Raised garden beds will save our backs when caring for plants, even allowing physically disabled individuals to garden, help us solve the problem of garden plant waste, and provide great conditions for plant vitality and health, not to mention a rich variety of plants. A properly established raised bed is actually similar to garden compost in a way. In fact, compost is exclusively placed on top as the final layer of the raised garden bed. How to establish a raised garden bed?
First and foremost is the choice of construction material
Actually, the first thing to consider is the height of the raised garden bed, as the choice of material will depend on it. If you want a raised bed that is only as high as the width of a plank or two, you will need to dig a hole as you will not have enough volume for layering materials otherwise. However, if you want to build a raised bed that is, for example, one meter high and easily accessible without straining your back, you can simply create it directly on the ground at a suitable location by turning over the turf and building the bed’s structure.
As for materials, practically anything can be used, from planks, boards, and beams, to branches, chopped firewood, stone, bricks, concrete, metal (sheet), plastic or wood-plastic boards, rails, sleepers (note that they must be non-toxic!), etc. It is always important to make sure that the raised bed fits well into the specific location as an architectural element. Building the raised bed itself is not complicated – a simple raised bed is just four walls that are sufficiently high and long to hold the layered material together.
Only in the case of bricklaying, a gravel bed or, even better, concrete foundation joints must be created. Raised garden beds are even sold as ready-made structures or as materials designed for easy assembly. However, even a slightly skilled DIY enthusiast can handle any solution. It is not a particularly complicated construction project. Even a beginner can try it.
In fact, when it comes to a raised garden bed, we are talking about an edging. And it can really be constructed from sufficiently high curbs and palisades. If we then decide on a brick solution (material connected with mortar or concrete), we must not forget about drainage holes. You can even build it from so-called lost formwork blocks, vegetation blocks, or fence blocks. There are plenty of solutions available. For example, a potato or strawberry pyramid or an herb spiral can also be considered a type of raised bed. Moreover, a raised bed can even support or copy a building, retaining wall, or fence.
If you decide to use natural wood, it is advisable to choose a harder wood, such as larch, acacia, or oak. Raised garden beds are essentially huge mobile containers. You can even easily move a wooden composter onto a raised bed or easily make one from wooden pallets.
What tools are needed to make a raised bed?
The width of the raised garden bed is key
A thoughtfully designed and built raised garden bed that fits well into the garden has its unique charm. Simply put, they look nice. It’s also ideal to build multiple raised beds and distribute them appropriately in the garden. However, we must not overdo the width of the bed. The length can be practically any size, and the choice of height is quite variable, but the width must be such that we can easily reach every part of the bed from both sides. It doesn’t make sense to climb onto the bed and move around on it, as we would lose the biggest advantage, which is practicality.
Raised garden beds are a great solution for sloping gardens, but also for gardens with poor soils
The slope of the garden is actually a great opportunity to create raised garden beds. In this case, we can create terraced steps with them, which, when supplemented with stairs, facilitate movement around the garden. And if we cover the raised beds inside with wire mesh and foil, they won’t be as weed-infested at the beginning, and rodents won’t be able to gnaw through to the plants. Raised beds are also quite effective in preventing tougher weed roots and roots from spreading, as well as the spread of weed seeds. This is because weed seeds spread primarily at low levels, not at higher elevations, and a raised bed that is about 1 meter high is already a sufficient barrier. Although this advantage is somewhat diminished on sloping plots.
Raised garden beds are also ideal for gardens with poor, infertile, strongly clayey or, conversely, too permeable and nutrient-poor sandy or rocky soils.
Let’s layering the raised garden bed
To create a raised bed, we start by placing drainage material at the bottom of the container, followed by a suitable substrate, either purchased or self-made. However, a raised bed has several specific layers, not just a drainage layer and soil layer. The layers of soil and high-quality compost interact with each other, and it is recommended to place a layer of quality organic fertilizer on top of the soil layer. For example, we can pack well-rotted or fresh horse manure and cover it with leaves. Fresh horse manure and leaves are best used when creating a raised bed in early spring or spring, as they will generate heat that roots will love. However, any organic fertilizer can be used, from farmyard manure to pig, sheep, rabbit, or bird guano. All layers of the raised bed will interact with each other, and the decomposition processes will generate heat, even if no fertilizer is used.
To layer a raised bed, we first turn the grass turf upside down, then place small mesh wire as rodent protection at the bottom and sides, and cover the walls with foil. If the raised bed is higher than half a meter, we add a drainage layer, followed by a layer of wood, and then mix everything with soil, including twigs, leaves, rotten fruit, and vegetables. We create a more sophisticated form of compost with a predominance of soil in the upper part of the raised bed (with compost, it is the opposite – quality humus is removed from the bottom, but there is no need to worry, it will also form at the bottom in this case). Of course, this discussion is about tall raised beds. For low raised beds, we either layer them the same as regular beds, only a little higher and with a border, or we dig a hole and layer them the same as tall raised beds.
Properly arranged layers of a raised bed (from bottom to top)
- Soil with grass (grass sod, with the grass facing downwards)
- Wire mesh to prevent rodents
- Small branches and larger pieces of wood, including decomposing ones, and plant roots
- Leaves, sawdust, and shavings, or cardboard without printing
- Optional organic manure (if starting the bed in spring, fresh horse manure is recommended)
- Layer of leaves, straw, hay, or a mixture of them all
- Organic plant waste, such as garden and kitchen waste
- One-year-old coarse compost or garden soil mixed with this compost
- Mature, fine compost
- If possible, high-quality humus such as aged cow manure decomposed into black soil
Advantages of raised garden beds
If we elevate the beds sufficiently, we won’t have back pain while tending to plants. We won’t have to bend down. Another advantage is minimal weeds, elimination of trampled and dug-up areas by animals. Due to the high humus content and warmer soil microclimate, if we establish the bed correctly, we can expect a very rich harvest. Maintenance of elevated beds is also easier, we don’t have to regularly till them and laboriously weed the plants, we just need to rotate crops appropriately.
Matt is a professional copywriter and researcher over at https://sucklessatcontent.com/. When he can be prised away from his PC, his wife enjoys setting him DIY tasks around the house.