If you’ve been wondering how to make a new raised bed garden, this article is a great place to start. Early in 2023, we embarked on a big project – a new raised bed vegetable garden! I’d been dreaming of improving our food garden by adding raised beds for years. I drew up a rough plan and approached our contractor neighbor, Tim, about the project. Two months later, I had a beautiful new garden. In this article, I’ll walk you through each step of the project, offering tips and insights you can use to build a new raised bed garden of your own.
Planning the new raised bed garden
After 25 years of gardening in the ground, I knew there were a few things my new vegetable garden would need to have.
- It would need to be deer-proof. We have herds of deer and other critters roaming through our backyard constantly. We’ve even had a black bear pillaging our blueberries for the past few years, so a long-lasting, sturdy fence with a minimum height of 7 feet was a must.
- I wanted tall raised beds which will translate to easier harvesting and less bending, and will be easier on my knees and back. I opted for 20-inch-tall raised beds.
- Wide paths were essential to easily manipulate the wheelbarrow around each planter box. I opted for a path width of 3 feet everywhere except along one outer edge where we had to narrow the path in order for our tractor to fit between the garden’s fence and the property fence.
- I knew I wanted the raised beds to be made from wood and not concrete blocks, metal, or some other material. I like the aesthetics of wood, and since we were hiring the neighbor to build it (rather than it being a DIY project), I also knew wood would be less expensive than many other materials and that choice would help lower the budget.
- The new garden would have to embrace the existing row of blueberry bushes. Our blueberries are over 17 years old, so I didn’t want to risk transplanting them or potentially injuring the plants, so I designed the whole garden around them.
How to make a new raised bed garden – Our step by step process
After I measured out the space and sketched out the basic plan on paper, Tim double-checked all my math and let me know how much lumber and other materials to order. He calculated how much lumber was needed for each raised garden bed and then multiplied it by 12 since the new garden was to have 12 beds total. To that, we added the lumber and wire mesh needed for the fence. Next, I’ll share each of the steps we took through the process.
Step 1: Ordering the lumber for the raised garden beds
While I would have loved to have raised garden beds made from cedar or redwood, they were way too expensive. They are two of the finest rot-resistant woods on the market, but they are also super costly, so that was quickly nixed. I considered pine, but it’s too soft and the beds would have only lasted 5 or 6 years before rotting. Treated lumber was also something I didn’t want to use. Though, according to the EPA, the chemicals currently used to treat lumber are substantially safer than old CCA treatment methods, I still didn’t want chemically treated wood in my food garden.
So, after calling about a dozen sawmills, I finally found what I was looking for: rough-cut hemlock. It’s what Niki’s famous garden beds are made from, but I had to hunt around a bit before finding a source. I couldn’t find it at any big box hardware stores or even at any lumber yards, so I started calling all the sawmills I could find within a 300 mile radius of my home outside of Pittsburgh, PA, and eventually I hit the jackpot. C.C. Allis & Sons in Wyalusing, PA had it and was willing to deliver (for a fee, of course).
Each raised bed in my garden is 8 ft long x 4 ft wide. To make each bed, we used six 8-feet-long 2” x 10” rough-cut hemlock boards. I needed 72 boards total to make my twelve beds but ordered 75 in case some did not come straight and true. Each 8-foot-long 2 x 10 was around $12.00 which was a third to a quarter of the price of cedar or redwood.
We also used rough hemlock 4 x 4s to anchor the corners of the beds and to keep the center of each 8-foot side from bowing out (see photo of bed construction). I ordered twelve 12-foot-long 4 x 4s, but we didn’t end up using them all.
Step 2: Removing the old garden and saving the soil
After the lumber was delivered, it was time to tear down the old fence and garden. Since I had been growing vegetables and herbs on part of the site for years, the soil was amazing and there were very few weeds. So, after tearing down the old fence, Tim used a walk-behind skid loader to skim off the top 18-20 inches of that amazing soil and reserve it in a pile.
There was sod where the upper part of the garden was going to be placed, so he also skimmed off about 12-15 inches of the sod and topsoil and put that in a separate pile. Soil compaction is always a worry when using heavy equipment like this, but since I was now going to be growing in raised beds, it was not an issue we had to worry about.
Step 3: Leveling the garden site
Once the good soil was preserved and the sod was scraped and piled, Tim leveled the site as much as he could. Our yard is slightly sloped, so he decided to make a small terraced slope to separate the upper 8 raised beds from the lower 4 raised beds. It happened to be right where the line of blueberries is, so it made perfect sense.
Step 4: Marking the periphery dimensions
After the site was leveled, he marked off the overall exterior dimensions of the garden with rebar stakes and twine. We needed to make sure there would be room to drive our lawn tractor around the fence and that everything was square.
Step 5: Measuring the raised bed placements
After the exterior dimensions were marked, he measured out the placement of each raised bed and double-checked everything before setting to work building the beds.
Step 6: Building and placing the raised beds
The raised beds were each built in place. Each corner 4 x 4, along with the support 4 x 4s in the middle of the long sides of the bed, were buried into the soil by several inches to provide further support and to better enable him to ensure all the beds were perfectly level. He used a drill and long deck screws to attach the beds together in place.
Step 7: Filling the raised beds
As each raised bed was built, Tim filled it with soil before moving on to building the next, which allowed him to use the walk-behind skid loader for the job. The bottom 12-15 inches of each bed was filled with the topsoil and sod that was stripped from the upper part of the garden. Then, each bed was filled the rest of the way to the top with the good, nutrient-rich soil that had been excavated from the old garden. I asked him to mound each bed very full because I knew it would settle with time. I then topped each raised bed with 2 inches of compost.
If I didn’t have any excavated soil to fill the beds, I would have filled the bottom 6 to 8 inches with organic matter, like leaves and grass clippings, mixed with purchased topsoil. Then I would have filled the rest of the way to the top with a blend of 1/2 topsoil, 1/4 leaf mold, and 1/4 compost. If you’re filling raised beds from empty, use an online soil calculator to determine how much soil you’ll need to purchase.
A few other considerations if you’re building your own raised beds:
- If you have trouble with rodents burrowing up from the bottom of the bed, cover the bottom of the empty bed with galvanized hardware cloth before filling it.
- I personally don’t like to use peat moss or vermiculite in raised beds because vermiculite is too well-draining and the beds dry out too quickly. Peat moss is notoriously difficult to wet again once it becomes fully dry. It forms a crust on the top of the soil and water just sits there, rather than soaking down into the bed.
- I suspect I’m going to have trouble growing straight carrots for a few years. The big clods of sod that are in the bottom of the beds will take a year or two to break down which can be an obstruction to good carrot formation. Still, it was worth it to not have to purchase any soil to fill my new beds.
Step 8: Setting the fence posts
After the beds were built and filled, it was time to move onto the fence. I designed the fence based on another garden I had seen in a nearby community. I wanted something you could easily see through, so it didn’t feel obtrusive and block the greater view of our backyard. But I also needed the fence to be sturdy and at least 7 feet tall to keep the deer out. We used pressure-treated lumber for the fence since it will not be in direct contact with any of the vegetables.
Each post is 4 x 6 by 10 feet, and they are spaced 8 to 10 feet apart, depending on which side of the vegetable garden you’re looking at. They were each inserted 3 feet deep and set in concrete, leaving a height of 7 feet above ground.
Step 9: Building the fence framing
From there, he used 2 x 4s to create a cross brace 6 feet up from the ground and then another at ground level. Then, he ran another layer of 2 x 4s across the top of the posts after cutting them level to create an open, but sturdy fence.
Step 10: Mulching the veggie garden pathways
Before adding the wire to the fence, I mulched the pathways of my raised bed garden. If I had a fancy yard and a bigger budget, I might have used pea gravel, but nothing beats shredded hardwood bark mulch when it comes to price. It took about 10 cubic yards of mulch to cover the pathways. If we had built the beds on top of sod (instead of removing it first), I would have put a weed barrier layer of cardboard or biodegradable landscape fabric beneath the mulch. But, since I was covering only bare soil, I opted to skip this step.
Step 11: Adding the wire to the garden fence
Once the mulch was wheelbarrowed in, it was time for Tim to put up the wire fencing. He used U staples to secure 6-feet-tall boxwire fencing to the lower portion of the fence. It runs between the bottom 2 x 4 and the 2 x 4 that’s 6 feet up from the ground. The section between the two upper 2 x 4s was left open.
Step 12: Installing the gates
After the wire was placed, Tim built and installed the gates. These were also made from treated lumber. I wanted them to be durable. We opted for three gates. One on the back side for quick access to the tool shed, another on the upper short side, and the third just a few steps away from our patio. Two of the gates latch from the outside, and the third latches from the inside, ensuring I’ll never accidentally get locked inside.
Installing the cattle panel trellises and bean towers
The last step before planting my new raised bed garden was to put up my cattle panel trellises and bean towers. You can read about my cattle panel trellises and how to build your own in this article. The bean towers are made from old closet organizers strung with flexible aluminum wires. I’ve had them for years.
Planting the garden
As soon as the garden construction was finished in mid-April, I started planting. The first crops to go in were peas, radishes, spinach, onions, cilantro, lettuce, and other cool-season crops. A few weeks later, it was time to add our warm-season favorites, including tomatoes, basil, beets, beans, peppers, and cucumbers.
I also saved one bed for my herbs. Before ripping out the old garden, I dug up my chives, thyme, and oregano. Once the new raised bed garden was built, I moved these perennial herbs into one of the beds. The only herb I will continue to grow in a container instead of in the garden is mint due to its aggressive nature.
How I water my raised bed garden
Visitors to the garden inevitably ask how I water my new raised bed garden. While someday I plan to install a drip irrigation system or soaker hoses, for now I use a sprinkler. Since I mulch my garden well and the soil is deep, compost-filled, and water retentive, I don’t have to water very often. I place my oscillating sprinkler on top of one of the bean towers and wire it in place. I hook up the hose and let it run until an empty tuna can I have sitting in the garden is filled to the top (which equates to 1 inch of water). Works like a charm.
How to make a new raised bed garden of your own
I hope you enjoyed this look at how to make a new raised bed garden. Develop a plan of your own that is appropriate for your site and use this article as a guidepost to building a garden that’s all your own. Good luck and happy gardening!
For more advice on raised bed gardening, please visit the following articles:
- Things to think about when considering raised beds
- 4 x 8 raised bed planting plans
- Elevated raised bed gardening
- Preparing a raised bed garden for winter
- Tara’s recipe for filling raised bed
Pin this article to your Vegetable Gardening board for future reference.