Over the past two weekends, Mr. M and I built a few raised vegetable beds in our backyard. I’m writing this post mostly to document the process we underwent so I’ll have a manual (of sorts) to refer to in the future, but if this post helps anyone in the same position, then all the better!
Before doing any building, we did a ton of research into what kind of beds we wanted and how they would fit into the type of garden we wanted to keep. In addition to the beds, we also purchased a compost bin and rain barrel from the city. Going through this option was much cheaper than trying to buy each component ourselves, or even to DIY it.
Ultimately, we decided to maximize our backyard space with vegetable beds and we wanted to create seating around the beds as Mr. M has A TON of friends and family and there never seems to be enough chairs for everyone!
It is inherent to draw up plans for any major projects you plan to undertake. I know that it definitely helps me to visualize it all and informs me of areas I might not have thought through. In our case, I had to think through how we were going to support the bench seating around the beds.
I would show you the sketch I drew up, but I doodled all over it when I was calculating materials for the cut sheet, so the drawing is pretty much unreadable.
How about I paint the picture through words? Basically, we wanted to build five beds to maximize square footage; two along the wall of the garage and three along the back fence. Each bed would be roughly 36″ wide x 120″ long x 16-18″ high. Yes, 10 feet long. Big beds, I know.
What type of wood is best for our vegetable garden? We quickly crossed off pressure-treated woods from our list as we didn’t want to risk any chemical contamination in our food – no matter what the sales associate at Dick’s Lumber said. It was better to take the safe road on this one, even if he said that research has shown there isn’t enough chemical leaching into the soil to be considered dangerous.
So we were left with a plethora of natural woods to choose from. We definitely wanted wood that would stand the test of time, so we didn’t have to worry about replacing the beds every year. We finally chose cedar. Western Red Cedar, to be exact. Cedar has wonderful outdoor properties and they’re used in all sorts of outdoor projects where wood is needed. The downfall is that it’s a bit expensive: about twice the price of pressure-treated wood. Like I said, we were willing to take the safe road and cough up the extra expense for this. There are some things in life where it’s better not to cut costs.
Here’s my husband helping the guy at Home Depot load up our little car with the wood. We had to make two trips to get the wood as the first location didn’t have enough good selection for us to choose from. We visited a second location to round off the amount of materials we needed. Shopping alone took us about three hours.
33 – Cedar boards 2″ x 6″ x 10′
6 – Cedar posts 2″ x 2″ x 8′
250 – Deck screws for cedar #8 x 3″
Gather the Tools
Essential items to build raised vegetable beds:
Work gloves (we used garden gloves)
*Great to handle lumber with to avoid getting nasty splinters.
*Mostly important for removing those stupid price tags you’ll see in the next section
Drill bit and driver bit in the right sizes for your screws
*We got exterior screws specifically for cedar wood so the screw colors blend in well.
*To mark straight lines for your cuts
*I can’t remember where I used this, if I did, but it’s always nice to have on hand – just in case.
So we had the plans and we got the wood. Check and check! Now, the fun part! Building the beds!
I quickly realized that before I could cut anything, I had to remove ALL these pesky tags. Arghh!
Here was the construction plan:
We essentially constructed three giant picture frames (for lack of a better description), one at a time, stacked on top of each other. The first frame was put into place and leveled out. Then the second frame was constructed and laid on top of the first. And repeated the same for the third frame.
Initially, we planned to just build the seating at the front of the bed where the pathway is and trim out the other three sides in 2×2’s so the heights were even all around. However, during construction, we decided we wanted to add the 6″ cedar to all sides, which is why we didn’t miter any of the corners and did a bit of a shoddy job. I tried to make adjustments as cleanly and efficiently as possible, nonetheless.
Here’s the start of the first bed, built according to plan, but we had to modify the width of the bed to ensure that the pathway in front was a minimum of 36″ for wheelbarrow passage. My husband is in the back leveling out the land. What a pain in the arse that was! It took more time to level everything out than it did to build the beds.
I added “studs” to the front side of the bed (left side of photo) where the bench seating would be located. I spaced them about 20-24″ apart to provide extra support for sitting. The post in the right corner was added to keep the three levels of frames together.
First two beds are built! And that was all we could handle for Day One. I’ve gotta figure out how to block that left corner so pests don’t build homes in there. Anyone have any cool ideas? All I can think of is to just somehow screw in a piece of wood there.
The Building Continues
After some lessons learned from Day One, I decided on a different design for the next set of beds on Day Two. And as we were running out of material, after using up the 6″ cedar in the design modification to the first set of beds, we kept this second set only two high of boards, and no bench seating were added. I will probably add them later, but for now, 20′ of seating should be plenty. Also, I had to adjust the layout of this next set of beds due to space constraints after making dimensional modifications to the first set.
Despite all the changes, the second set of beds went in rather smoothly! The photo above is of Mr. M leveling out the land. Always leveling out the land.
Here’s how the second set of beds changed in the construction. Instead of stacking frames of wood, I used a post in the corner and screwed the long boards into that post. I don’t think one way is easier than the other, but this one required less steps as I didn’t have to add the corner posts to the insides of the beds afterward.
In order to maximize the use of our yard space, I added on a few inches to the 10′ boards at the back. It’s pretty piece meal, I admit, but I figured that this add-on won’t be noticeable after the soil goes in.
And there we have it! The second set of beds!
Here is a photo of both sets of beds. It felt so wonderful to get this task checked off our list! Even better to hang up the tool belt at the end of the day and sit on the bench of this bed to look out over the newly redesigned backyard space. Oh look! There’s even a flower beginning to bud on one of our magnolia trees!
I love having magnolia trees in my backyard. I’m starting to see why people love gardening so much.
That’s enough information for part one. Stick around for the next post when we fill the beds. That is definitely worth having its own post. Trust me.
Total time: Day One – it was roughly eight hours, which included three hours of shopping time. Day Two was completed in five hours. Keep in mind that we spent a great deal of time in leveling out our land on both days, which we felt was extremely crucial because we added bench seating to the beds. If your land is already level, you can expect to spend about an hour for each bed, maybe a lot less if you build smaller ones.
Total cost: The woods and screws all totalled to $515.33, including taxes. All the materials were purchased from Home Depot. We did do some price comparison at Dick’s Lumber and Rona. Both places priced their 2″ x 6″ x 10′ cedar boards at roughly $2 more per board. FYI: Home Depot sells prefabricated cedar garden beds, which are actually quite adorable! There are two sizes. The largest one is 24″W x 48″L. I forget what the height is, but I’m guessing it’s about 12″. That sells for $50 (in Canada).
The saga continues in Adventures In Building Raised Vegetable Beds (Part 2).
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