Raised garden beds are exactly what their name promises – they are beds in which you can plant vegetables where the planting medium has been raised higher than the surrounding land. Raised beds have many benefits for the permaculture gardener. They prevent the soil becoming compacted, which in turn helps with water drainage and soil aeration. The containment of the soil by the raised bed also helps to prevent erosion by wind and rain, while the improved structure of the soil means that it is typically slightly warmer than the surrounding earth, meaning you can usually plant in raised beds earlier in the season. Having such well-structured and healthy soil also means that raised beds can typically support more individual plants that ground-level beds, so making them amenable to the permaculture principle of maximizing yield wherever possible. And it must not be forgotten that raising your garden beds makes tended, maintaining and harvesting from them, easier on the gardener, involving less bending. Thus, they are particularly valuable for older gardeners or those with restricted mobility.
You can purchase pre-fabricated raised garden beds, but they are fairly easy to construct yourself, and they can easily be made from recycled materials.
You can place your raised garden bed on any surface. If placing on soil, you will need to do less work, as you will leave the bottom open for the plant roots to penetrate the soil. However, you can also install it on grass or even concrete, as you can add layers of mulch material at the bottom to contain the growing medium. As with your normal garden beds used for cultivating food crops, you will want to position your raised beds so that they get several hours of full sun each day – to help the plants set fruit – and protected from string winds that could damage the plants or erode the soil.
The size of your raised bed is likely to depend upon the materials you are able to salvage to construct it. However, it is worth remembering that, given that the garden bed will predominantly, if not entirely, be given over to plants that produce an edible yield, you want to make sure that you can reach all parts of the bed for harvesting your crops. A width of four feet is a good general rule to enable you to reach all parts of the bed, and the length can be as long as you need for your planting design. In terms of height, just remember that the higher you build your beds, the more growing medium will be needed to fill them, and tall beds can experience a lot of pressure from the material contained within, so you may need to reinforce the walls of your raised bed if building it over around two feet.
Recycled lumber is ideal for making a raised garden bed. You can buy timber, but it is a lot more expensive and much less ‘green’. Cedar is a good choice if you can source it, as it is naturally rot resistant. Whichever lumber you source, make sure that it is untreated and not painted so you are not introducing chemicals or heavy metals into your permaculture plot. You will need boards for each of the four sides of your bed, extra ones if you want to add more height, and some stakes for each of the four corners to attach the side boards to.
Construct your bed in the location where it will sit; this is a lot easier than building it elsewhere and having to move it. Screw or nail the wall boards to the four corner stakes. It is also a good idea, if you have the extra lumber, to add stakes at the middle point of the outside walls, to strengthen them. If you have long beds, add a stake every four feet or so, to help the bed contain the material within.
If your bed is over grass or concrete, add a thick layer of newspaper or cardboard, with the edges of the sheets overlapping so no gaps are left. Water this layer well before proceeding. This layer will keep weeds suppressed if on grass, and provide a base level of nutrients for the raised bed. If siting over earth, make sure the area is clear of weeds before filling (you can also add the cardboard layer, but leaving the bar earth available will encourage deep root growth). Fill the bed with good quality topsoil. Augment the soil with lots of organic matter, such as compost, composted manure, grass cuttings and leaf litter. You might also want to round your growing medium, piling it higher in the middle so it slopes to the edges, rather than having a flat bed. Rounding the soil increases the surface area, allowing you to grow more plants in the space.
Once your raised garden bed is filled, it is a good idea to plant it as soon as possible. Nature hates bare earth, and weed species will quickly raised garden bedcolonize any. And at the very least bare earth is prone to erosion by wind and rain. Plant seedlings rather than seeds for the same reason. Use planting guilds and interplanting to maximize the specimens that can be fitted into the bed, and so to maximize yield. You can also use planting to ameliorate conditions that you bed may experience due to its location. So, for instance, you can plant taller crops on the side that receives the most wind or, if in a very hot location, in a position that affords shade to smaller, more fragile plants. Water the seedlings well when they are first planted in the bed. If your plants require it, feel free to mulch the raised bed, although you are unlikely to need mulch for moisture retention, as the soil in the bed is adapted to do so. However, as with normal beds keep an eye on the dampness of the soil, and if it becomes too dry, water well.

244 Responses

  1. you really do not have to build boxes, you can use most anything as a container, one year, i used garbage bags and put potting soil in them and sat them on the southside of my house, and i had one of my best yeilds ever.

  2. Start by finding fallen wood. Then build a furnace. You will also need iron to build make a saw. Find some magnetite sands and use a loadstone to separate the high iron content material from the sand. Use clay to create a form for the saw blade, and melt the iron sands into a crucible. Then sharpen the saw and cut down a tree. You will need it to be a big tree if you want to build a sizable box. Once you have cut down the tree, saw it into 2×8 sections. Use your clay to build forms for nails. You will need no less than 6 nails per length of wood. Stack the 2×8 boards to desired height in a square. Fill it with dirt, compost and wormcastings. An ounce of seawater per 5 gallon bucket is a wonderful addition.

  3. I was very disabled for a very long time, and the raised beds were the only way I could garden. I spaced bricks out along the wood sides (they were 16′ beds & the support was needed anyhow) and used the bricks as a seat.
    My wood beds got a weathered look very quickly. I didn’t want to use harsh chemicals to protect the wood, so I lined them with pond liner, and used a combo of teak oil and water sealer. Even in the Las Vegas heat, they kept their color & shape very well.

    Wood beds are great for summer; the wood doesn’t absorb heat. Brick beds are excellent for winter, since they absorb heat and keep the dirt warmer. I liked covering the front of my brick beds (I had some 100% brick ones in addition to the 16′ wood ones) in the summer with white cloth, to reflect the heat. I also used zucchini plants smack in the front of the bed, so the big heat-loving leaves would also cover the brick.

  4. …you guys are going to go to Northern Canada in a coordinated effort with people of similar organizations to educate and help start up a secure greenhouse gardening cooperative for the Innuit peoples, right? They are experiencing a government induced food crisis in their isolated communities,and many of them are elders, and little children…hint, hint.

  5. You can build raised beds out of anything my current favorite method is using unpainted metal roofing with a frame of wood on the outside. I would then use the lasagna garden technique of filling them. In the Southwest US they have historically used the opposite creating a garden that resembles a waffle by lowering the the planting area and raising the pathway. This protects both soil and plant roots from the intense sun and allows the garden to collect the rain or other water in a place concentrated around the roots to get the most from it.

  6. what a waste of time and resource. Pile of dirt will do. Throw seeds in the sunshine, earth does most of the rest. Bit of water sure but structures and arts and crafts is not gardening, it’s construction. Refocus your effort about the things plants notice.

  7. I’ve just acquired a 125 square metre allotment! This page is great for some brilliant ideas which I am hoping to adopt. Looking forward to getting started

  8. Handmade. My partner can no longer get down on the ground so he is in the process of building seat high garden beds. They are 40″ wide by 36′ long from untreated recycled pallets. Can’t wait to start planting.

  9. My raised beds are made of untreated 2×12’s salvaged from an old building. I live right on the water table so drainage is a problem and the soil here sucks, so building these raised beds is simpler than digging up the ground and mixing compost in. I know people who make their beds from tote boxes placed side by side. They live in a rental property, so if they move they can take their garden with them. There are a lot of reasons to use raised beds. It may not be best for everyone.

  10. Permaculture…You mean there is a name for what I have been doing for over 30 years…I prefer to make my own beds…if you want to use hinges use salvaged old door hinges should you want to move the bed it folds into one piece if the hinges are on the inside so they fold …and its cheaper …raised beds are nice as you can sit on the side and weed if you wish…I go with the intensive gardening method…More plants more you reap….If your garden means you work more you are doing it wrong…I believe in the kiss method…Keep It Simple Stupid…works for me

  11. There is research that shows plants react as if “pot-bound” when in any pot, no matter how big it seems to us. Theyir roots do not crow as deep or dense & plants aagrowth is thus thwarted–you may want to consider this before putting food plants in raised closed beds above the earth.

  12. I like using old bathtubs. They drain, they don’t rot, they are colourful, and it keeps them out of the land fill. If you let people know that you want them, they will bring them to you for nothing, because it costs to take them to the dumps. I have 15 of them in use roight now.

  13. Nate, we all need to go visit this great permaculture compound just south of Yelapa! I haven’t been there yet but have heard of it and it sounds like a must-see.

  14. i made 40 feet of garden boxes for under 100 dollars last summer. recycled pallets that i got for free. reuse anything you can. the businesses were happy to get rid of them rather than haul them to the dump.

  15. The tutorial gives advice on using recycled lumber, reinforcing sides, how deep to make it, what kind of soil to put in it, and more. All things that a person who has not gardened before might think of.

  16. Use heat treated pallets specifically marked with “HT”. Beware of using wooden pallets that are treated with arsenic or other harmful chemicals.

  17. Had my first raised garden last summer. It turned out so many vegetables that my husband will extend the raised garden this year to hold more vegetables!

  18. My street – Hurst Ave – is a PUUURfect public space to have these raised beds as a “Community Garden”. We tend to think of gardens as circles or squares, but this would be very “Linear”….almost the entire block from my place. Its a long strip of grass between the public sidewalk and the gate to the private school. Its 300 ish feet long. I have to research who actually owns IT. Some of it is “hilly” – around 20 TO 30+ degree angle, but good for a Grey Water System! Perfect to demonstrate how that can work. And, use the gate as a way to grow food. It gets sun in the a.m. and sun in the afternoons. I visually measured – we could have 20 BEDS! I could get our neighbors to “Adopt-A-Plot”…..we could share / sell to local businesses, do Grow Food Party Crew events! LETS GO GREEN 2015!!!!!!

  19. … does anyone know if you can use stone/moveable boulders for your borders/walls of a raised garden? I live in the southwest and have lots of access to all kinds of rocks/boulders and thought about building a stone wall to line my raised garden. Do you have to worry about anything leaching out of the rocks?

  20. Parents and grandparents gardened similarly, so I grew up gardening both organically, and with raised beds. Only we didn’t know the damage tilling did so my dad tilled the whole thing every year, then we piled up the beds. It was a LOT of work! 🙂 Looking forward to getting my permaculture garden in. Last year, it was all on the deck.

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