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Apr 20, 2009 11:59 AM

Raised Beds

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?



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  1. 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:

    10 Replies
    1. re: meadandale

      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

        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

          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

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

            1. re: meadandale

              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: baseballfan

                I have clay soil under where I want to put a raised bed. I'm wondering if I should till under the raised bed to help w/ draining & deeper roots?

                1. re: GetGardening

                  My vote would be a solid "YES" for unlimited growing.
                  Caveat: it would depend on what you want to plant as well as how tall your raised beds are. If you are growing small, surface crops, perhaps you will not need to do this if your beds are 24-30" high.

              2. re: meadandale

                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.

              3. re: EdwardAdams

                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

              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

            3. 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.


              1. 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

                  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.

                  I am reviewer "Happy Girl".

                  Best of luck.

                  1. re: Sherri

                    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:
                    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

                      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

                        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

                          Thanks! It was tremendously satisfying to build, and was really quite easy. I wrote up instructions here:

                          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

                            If you wanted something a little easier you could use a stone veneer, the sheets that look like

                            1. re: cleopatra999

                              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

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

                    2. 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. Here is a useful set of plans from Sunset magazine:
                        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

                          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.