Introduction to Constructing Raised Bed Gardens:
Constructing raised gardens is something that is relatively easy for anyone with a little ambition and a basic knowledge of hand tools. All the materials you need to build your raised beds can be found at any hardware store at a fairly inexpensive price. If you need a little guidance on building your raised flower boxes, look no further, we've broken the process down into a simple step by step guide.
Determine the size of your raised beds: Before you begin constructing your bed gardens you will need to decide what size you want them to be. The general rule of thumb is a 4 foot wide raised garden is the ideal size for most flowers and vegetables. The logic behind this is pretty simple, since you are elevating your garden off of ground level, you want to make sure that you never have to walk inside the perimeter and risk compacting the soil. A 4 foot width makes it possible to reach every square inch of the raised garden from outside of the box. You can build the length of the box however long you desire, and have space for!
If you are looking at constructing smaller raised gardens, that's ok too, but you will just need to keep in mind the size of the plants you are looking to place inside them. Most raised gardens are not constructed smaller than 2 feet wide.
Constructing Raised Bed Gardens - Depth:
Determine the depth of your raised beds: The depth of your raised planting boxes is usually of lesser concern to the design, provided that the plants have the ability to root down into the underlying soil. The primary reasons for constructing raised bed gardens are to 1. Define the growing area and separate it from the pathway, and 2. To provide the ability to micro-manage each growing environment independently.
For most garden applications, a 4" depth is usually sufficient and can be accomplished using basic pressure treated 4 x 4's available at any lumber yard. If the need or desire arises, you can stack the lumber and make the raised gardens as tall as you would like. The most important consideration here is making sure the root systems of the plants have adequate growing conditions.
If for some reason the underlying soil is so poor that it is not suitable for growing plants or vegetables, then you will need to consider constructing raised gardens at least 8" to 12" deep. The deeper the beds are constructed; typically the easier they are to manage.
You will also need to make sure you plan adequate walkways around the perimeter of your beds, otherwise you will find it difficult to manage your new gardens.
Constructing Raised Bed Gardens - Orientation:
Bed Orientation: The direction the beds face is usually more of an aesthetic concern than a practical one, but there are a few considerations you can think about before making a decision. If you would like to have a slightly longer growing season with a little frost protection, constructing raised bed gardens with an east/west layout is generally thought to have a small advantage for collecting heat.
If you are growing vegetable or annuals and want to give your plants the maximum sunlight possible, laying the raised garden beds out in a north/south orientation has the advantage of giving the plants direct sunlight on both sides throughout the entire day.
In the end however, most beds are simply laid out according to what is most pleasing with the surrounding landscape, and that is perfectly fine too!
Constructing Raised Bed Gardens with Lumber:
The cheapest way to construct your beds by far is to build them out of basic construction lumber. While this type of lumber is not treated to withstand the elements, it will last for several years in most locations and it is extremely cheap (which makes replacement equally as cheap down the road). Pressure treat lumber is far more resistant to the elements, but it also costs a little more. So the real concern is how much money do you want to invest in constructing raised gardens versus how much time do you want to invest in maintaining them down the road.
Building the boxes themselves is a simple matter. You will first want to cut the lumber to length, either with a hand saw or with a miter saw. Cut two pieces 4 feet long for your sides (or whatever width you chose to make), then cut the rest for the length you chose. If you need to tie multiple pieces together to get the proper length, cut an 8" section of board and using it as a backing piece to screw the outer pieces too down the length of the bed.
You will want to use decking screws for this job, as well as in the corners. Nowadays there are various galvanize construction brackets that you can use as well for tying the pieces together.
Constructing Raised Bed Gardens with Other Materials:
There are numerous other types of materials that you can use when constructing raised bed gardens such as landscaping timbers, to get a more design oriented box. Cooper treated wood is also a popular choice when constructing raised bed gardens. You will want to avoid using materials such as railroad ties or CCA pressure treated lumber. Landscaping bricks and stones are very popular materials and will last indefinitely.
As you are constructing bed gardens, one of the most important things to pay attention to is keeping the box level. If you build the box out of level, a heavy rain or watering will cause your soil to flow downhill and overflow the box. If this happens there is little you can do to correct the issue short of shimming up the box or adding lumber to the low side to level off the soil.
Constructing raised bed gardens is an activity that you can get the entire family involved in, so if you ever considered building one, there is no better time than the present!
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