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Raised Beds

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Nancy Berry Apr 20, 2009 11:59 AM

I'd like to build some raised beds for my backyard patio garden in San Francisco. Can someone point me to good online plans and instructions for raised bed gardening. I have some mobility issues, so I'd also like to build a raised bed table for some of my gardening. Can anyone tell me what plants grow well on raised bed tables?

Thanks.

--NancyB

  1. f
    foggymango Dec 6, 2009 02:25 PM

    Here's one more cool website with step-by-step instructions on building raised beds. While I also like the one mentioned in Sunset Magazine, this one from Popular Mechanics is pretty good, too, and I will probably take ideas from both magazine sites: http://www.popularmechanics.com/home_...
    I live in Solano County (SF Bay Area) and plan to build my raised beds (3 of them) as soon as the rains end.

    1. m
      melly Sep 2, 2009 11:32 PM

      We bought ours at Frame it All...online. No time to make em. It took my husband some time to put em together...I garden, he builds. :)

      My tomatoes and herbs are the only things that have done well in my beds..oh, and radishes. My carrots never came up..and my cukes and zuchinni has been ever so slow...and I live in Sacramento! Our beds are 3' x 8' and are 18" high..but you can buy 4' high ones...and even higher bed tables.

      1. b
        bulavinaka Aug 15, 2009 07:17 AM

        Many posters have given you some great tips and advice, but please consider that you are in a coastal zone along the Pacific with a strong possibility of termite issues if you end up using wood - any wood - for your raised beds. I invested in clear redwood for my raised beds about 14 years ago - supposedly very durable against termite infestation - but even it has eventually given way to termite infestation. A contractor friend (yes, these two terms don't have to be mutually exclusive :)) has told me in the past that he as seen termites eat into any wood given enough time. The accelerator is soil contact. Soil harbors moisture and provides a medium for subterranean termites to set up shop.

        If you're serious about your beds and are looking at this as a long term investment, I would strongly recommend a non-wood plan. The number of synthetic lumbers are increasing and their costs aren't so prohibitive as they were in the past. Even cinderblocks or interlocking landscaping blocks can be used. No matter what material you choose, each will have some design challenge, but they can be overcome in the planning stage.

        1. c
          chefathome May 30, 2009 08:56 AM

          As I have a back injury my husband built me 18" high raised beds with seating all the way around for easy reaching, planting, etc. They make things SO much easier on my back it's incredible. They are 12'x5' so are a good size. One is for herbs, two for veg and one for strawberries. They are a lifesaver as I am SO passionate about gardening and then cooking/preserving our produce. I'm a Master Gardener to gardening is necessary!!

          2 Replies
          1. re: chefathome
            danna Aug 11, 2009 06:36 AM

            my husband did the same, but after 10 years of planting tomatoes in the same spot, I might as well not bother anymore. The yellow wilt starts almost immediate and moves up the plant. I pull what few tomatoes I get off dead stalks. What do you guys do about "crop rotation?"

            1. re: danna
              w
              weezycom Aug 17, 2009 08:06 AM

              You could try soil sterilization. Water the beds, put clear plastic sheeting over top and let the sun beat down. The resulting sunshine & steam will kill off pretty much everything underneath. Then remove the plastic, turn the soil and leave uncovered about 1-2 weeks and let anything deep enough to survive sprout up then repeat the process. I haven't had to do a third round of sterlization on my small beds, but a larger garden might need it.

          2. t
            therealdoctorlew May 3, 2009 03:14 PM

            Avoid all the building and worries about chemicals in wood, or rotting wood giving way. Get those large plastic translucent storage boxes that they sell all over, the biggest ones. Drill, cut, or melt drainage holes in the bottom. You now have cheap big planters. Put them up on cinder blocks, fill 2/3 or 3/4 up with dirt, and you're done. No plans, saws, screws, etc. Use as many or as few as you need, arrange to fit your space, and, if the weather is a bit too cool when you want to plant, the tops turn them into cold frames.

            1. k
              ktb615 Apr 26, 2009 10:20 AM

              My wife and I are about to put in our raised bed gardens. We're just waiting for the fence guy so the dogs don't dig them up. I have a question for those of you that do raised beds. Do you till the soil underneath before you add soil on top? Do you just pour soil on top of the ground? Or do you put some sort of weed barrier down and then pour your garden soil on top of that?

              11 Replies
              1. re: ktb615
                JohnE O Apr 26, 2009 10:30 AM

                I always tilled the soil as far down as I could manage and then added peat, spagnum and vermiculite to get another foot above the ground. Around here the soil is pretty much all clay so it's necessary. It's also a good idea to till down if you plan on growing root vegetables like carrots. I used mulch and kept up with the weeding to prevent unwanted growth.

                1. re: ktb615
                  meadandale Apr 26, 2009 10:41 AM

                  I put a weed barrier down (tack it to the underside of the bed) and fill the box with 1/3 vermiculite, 1/3 peat moss and 1/3 compost (square foot garden style). Most crops you grow won't grow roots much deaper than that anyways. My beds are mostly 8" deep. You can build deeper beds but that means more lumber and more soil to fill them.

                  1. re: ktb615
                    s
                    Sherri Apr 26, 2009 12:15 PM

                    Something that I missed posting - and should have - regards the height of the raised beds. If you're bed will be quite shallow, you absolutely MUST till the ground. It becomes more debatable when the beds are three feet high or higher.

                    I live in AZ where our clay soil can be, literally, rock hard. The rototiller bounced off the clay and was not worth doing much more than ensuring good drainage. My beds were very high and required an unbelievable amount of soil.

                    When all was said and done, they were worth every sore muscle and $$$ required. We joked about the first $8,000 tomato but soon amortized the expense and enjoyed great results for many years until I moved.
                    P.S. - The garden was part of what sold the house to the new buyers.

                    Another P.S. - when fencing the garden, make certain your gates are wide enough to accomodate wide loads - at least four feet is what worked for me. Yes, it means custom-made gates, but it eliminated a lot of headaches. Dogs on one side, garden on the other and the wonderful big cart I used could pass through the gates unimpeded.

                    I also had a potting shed, with roof but no sides, with wide work area and a sink. The least expensive SS sink from HD was plumbed with cold water only and not hooked up to the sewer - serious additional $$$ to run a very long drain line. It emptied into a 5 gal bucket (underneath) that I tossed on the compost bins. It was a great system. Garden produce was taken into the house clean and we re-used the water. Win-Win.

                    1. re: Sherri
                      c
                      cleopatra999 Apr 26, 2009 01:03 PM

                      check out this information on square foot gardening in raised beds, I love this guys book, complete play by play on how to build, fill and garden.

                      we did not follow it exactly as we had existing soil, but overall it worked great....

                      http://www.squarefootgardening.com/

                      I also I agree with the 3 foot wide recommendation, we did 4, which means I have to reach 2 feet, I am not a tall person, and it is a struggle.

                      1. re: cleopatra999
                        meadandale Apr 26, 2009 06:34 PM

                        Mel was the inspiration for my beds. I went a little higher (8 inches) than his beds (6 inches) but it was a good compromise. I'd even suggest going to 10 inches if you can afford the lumber and soil to fill them. Much more than that is unnecessary for 90% of the crops you'll grow in your garden. The only things that really need deep beds are root crops like carrots and daikon radishes and potatoes, which really need a 'potato bin' that can be filled to several feet deep.

                        1. re: meadandale
                          s
                          Sherri Apr 26, 2009 09:07 PM

                          Unless you have mobility issues. Not everyone can bend all the way to the ground, or wants to even if they can. The OP mentioned "mobility issues" and the idea of high raised beds is viable.

                          1. re: meadandale
                            a
                            Alicat24 Apr 28, 2009 12:51 PM

                            Me too, although I was unable to follow Mel's mix to a T as vermiculite was near impossible to find here. We tilled the ground under the bed's but did not do any weed barrier (weekend project with limited time and funds).

                            Our beds are 4' W X 10' L and 10" high (3 total). They were filled mostly with equal parts compost and aged manure with about 3 med. bags of peat moss ea. and the puny amount of vermiculite we could find.

                            Nearly all of our plants did wonderfully and we had minimal weeds to contend with. I will add that for anyone with mobility issues, definately go narrower than 4' or it will be difficult to reach to the middle of the bed. Likewise, I would recommend a bed higher than my 10", although the costs to fill them goes up quickly with every little bit of added height.

                            1. re: Alicat24
                              kchurchill5 Apr 28, 2009 05:15 PM

                              Yes, mine were 5 wide by 3' which was fine for me being short :). A little gravel on the bottom helps with weeds and agree for some plants higher works better. 2 of mine were 8" the other was 12 the the bed was only 3x3 for just tomatoes and beans.

                              I will try to describe this but I put 2 pvc pipes on each end spaced out 2' apart then I put some garden tape one end to the other end of each of the pipes making like a bridge across. As the tomatoes grew and the beans grew I kept moving the tape up the pole. This make a great way for the plants to grow up nice and straight and saved room in the box. The taller they got ... I just moved the tape up

                              1. re: Alicat24
                                DonShirer May 1, 2009 03:53 PM

                                Mel specifies coarse (not fine) vermiculite. I called 14 different garden centers and big box stores before finding some at a greenhouse supply firm.
                                Running short of compost, I substituted composted manure in some beds. Didn't work as well--caked up--had to add more peat moss and coarse vermiculite.
                                Mel says 6 inch depth is ok for most veggies. I made a 10 inch bed 3 ft by 1 ft for carrots and other root crops.

                                1. re: DonShirer
                                  a
                                  Alicat24 May 1, 2009 05:46 PM

                                  You have more patience than I do! I only checked about 6 or 8 places, including the grain elevator. Finally found 3 REALLY dinky bags at Lowes, so it was pretty much negligable amounts in each bed.

                                  The aged manure we got didn't cake up on us but it did have quite alot of chunks that had to be broken up. Our beds are 10" deep only because my Dad purchased the materials for my and my sister's B-day's (a day apart but 5 yrs. difference in age), and that is what he chose. We didn't grow any root veggies except carrots and we picked a "short" variety because we were concerned about the depth issue. They were delicous!

                          2. re: Sherri
                            s
                            Sherri Apr 26, 2009 02:36 PM

                            "If you're bed will be quite shallow"
                            EDIT: obviously, this should read: "if your bed will be quite shallow"
                            Sorry I missed the typo.

                        2. 2m8ohed Apr 23, 2009 02:15 PM

                          Here is a useful set of plans from Sunset magazine:
                          http://www.sunset.com/garden/backyard...
                          I am actually in the process (with a friend who's in construction) of building 5 beds like these but 2 feet high. The plans are very clear and they are affordable, attractive, and customizeable to an extent. We are using non-pressure-treated Douglas Fir and I will stain the outside a natural-redwood color to match my deck. I agree with the others who suggested that pressure-treated wood may not be a great choice for growing food.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: 2m8ohed
                            s
                            Sal Vanilla Apr 23, 2009 04:09 PM

                            I have used that article's plan. It worked well. I did not stain or do the pvc for the netting tho, but it would be useful (if you do not dump dirt down into it. It does not account for slope of a hill, but it is a good, basic box. If you go over two boards high (like with a slope) you will need to bracket it.

                          2. c
                            carfreeinla Apr 22, 2009 04:51 PM

                            I just installed ( that is an exaggeration- the pieces just fit together!) a 4X4 raised bed made from composite materials and I am quite pleased with it. Super easy to put together and I don't have to worry about termites. It was from a manufacturer called frame it all.
                            I am not sure what would be most helpful to you, but I did see some "table top" raised beds on the internet- sorry, don't remember where I saw them...

                            1. s
                              Sherri Apr 21, 2009 06:48 PM

                              NancyB, I had raised beds made from concrete blocks that locked onto each other. They're used for hillside landscaping and are very stable. Because they're also heavy, I hired someone to build them for me. I did not use plans but just outlined what I wanted in the dirt and began building, literally, from the ground up.
                              NB: I garden the AZ, the desert southwest so my plant growing information will be different than yours.
                              Hint #1 - make certain that you can easily reach all the way to the center of the bed, especially with mobility issues..
                              Hint #2 - make certain that a heavy-duty yet lightweight cart will fit between the beds. Mine had very large wheels and I loved it muchly!
                              Hint #3 - install a drip irrigation system at the time of the build.
                              Hint #4 - fill the beds with good soil. This will pay benefits in the long run.

                              I used a couple of the beds for perennials like asparagus and rhubarb that I didn't disturb very often. The other beds, depending on the height of the plant and season of the year, grew almost everything I could dream of -- tomatoes, okra, peppers, zucchini & other soft squashes, green beans, "drying" beans, melons, cucumbers and even a couple of rows of corn and sunflowers= summer.
                              Cool weather crops = lettuce, mange tout peas as well as English peas, carrots, arugula, butternut squash, potatoes, onions and leeks .........
                              Mediterranean herbs were happiest in the warm months while parsley, mint and other cooler weather herbs preferred autumn & winter. I interplanted flowers because I like the combination and this was not a production garden.

                              My failures included an apricot tree, watercress, strawberries and raspberries.

                              When you say that you have "some mobility issues", will these affect your ability to harvest tall crops like pole beans? If so, bush beans would be a better choice.

                              8 Replies
                              1. re: Sherri
                                s
                                Sal Vanilla Apr 21, 2009 09:01 PM

                                very nice post - I would like to suggest no more than 3 feet wide as far as reach goes. Also, just in case - I bought this gardening chair that saved my back. It aslo allows me to garden longer and without pulling a stupid maneuver b/c I am over tired.
                                http://www.amazon.com/Garden-Rocker-C...

                                I am reviewer "Happy Girl".

                                Best of luck.

                                1. re: Sherri
                                  m
                                  modthyrth May 3, 2009 02:44 PM

                                  Sherri--you had success with rhubarb in the AZ desert? I'm in the east valley of Phoenix and would dearly dearly love to grow rhubarb, but I thought we just couldn't get enough cool weather. Please elaborate!

                                  Here's the raised bed I built out of concrete block and faced with stone veneer:
                                  http://willsfamily.smugmug.com/photos...
                                  I love the substantial walls, which double as overflow seating in the patio area (now that there's a patio where you see dirt) and are a great place to sit and take care of the plants.

                                  It was a lot of heavy physical labor to build the bed, but I'm delighted with the end result.

                                  1. re: modthyrth
                                    s
                                    Sherri May 4, 2009 01:52 PM

                                    modthyrth, my rhubarb growing would have to be termed "moderately successful". You're dead on correct that the AZ desert is not prime growing territory. I'm in a slightly cooler locale than the Phoenix basin area, at a higher altitude which may have been the reason for my moderate success. Also, I used a shady corner where there was more wind than the protected areas. These raised beds were not close to the house so did not get the ambient heat from reflected walls, etc. I grew enough for us to eat but did not have the excesses like I did with other crops.

                                    Just as an aside, our best rhubarb was harvested during the winter months. This is unlike the East Coast where it is a definite springtime crop. Dec thru March were the months. And, yes, it feels odd to have rhubarb at Christmastime.

                                    1. re: modthyrth
                                      h
                                      happycat Jun 3, 2009 05:02 PM

                                      Hi, modthyrth--Your raised bed is beautiful. I want to put in some raised beds, am leaning towards concrete blocks, but am not thrilled with how they look. Is the stone veneer hard to apply? Thanks and happy gardening!

                                      1. re: happycat
                                        m
                                        modthyrth Jun 4, 2009 09:42 PM

                                        Thanks! It was tremendously satisfying to build, and was really quite easy. I wrote up instructions here:
                                        http://garden-hardscaping.suite101.co...

                                        The stone veneer is very easy to do, just time consuming. It's like a huge puzzle, and I was never one for jigsaw puzzles. Because I'm slow, I just mixed a 9x13 pan's worth of thinset mortar at a time, and spread it with a small spatula on the back of each stone like peanut butter when I was ready to set the stone in place. (I also stole a large plastic flipping-flapjacks-type spatula for mixing the mortar, and numerous toys from my daughter's sandbox for the project ;-) ).

                                        Using thinset, like what you'd use for tile rather than normal mortar, made all the difference in applying the stone veneer. It's much stickier than normal mortar, and was much easier to work with.

                                        I joke that each stone I put on was worth between two and six squats. Squat down, rifle through the stone, pick out a likely one, walk it over to the garden bed, squat down to see if it's the right size...damn, an inch too long. Stand up, go back to the pile of stone, repeat. You'll definitely get a workout doing veneer work!

                                        1. re: modthyrth
                                          c
                                          cleopatra999 Jun 5, 2009 07:16 AM

                                          If you wanted something a little easier you could use a stone veneer, the sheets that look like stone....eg.http://www.nextstone.com/products/ind...

                                          1. re: cleopatra999
                                            m
                                            modthyrth Jun 5, 2009 12:30 PM

                                            Very neat product. It looks like a nail-in installation, so you could use it with raised wooden beds. I wouldn't recommend it if you're going with concrete block construction, based on my frustrating experiences with hammer drills, broken masonry bits, and concrete screws. The less screwing into concrete I have to do the better!

                                            1. re: modthyrth
                                              h
                                              happycat Jun 7, 2009 04:30 PM

                                              Thanks for the info! Can't wait to get into the garden now...

                                  2. Fritter Apr 21, 2009 04:35 PM

                                    With mobility issues you may want to consider something like the corner/anchor system burpee's offers depending on how high you want to raise the bed. I would not buy the kits as they are expensive and as some one else mentioned that's a poor application for trex which molds and warps. I tend to agree with the suggestion for pressure treated timber as long as you line it inside with plastic. That's not difficult or expensive and your beds will last a long time.

                                    http://www.burpee.com/product/id/1049...

                                    1. meadandale Apr 20, 2009 02:41 PM

                                      You don't really need 'plans'. Just buy some 2x6 or 2x8 pine, cut them to length (or have the guys at Home Depot do it for you) and screw them together with deck screws. You should predrill the holes before installing the screws.

                                      However, with mobility issues I'm not sure that this is something you want to undertake yourself. Even a small 4x4 bed made of 2x8 pine weight a fair amount.

                                      If you lived in San Diego I'd have been happy to come build them for you ;-)

                                      Mine look like this:

                                      http://picasaweb.google.com/meadandal...

                                      8 Replies
                                      1. re: meadandale
                                        JohnE O Apr 21, 2009 06:36 AM

                                        If you're going to build a box I would recommend something like Trex which won't rot or warp like wood. Even pressure treated wood goes bad eventually, especially in constant contact with soil and moisture.

                                        1. re: JohnE O
                                          e
                                          EdwardAdams Apr 21, 2009 06:52 AM

                                          Retaining walls or raised beds is a bad application for Trex. Even in flooring it has much more of a tendency to bow under pressure than lumber. Pressure treated lumber is probably the cheapest route if you are worried about longevity. I used redwood, then stapled plastic on the inside before adding soil to keep the moisture loss down.

                                          I connected the lumber with L shaped steel salvaged from those universal bed frames and carriage bolts as fasteners. They are still strong after 20 years of use.

                                          1. re: EdwardAdams
                                            meadandale Apr 21, 2009 08:29 AM

                                            I really wouldn't recommend pressure treated lumber for a raised bed application. Pressure treated lumber generally contains copper and arsenic salts. Do you really want to grow your food in soil that is in constant wet contact with this wood? I'd also strongly discourage people from using old rail road ties as well as they contain creosote.

                                            Redwood is great if you want to make the investment but it is about 4-5x higher in price than pine. If my pine beds last 5 or 6 years then it will take over 25 years for the redwood to pay for itself.

                                            1. re: meadandale
                                              e
                                              Eldon Kreider Apr 21, 2009 05:00 PM

                                              The use of chromium and arsenic in pressure-treated wood was stopped several years ago. Copper salts are still used.

                                              1. re: meadandale
                                                b
                                                baseballfan Apr 21, 2009 07:30 PM

                                                My husband just built a 4 x 8 bed for us to grow tomatoes in. We are also in the Bay Area (East Bay-San Ramon) and our soil is hard clay thus the need for the beds. We were going to make them out of pressure treated lumber but were warned against it for this application by the Home Depot people due to whatever they use to pressure treat it. Having Home Depot cut the wood made life a lot easier.

                                                I've grown all varieties of tomatoes in raised beds and they grow perfectly as do peppers. i was going to attempt to grow sugar snap peas from seeds ( a first for me) but the damn ( oops, I mean sweet) dogs got in there and dug them up. They have since been replaced by pepper plants( the seeds not the dogs!).

                                                1. re: meadandale
                                                  s
                                                  Sal Vanilla Apr 21, 2009 08:56 PM

                                                  He put a layer of plastic between the wood and soil. That is enough. My husband made our beds in the same manner as edwardadam with lovely, long lasting results. He used cedar. It is plentiful (in my area) and long lasting.

                                                2. re: EdwardAdams
                                                  m
                                                  mr99203 May 3, 2009 03:21 PM

                                                  I have 4 x 4 beds made out of Trex and they've worked well. Anything longer than that and I agree that they'd bow. My local lumber store had a color of Trex that they were discontinuing so I got it at 70% off, 3 years later the beds are in great shape.

                                              2. re: meadandale
                                                kchurchill5 Apr 26, 2009 12:25 PM

                                                Hey ... you stole my plans, lol.

                                                Mine looked just like that. I had several out back at my house. I used cedar down here with the weather (untreated but same thing. Holes along the bottom of the planks.

                                                Earthboxes are good and mobile, but can't grow as much, I prefer these beds as meadandale said. I had 5 beds and even in FL grew just about anything. I used a light gravel bottom, some good layers of soil and fertilizer and just planted.

                                                FYI, my pressure treated wood in south FL with rain rain and more rain was 8 years old and not sign of rot, but yes, for the cost, I could rebuild several times. It was inexpensive and easy. And yes, I had a band saw but Home Depot cut it all. Very easy I think my beds were 5 long by 3 deep, just to fit along my beds. They were decorative, fun and easy

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