Weekend Project: Build a Raised Bed Garden

DIY raised bed garden ready for our seedlings
DIY raised bed garden ready for our seedlings!

A raised bed is a great way to get around weed problems and easily start a garden in areas with poor soil quality.

My house is in town in Atlanta, so we struggle with both. A lot of our soil is pretty hard clay, and there are weeds everywhere. There’s also quite a bit of buried yard debris, from bricks to broken glass to stranger finds. My neighbor once found an entire bed frame when he was digging in his yard!

The green do-nannys sticking up there are sprinkler heads. My husband had already run them through the yard, so we fed these two up into the beds to make watering easier. They’re not included in these instructions, since I’m not 100% sure how he set that part up.

Our seedlings are getting big. Before we know it, it’s going to be time to put those babies in the ground, which means that raised bed needs to be ready at any moment. Over the weekend, my husband and I put together a custom raised bed for our garden. Yay! Here’s how you can build your own.

A Little Raised Bed Garden Math

Don’t despair! This is super simple math. I did the more annoying figuring when we built our bed, and there are only a few little things you need to figure on your own. I’m including my measurements, so if you’re very intimidated by math, you can just build the same sized bed that we did.

Since the whole joy of building your own raised bed is that it can fit into your own space, I’m not going to give measurements. It’s easy as pie to calculate your lengths and widths. Here’s how:

  • Measure the length and width that you want.
  • Subtract 2″ from each measurement. Let’s call that length L and that width, W, OK? You want these numbers in inches. My lengths (after subtracting) ended up being 34″ and 110″ to fit into the little space we’d set aside.

You also need to know how much soil to buy, which means you need to calculate the cubic feet of your bed. Don’t worry! There’s no fancy math involved. Just grab your calculator and do this:

L X WΒ Γ· 144

So, our bed was 34 x 110 Γ· 144 = 25.9. That means we needed 26 cubic feet of potting soil to fill our bed.

Got your measurements? You’re ready to head out to the hardware store! Here’s what you’re picking up:

  • Two pieces of untreated wood at length L and two at length W.
  • eight #8 3″ wood screws
  • 5/32″ drill bit and a drill (optional, but it’s much, much, much easier if you pre-drill the holes)

VERY IMPORTANT: Because you’re growing food, you need to get untreated wood. Treated wood is full of all sorts of chemicals, and you don’t want them leaching into your food.

For our raised beds, we needed two 2 x 12 x 12 boards and had them cut into two pieces: 34″ and 110″. We’d originally calcluated 36″ and 112″, but I remathed at the store so that we could do this with just two boards instead of buying a third and wasting a bunch of wood. I’m mentioning this because you might find yourself in a similar situation, so it’s a good idea to bring a calculator to the store, just in case. You can totally just stick to the measurements you got, but you might end up with left over wood.

Regardless of what length board you end up buying, make sure they cut it from a 2 x 12, because you used those numbers to caculate the lengths of your boards and the volume of the bed.

raised bed garden space
Level(ish) ground and a weed tarp. We’re ready to set down the garden bed!

Preparing The Space

Preparing the space can help your raised bed garden be a little bit less weed-prone. It’s a good idea to lay down some kind of weed barrier. You’ve got a few options:

  • Store-bought weed tarp. The hardware store by me carries one that’s recycled, which is what we used for the raised bed space.
  • Lasagne style. Got some cardboard boxes and old newspaper laying around? Layer them in the are where the raised bed will go, and they’ll act as a weed barrier.
  • Nothing. You don’t have to do a thing. You might get some weeds popping through, but not nearly as many as if you’d planted directly in the ground.

The other thing you want to do is rake over the area to even it up a bit. This is also optional. We did a not-so-great job of leveling the ground for our raised bed garden and compensated by cramming bricks and rocks under parts of the box to make it level.

Assembling Your Raised Bed Garden

Before we did all of this math and hit the store, I looked at a bunch of raised bed plans. They ranged from simple to complex, and we ended up re-planning while we were at the hardware store, thanks to a very helpful fellow in the lumber department. Here’s how we built our bed (you need a buddy for this part):

You want to work on a flat surface, like a deck or a very level part of your lawn. Lay one of the L boards so it’s sitting up, just like it will be in the finished bed. Your buddy’s first job is to hold the boards flush while you drill and screw in the wood screws.Β  Grab a W board, and place it perpendicular to board L, then drive two screws through L into W. It will look like this:

raised bed garden cornerRepeat this on the other end of board L using the other board W, then attach the second L board on the other side.

Your buddy’s second job is to help you pick up your completed bed and set it in place. Just pick it up, carry it over, and set it down!

Now, you’re ready to fill that bed up with soil and plant!

One other optional thing: we worked some bat guano into the soil, to make it a bit more nutritious for the baby seedlings. For seeds that we sowed directly into the bed (rather than sprouting in advance), I also covered those with seed starting mix to give them a boost.

That’s it!

Are any of you guys working on your own raised bed garden? I’d love to hear how you built yours and how it’s going in the comments!

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