  Now, I understand that there’s some hefty markup in the catalog’s price, but I did’t want to spend more than $100 for each of my beds.  I could see no way that that could happen if the galvanized steel and cedar would be so expensive.

No way!  I wasn’t going to be discouraged.  I shall find a way to build similarly lovely raised garden beds, but at a fraction of the cost.  I did find a way…

…More to come in Part 2 of The Raised Garden Bed Project.

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