We all know that growing our food can be rewarding for several reasons. Easy access to fresh quality produce, reducing pollution by eliminating the need to transport goods and greater control over soil conditions, minimizing the need for pesticides or herbicides are just a few of the benefits one can enjoy. But often in today’s world we often find ourselves at a loss for garden space. Many property renters simply don’t have the option of ripping up their back yard or tearing out concrete to make way for a garden, and most urban settings simply weren’t designed to provide us with access to soil.

But no need to surrender yourself to the supermarkets just yet! Fortunately, what a lot of us do have is access to small areas or rooftops that see decent sunlight, and even the most stubborn rental owners can usually agree that if you can pack it up and take it with you when you go it’s not going to hurt property value. That can leave us with several options to get food growing at home including vertical gardening and flower pot gardens, but the one I’m going to focus on here is raised garden beds.

Aside from the materials to build a raised garden bed all you’ll need is some sunlight and ground for it to fall on. But it is always important that you consider the safety implications of where you place your raised beds. If you plan on building a raised bed on a rooftop, balcony or any man-made structure it’s good to keep in mind that a cubic yard of soil on average will weigh in at about 1.5 tons but can be much heavier depending on its water content. Make sure any platform you build on is capable of supporting the weight of the bed you plan to build.

There are many different designs and materials that can be used to construct raised beds, from simple to ornate. This article however, will be focusing on building a raised bed from recycled cedar fencing. The same design can easily be tweaked to work for wooden pallets or other scrap materials. Here in the Pacific North West 6 foot cedar fencing is standard issue, and every time a big storm rolls through you can bet the local fence builders will have plenty of salvageable material from blown down fences that many are happy to give away. With a little clever sourcing you can find 90% or more of the materials you will need for free.

Keeping in mind that most cedar fencing is hung on posts that to protect from rotting are treated with harsh chemicals that can leach into our soil (as are some shipping pallets), I am always careful to only use untreated and unpainted remnants of the fencing. Using a hammer, pry enough fence boards from the rails of the blown down sections of fencing to hold together the sides of all the boxes you plan to build. To get serious about salvaging all materials possible you can even pull the used nails from the removed boards and straighten them to be used again in the construction of the new boxes. I was lucky enough to collect some untreated posts to use for the corners of my beds, but you can find untreated posts at your local lumber or hardware store.

After you have all the materials collected measure the area you want the bed to fill and draw up a quick design for the box so the wood can be trimmed down to size. Be sure that you leave enough room to walk around the bed and tend to all of the plants when they are fully mature. Also be sure not to make your beds too long or wide that you can’t reach the plants in the middle. I recommend breaking up the beds into sections no more than 5 feet wide, or less if they will only be accessible from one side.

To secure the beds in place make sure the corner posts extend three to six inches below the bottom of the box. Make the sides of the boxes two or three fence boards tall, depending on the depth of the soil required for what you will be planting. If the side of the box will be more than three feet wide it is a good idea to put an additional support post in the middle to keep the walls of the bed sturdy. Reinforce the inside of your box with metal brackets to make sure the walls don’t collapse under the weight of the soil.

Once your wooden beds have been constructed they can easily be transformed into hoop-houses with a little help from some PVC piping and a roll clear vinyl sheeting. To keep things easy you’ll want to fill your beds with soil before putting up the hoops.

Using a small enough gauge of PVC piping that will be malleable enough to bend across your bed without breaking, select a length of pipe that will create an appropriately sized hoop once arched over the bed. (In the examples shown in these pictures we used 10′ lengths of ¾” diameter piping for a box 5′ wide and 10″ tall.) Using at least two metal brackets that match the size of your piping, secure one end of the piping the bed. On the opposite side of the bed secure at least two more brackets in the same position and then bend the piping over and slide it into place. The tension of the arched piping should be enough to prevent the hoops from coming out, but if you are placing your hoop-houses in a windy area you may consider reinforcing them by drilling a hole into the piping and screwing them directly into the beds.

Now that the hoops have been installed you can make a template for the covering by draping your vinyl sheeting over the end of the hoop and tracing the curve of the piping with a marker. Keep in mind that you’ll still need to be able to get into the thing once you’ve got the cover on, so instead of tracing a full half circle we recommend starting with a quarter circle that includes a 4″-6″ overlap that can be kept closed to retain heat. That’s what they’re for after all! After you have the first piece cut out you can use that to trace out the others. Attach these pieces to each end the frame using a water-resistant tape. Then measure out a length of the vinyl sheeting that corresponds to the width of your box by the length of the piping you used. Add a few inches to each length to ensure that it will fit properly. Stretch this piece over the frame snugly and secure it with the water-resistant tape trimming off any excess material on each end. Using the same tape, reinforce the inside and outside corner of each end flap with a small square so that the flaps can be pinned down using a thumb-tack without tearing through the vinyl.

  1. Ravi says:

    I don’t know about any plans, but I built some elevated beds by taking a piece of 5/8 treated plywood and building a stand for it out of 4 4 s. The stand has to be pretty stout, it will be holding a lot of weight. Build the frame first then set it on the legs, It has six legs. I have a full frame around the outside with two cross pieces evenly spaced from end to end. I cut sides and ends out of another piece of plywood 16 tall and then attached them to the floor by running a 2 2 around the edge , set back far enough so that the outside of the sides and ends are even with the edge of the floor. I ran another wall across four feet from each end and stiffened that with 2 4 s. I used screws throughout that are rated for use in treated lumber.I have three of the beds that are three years old and still going great. Don’t forget to drill holes in the floor for drainage.

  2. Soiled Hands says:

    from: http://www.facebook.com/GrowFoodNotLawns

    While the people of the United States become increasingly more dependent on the supermarket and restaurants to feed themselves, Doug Miller of Southeast Ohio is focused on becoming more self-sustaining. Miller was raised on a farm and has been canning food since his youth. The benefits of farming and canning food are not just his own, though. The food grown on Miller’s Hocking County farm is for his wife, his family, his friends, and others members of the community. With sweet potatoes, squashes, cucumbers, banana peppers, onions, tomatoes, watermelon, cantaloupe, and other foodstuffs growing in the raised-bed gardens on the family farm, their pantry is always full of organic, naturally grown fruits and vegetables. Miller, who grew up in a farm family, has learned the craft throughout his life and recently began using raised beds. He now advocates their more widespread use.

    “The raised beds are the absolute best way to go because you can grow so many things. In a 4′ by 8′ bed, we picked probably 25 watermelons…it’s unreal,” Miller said.

    Miller credits his wife as a primary influence in convincing him to use raised beds. Now he says he will never go back to the ground. For those who do not have the advantages of living on a farm and having acres upon acres of land, this sets an interesting precedent. You don’t need a whole lot of land to grow a whole lot of food. With just a couple of a 4′x8′ beds and proper planning, anyone can supplement their costs at the supermarket with natural, home-grown produce.