building garden beds from scratch

Raised beds, built from scratch

There are many ways to grow your food, and another day we will compare them – including containers, open rows, wicking structures – but today we want to share how OUR raised beds were built from scratch, and why.

Garden bed layout in the journal
A page from my seasonal journal, showing the layout of our rotating beds

New garden raised bed deets

>>> WE ARE EXPERIENCED GARDENERS <<<
We live on 2.5 acres and live sustainably.
Not everyone has the need for garden this big.

That said, we have 9 raised beds in total – 6 long and 3 square in the middle that accommodate more permanent plantings. Here are a few more details:

  • Timbers are treated pine sleepers (not CCA, given we are growing food in them), 200x50mm, 3 metres long. To avoid waste, we decided to make the long beds 3×1.5m and the square 1.5m2 – can’t stand offcuts for the sake of it. Smaller bits left over from other jobs were used as the upright braces. >>>That said, if we did this again, we would make beds only 1.2 wide, as it is sometimes tricky for me (with duck’s disease – haha) to reach into the centre.
  • Fasteners are galvanised buglehead batten screws, because hubby has used them for decades for these kinds of constructions. They have stood the test of time and use.
  • Paths between the beds were chosen at 1.2m because our experience is that works well to navigate with tools, wheelbarrows etc. and not get in each others’ way. Compacted granite sand (‘decomposed granite’) is our favourite material – easy to install, cost effective, easy maintenance and top-up, porous, easy to dig up if you need to move it or access services. It seats the beds in nicely and builds up the level outside the bed so soil and water doesn’t leak out the bottom of bed boxes.
  • Beds were constructed as freestanding braced boxes, two timbers high for back and knee-friendly use and because we have a lot of bunnies here – in good times with plentiful food, they don’t bother trying to get up that high. If we had beds at ground level, a completely rabbit-proof fence would be essential.
  • Layout consists of 6 long beds to allow for either 4-bed rotations with two flower/green manure resting beds, or 6-bed rotations for flexibility if some crops overlap. 3 square beds down the centre for perennial plantings and to act as a ‘nursery’ for more high maintenance cuttings, experiments and new/quarantined plants.
  • Lining the raised beds was natural fibre carpet underlay waste we reused. It was stapled up the sides (that soon rusted away) and formed a good barrier as a starter. After two years, it had composted completely.
  • Soil starter was a manufactured local product, and only enough to fill half of each bed we intended to use up to the first sleeper height. That was on purpose – to keep the liner weighted down and the light out, but more importantly, allow room for the magic of garden trenching.

Unless you are very particular about aesthetics, there is no need to fill and use every raised bed.

In fact, we constructed only three beds at the start, then another three a year later, then finally the smaller ones and paths. It is just too much to learn and maintain all beds at once. If how it looks matters that much, construct and half fill beds, and sow with seed herbs or flowers – cheap, easy and prevents weeds from moving in.
We teach a lot of folks to garden, and we ALWAYS recommend utilising one bed at a time. When one becomes too small for your skills, power up 😉

Paths 1.2m wide allow for barrow traffic but also close enough to enjoy path covers like bean arbors and ‘reo-mesh’ arches.

So, there are the basics of how our beds were made. For what goes IN THE BEDS – crop rotation, plant choices for your area.. we will post many more helpful tips, but we do most of our bed planning with help from our favourite Organic Vegetable Gardening book.
Please do ask questions, so we can know what other details you would like, and to shape future posts.

There are some great books here on Raised Beds too, if you are really keen.

Look wide; grow well.

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