Have you ever wanted to start a garden but you weren't’ sure where to start? Starting a raised garden bed is fun, easy, and requires only a few tools to get started.
Step 1: Planning & Preparation
To begin you will need to ask yourself some important questions: where do I have space to plant? How large is the area? How much sun exposure does this area get? Do I want to plant things that will require the root system to be larger than the bed itself? Do I already have irrigation in this area and if not, am I up to the challenge of watering my garden manually? Will I be able to use some of the soil from my landscape or will I need to purchase potting soil to start out?
Start to answer these questions by measuring the area where you would like to set up your beds. Decide if you would like to have space on all sides of the garden bed to make for easy movement. Make a mental note of any sprinkler or water lines that may be nearby for future irrigation, or if there is already an irrigation system installed. Creating a diagram with measurements for your plot area can be very helpful.
Next, note the amount of sunlight this area gets throughout the day. This information will inform which plants will be successful in your garden. If your plot gets little to no sunlight throughout the day, you may have to reconsider the location as most vegetables are “sun lovers”. Your plot should be getting at least 8 hours hours of direct sunlight throughout the day for your garden to thrive.
Another decision:do you want to grow your plants beyond the root system capabilities of the box? Knowing this will affect whether you place cardboard strips under the potting soil or not, and how deep you would like your raised garden beds to be. Using cardboard under the beds is a great way to get ahead of future weeds. If you are going to allow the roots to move into the soil under the garden beds, it will be useful to know your soil’s ph to ensure that you are adding the correct amount of potting soil, compost or organic fertilizer to your beds.
We chose to use this soil ph tool and found out that our soil was in good condition, but was a bit less acidic to be at peak performance. We decided to use potting soil to get started, but could have opted to add compost and a bit of organic fertilizer.
Now that you have your questions answered it’s time to get our hands dirty.
Step 2: Clearing Space
You will need to clear the space you are where you are placing your garden beds. First, clear the area of mulch, weeds, other plants and roots. If the mulch is still good to use, set it aside for future use, using a square pointed shovel to remove the mulch and set into a wheelbarrow or designated area.
If you have an area filled with weeds, one way to clear the space of weeds is to cover it with a black tarp, this will kill off the weeds for easy removal. This takes about two months, but the rub is that you will be creating a great environment for the existing soil and you will not need to till the soil once the weeds have died. Do this step if you plan on allowing your plants to have deeper roots.
If you are limiting your beds to the potting soil then the next step is to place cardboard sheeting down to forestall future weeds. Do this by placing cardboard sheets slightly overlapping the weed-y area.
While you are clearing your space you should also collect your tools. You will need carpenter screws, a drill with drill bit, plastic sheeting, paint stain, paint brushes, wood, potting soil, and 4 steel frames per box. You may also need to have compost and potting soil on hand.
Step 3: Building your Raised Garden Beds
Typically wood is sold in 10, 12, and 15 foot planks. We chose the 2” x 6” redwood in 15 foot increments. Since we planned three beds at 3 foot by 7 foot with a 12 inch depth, we needed to purchase 10 planks. We were able to have these cut directly at Home Depot, but you can also do this at home if you have a saw.
Once we brought our precut lumber home, we set out a large plastic sheet to stain the lumber. It is important to stain the lumber because it provides long term protection from pests and weather. We set the lumber out on our deck and stained each side twice allowing it to dry overnight then repeated the process on the opposite side.
Once the stained lumber has dried, screw the wood together using the steel frames for each corner. Do this by placing two adjacent sides together. Use the steel frame to mark where you will drill your holes. Drill the holes where the steel frame will be. Set the steel frame in place and place your screws into the holes, use your drill to ensure a firm connection. Repeat this process by placing the next set of lumber on top so that the frame is connecting the top and bottom pieces of lumber. Repeat this process on all four sides of the container box.
Once you are finished it is time to set your boxes into the prepared location.
Step 4: Raised Garden Bed Installation
Place your finished container boxes into the designated area. You will need to supply enough potting soil for each raised bed. Since we had three raised beds without extra soil, we chose to purchase 30 bags to fill our raised beds. We put down cardboard and placed the mulch on top in the areas surrounding our beds to protect against weeds.
Step 5: Irrigation
It is important to consider how you will be maintaining your raised beds throughout the year. Watering through the winter and spring months will be light work, but summer and fall watering will be imperative for a successful fall harvest. If you are lucky enough to already have irrigation available in your designated area, then utilizing this system will be a great maintenance saver later. Our family is using the old fashioned manual watering system. However needs to happen even in your absence.
Here is a great article on how to install your own irrigation system.
Step 6: Plant seeds and seedlings
Finally, you are ready for planting your seeds or seedlings!. Here is an article on winter gardening and another article on container gardening to refer to for what to plant. We chose to start our garden with spinach, chard, fava beans, red leaf lettuce and butter lettuce.
With a bit of enthusiam and consistent effort, there’s no doubt you too can have a raised garden bed like the ones Living Classroom has in their school gardens!