Building Raised Vegetable Garden Beds With Cheapest and Quickest Method.

Spring is in the air and vegetable gardens are just around the corner.  I have recently discovered the joys of gardening.  Last year I tried to grow a garden in some nasty midwestern clay.  I used a tiller to break up the hard clay filled ground. It was a smaller garden then (5 feet x 20 feet).  That dirt was  pure wet clay.  This year I kicked it up a notch by building a raised garden bed.  Why?  Because I can and  because I figured the vegetables would do better in a raised bed with a topsoil composition mixed with  of pulverized black dirt and compost.  With the help of my father-in-law, we decided on our plan of attack.  I made it bigger, wider and longer than my previous gardens and I made it in the cheapest, quickest and best way I knew how.   

Before you begin, make sure you figure out how big a garden you want. One mistake I made last year was planting everything  too close together.  When the plants are small, they give you the illusion of being able to plant everything closer than you should.  Here are some amateur gardening words of wisdom:  If the directions say to plant three feet apart, plant three feet apart.  With that in mind, I more than doubled my garden bed's size.  I decided to make a  24 foot long by 10 foot wide by 10 inch high  raised garden bed.  What materials did I use  to build my raised garden?
  • Treated 2 inch lumber to survive the elements
  • Four Simpson strong tie 3 " x 6 " mending plates to attach lumber for longer gardens
  • Screws to attach the corners
  • Rebar stakes and some 3 inch galvanized nails to secure the rebar into place 
  • Black pulverized dirt/compost mix 
What tools are necessary to make it all happen? 
  • Tarps to protect your black dirt from rain once it's delivered
  • A truck to haul your wood home from the lumber yard
  • A drill to screw in your corners
  • A wheelbarrow to haul your dirt into your raised garden beds
  • A sledgehammer to pound the rebar into the ground
  • A hammer to secure your rebar into the wood
  • Lot's of muscle power
Once you have all your materials,  building your garden bed is quick and easy.  The first thing we did was hammer the razor sharp edges of the mending plates onto each side of the lumber.  We had a 14 foot long and a 10 foot long board that we connected end to end by using a mending plate on the inside and outside of each board.  Here's a picture below  of the mending plates in action on our raised garden bed. You can see the plates at about the 14 foot mark on both the inside and outside of the boards.  You just hammer the razor sharp edges into the boards.  That's all there is to it.  We attached the mending plates perpendicular to the ground.  You can see how nasty that clay was in last years garden.  Say goodbye to that with raised garden beds.

Mending plates connecting long pieces of lumbar

Garden edge.
After making both our 24 foot long boards, we connected them to our two 10 foot ends by screwing them in with five 3 1/2 inch construction grade screws  on each corner for a total of 25 screws.  Here's a picture of the screw job. As you can see the wood, while originally perfectly aligned was bowing out due to the weight of the dirt, which lead me to back track and place  rebar stakes for extra support.  I placed one 24 inch rebar stake every four feet on the long boards (five total on the long board) and one in the middle on each 10 foot board. I didn't need any stakes for the board up  against my fence, so I only bought seven rebar stakes.  

Rebar stack for support.
After pounding the rebar stakes  in with a sledgehammer, I secured them with galvanized nails as seen in here in this picture. This is the quickest and easiest way to build raised garden beds.  Now comes the fun part.  Filling it up with dirt.

You need to calculate the volume of your raised garden bed.  Here's where a little calculator help comes in handy.  24 feet X 10 ft X  (10 in/12in) = 200 cubic feet.  There are 27 cubic feet in one cubic yard.  So I needed 200/27, or 7.4 cubic yards of dirt to fill my vegetable garden bed.  That's a lot of dirt.  I paid the $40 delivery charge and they dumped an entire dump truck of that stuff  on my driveway.  Here's a picture of seven cubic yards of a 50:50 mix of black pulverized dirt and compost, otherwise known as top soil.  It's actually a little less since I had already scooped a bit.

Raised-Garden-Box-Bed-Dirt-Pile-Seven Cubic Yards
200 cubic feet of dirt.  

Spreading out dirt in raised garden bed.
That's an eight cubic foot wheelbarrow above.  I bought mine at Tractor Supply for $85.  Who knew wheelbarrows cost that much?  How many trips does it take to haul 200 cubic feet in an 8 cubic foot wheelbarrow?    200/8 is 25.  I'm pretty sure I did more than that down a steep bank to my back yard. In addition, spreading all that dirt was exhausting.  But once I was done, I had the pleasure of knowing I would have a raised garden bed for years and years to come.  You can see in this picture of me spreading the dirt that  I had failed to place the supporting rebar stakes before hauling in the dirt.  

Bowing of lumbar.

I noticed after hauling in half the dirt that my 24 foot long mending plate reinforced board was starting to bow out.  So I scooped a little trench along the inside edge of the board to take off the pressure and went to buy my rebar stakes.  Here's what the wood looked like as it bowed out requiring me to place the rebar support stakes for my raised garden bed.  While it is still bowed slightly, it ain't goin' anywhere anytime soon.  The stakes are  hammered a good 14-18 inches into the ground and and each stake is nailed two or three times into the wood for support.

And what does my finished product look like?  Feast your eyes on the cheapest, easiest and greatest raised garden bed ever!  Raised garden beds like this will offer years of satisfying gardening enjoyment.  Now the only question is, "What do I plant in it?"  The guy at the dirt place told me to avoid big box retailers for potted plants.  He recommended going to garden nurseries where they have a bigger selection and who's plants grow bigger and longer  because of their growing techniques.  I think I may take him up on that offer this year and do a year over year comparison.

Raised-Garden-Box-Bed-Filled with dirt
Completed raised garden bed.

Here's an itemized cost analysis  for building my raised garden bed.
  • Treated lumber 
    • 14 ft x 10 in x 2 in:  16 dollars each (2)  = $32
    • 10 ft x 10 in x 2 in:  10 dollars each (4) = $40
  • Mending plates, box of six for $6       
  • Screws, big box of 3 1/2 inchers for $5
  • Box of 3 inch galvanized nails for $4
  • Rebar stakes, seven stakes for $3 each= $21
  • 50:50 mix of pulverized black dirt and compost $32 a cubic yard x 7 cubic yards = $225
  • Delivery charge for dirt  $40
What did it cost me to build my raised garden bed?  The box cost me  $108.  With the dirt  the total cost was about $373 dollars.  That may seem like a lot for the first year, but year after year, it will cost me nothing.  And I look forward to planting in dirt instead of clay.  I suspect having a raised garden beds like this adds far more $373 in resale value down the road as gardening becomes more popular and people will pay to have that option in their yard.    For a yard of my size and in my neighborhood, this garden is big and will bring years of enjoyment for a small price to pay in building  However, if you just want to buy one and be done with it, go to Amazon to find your quick and dirty raised garden bed.

UPDATE:  Here's a July 2010 picture of the garden in action!

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