Oh gardening… We’ve definitely had our ups and downs, haven’t we?
From basically planting a lawn in my garden plot by using poorly composted horse manure five years ago, to poisoning my garden last year with tainted hay mulch, I’ve had some absolutely spectacular garden fails. Animal husbandry definitely seems to be more of my thing, but I’ve never been know to quit after falling flat on my face, so onward I march.
Now that the deep mulch chapter of my gardening journey is officially closed (sniff sniff), and it’s time to write a new chapter: raised beds.
Yes indeed. I have jumped on the raised bed bandwagon.
We’ve toyed with this idea for years, but it always got pushed to the back burner. After last year’s garden fail, our choice was to take measures to cleanse our existing plot or try something else entirely. We wanted to expand the garden and make changes anyway, so we decided to start from scratch. *gulp*
Our old plot was pretty small and there was a big tree growing in the middle of it. We wanted to double the size, level the ground, and remove the tree. (Confession: we had a whopping argument over the tree. I wanted to keep it, but ultimately it would have totally been in the way. Just don’t tell the Prairie Husband I said that… ) After many rousing discussions and research, we eventually settled on raised beds. Here’s the scoop:
Choosing Raised Beds: Why and Why Not
Raised Beds are Handy Because:
- They allow the soil to warm up sooner in the spring (this is a definite benefit for us in cold ol’ Wyoming)
- You can more easily control the soil amendments/composition
- They keep things organized and tidy (This was my #1 reason for wanting beds, believe it or not…)
- They can cut down on weeding
- High beds are easier on your back and prevent you from crawling around on the ground as much.
- High beds discourage chickens, dogs, kids and random humans from walking on your soil, which helps to prevent compaction
- They allow for better drainage (We didn’t necessarily need this, but it’s handy if you live in a water-logged area)
- They can provide a really cool aesthetic to your yard/garden area. (At least I think so)
Raised Beds can be a Pain Because…
- Materials for constructing beds can be costly
- It takes time/labor to build beds
- They can dry out more quickly (we plan to combat this with a drip system and small amounts of non-poison mulch…)
This post is not meant to be a sales pitch to get everyone in the world to put in raised beds–they definitely aren’t the right fit for some people. And I know lots of people have different sorts of beds that work beautifully, there is absolutely more than one way to get the job done when it comes to beds. But I’m loving how these look and since I’ve been getting so many questions, I figured I might as well write up the process. Because hey– I’m a blogger and that’s what I do.
Building Raised Beds
There are bazillions of different material options for raised beds, and there are plenty of folks who made this less complicated that we did.
Prairie Husband is a stickler for building things out of quality materials that last, so needless to say, my idea of using old pallets and scrap lumber to construct the beds was quickly vetoed. (The man has serious pallet-prejudice.)
Wood is the most common material for raised beds and we seriously considered it. However, we ultimately went with steel because:
a) If you use cheap, untreated lumber, expect to replace the beds every few years (We are NOT fans of constantly rebuilding stuff. Been there, done that.)
b) Using treated lumber can potentially cause icky chemicals to leach into your soil
c) Long-lasting, natural lumber that isn’t treated (think cedar or redwood) is outrageously expensive if you’re building more than a few beds.
Therefore, we opted to use steel panels and 4×4 redwood posts for the corners. These babies should pretty much last until Armageddon.
I’ve seen photos of other gardens built with the thinner galvanized panels and we did consider those. However, because those panels are thinner, you must build an entire wooden frame to support them so they don’t bow out. That equals more cost in purchasing lumber (and labor in building the frames), so we decided to use extremely heavy-duty steel bridge decking panels instead. Each panel was $150 and we purchased them from a neighbor who uses them to build livestock wind breaks. They are not available at normal places like Lowes or Home Depot, so if you’re looking for them, I’d check steel suppliers or building companies. Overkill? Maybe. But that’s just how we roll.
Each bed is 4’x10′ and there are 20 beds total. The metal panels on each one are 18″ high. The completed beds are a bit taller when you consider the wooden legs, but that also depends on how deeply they are set into the ground. We plan to fill in the walkways with wood chip mulch, which will raise the height of the walkways a bit.
One steel panel can made 1.5 beds. Once you factor in cost of the panels and the cost of the redwood posts, each bed was around $100. That’s more expensive than constructing beds of similar size out of regular lumber, but less expensive that constructing the same beds out of redwood or cedar. Not to mention, these will last much longer than beds built out of traditional lumber.
Construction was pretty simple. Prairie Husband cut the panels with a plasma cutter, and then screwed them to the 4x4s. That was pretty much it.
After leveling the garden plot, we (and by we, I mean Prairie Husband…) set the beds in a row, ran sprinkler line into each one for the drip system, and filled them with soil (using the tractor, of course).
The soil we used was a mix of some leftover topsoil from various yard projects and the soil that was removed in the leveling process. I also added one wheelbarrow-load of well-aged compost to each bed.
Honestly, the part of this process I’m most nervous about is the soil– I might end up sending it in to be tested and then amending as needed. I imagine it’ll be a process to get it just right. I plan on adding more compost to it each year to replenish nutrients.
We’re nowhere near done, but I like how it’s shaping up so far. We’ll be building a fence around the perimeter, filling the walkways with wood chip mulch, and finishing up the drip system. Oh yeah, and planting everything. No big deal, right?
To answer a few questions that came up on Facebook when I posted a picture of the beds:
- No, I am not worried about the metal leaching into the soil. I don’t think steel really leaches…
- Will the metal get hot during summer days? Maybe? Probably a little? But I don’t work during the heat of the day usually anyway. I am highly doubtful it’ll scorch any plants. There’s too much soil in there for that to happen. If you live in a crazy-hot climate (we don’t), it could potentially be an issue you would want to consider.
- The edges of the steel aren’t as sharp as they look– we’ll probably still finish the top with another redwood board, though.
- Will they rust? Probably eventually. But I think it’ll take a while. Nothing lasts forever, but I am convinced these will be more durable than most any other building material out there. (Unless you want to pour beds out of concrete….)
I’ll continue to update you on the progress as the garden continues to take shape, and expect more raised bed posts as I figure out what does/doesn’t work.
If you’re a raised bed veteran, I’d love for you to share your best tips in the comments!