Building Raised Garden Beds

Spring is here and we are about to start planting up the garden beds again. Someone asked about building the beds so now seems like a good time to document how we did it.

We started in January with a bare patch of gravel behind the house that faced North, ensuring all day sun. Luckily it was just gravel over clay so it it made the decision to go with raised beds easy (and we had no turf or weeds to clear).

We got a local sawmill to rip us up some 200x50mm boards from Old Man Pine – you know the big old knarly pines you see on farms. The wood is full of resin so will last as long as macrocarpa or other hardwoods outside. The important thing is to avoid using treated timber if you can help it. The CCA process for tanalising stands for Copper, Chrome and Arsenic – not things I want around my veges. I’ve heard of people lining treated timber with polythene, but I don’t think it’s worth the trouble.

We got a couple of loads of soil delivered as we did’t have the time to create compost from scratch. Our local tip takes in green waste and for a very reasonable fee will deliver truckloads of lovely rich soil.

The beds themselves are really simple – 2.5m long by 1.4m wide. You want to maximise the width of your beds, but make sure you can reach the centre from either side. My arms can reach, but some of our visitors/helpers had trouble so I might go with 1.2m wide on future beds.

I used two 5 inch nails in each end to hold the sides together. If you use a larger nail you’ll have to pre-drill the holes to prevent splitting.

Here are the beds with soil going in. I ripped up a few spare pieces of timber into battens for the corners. Once they were nailed in, we stretched shade cloth around the beds. This gave the veges good shelter for an exposed site and kept most of the pests off the beds (rabbits and cats). More of the same timber went into trellises for the beans and peas.

That’s all there is to it really. The gravel provides great drainage and because we got fertile soil brought in, we didn’t have to do too much in the way of mulching or composting. We have been composting horse manure, chicken poo and stable straw this year so there will be lots of fertility going back into the gardens this month. If you are rotating crops you only have to do a serious compost application every third year, but that’s for another post.

Finally, here’s the garden today – coming out of a productive winter. We’re still picking celery, carrots, leeks, spring onions, spinach, silverbeet, lettuce and herbs. The rabbits have eaten my broccoli and bok choy, but you can’t win them all.


  1. Margaret Says :
    30 September, 2008 at 9:03 pm

    Hi John, I am incredulous that you got such success from beds that appear to be less than a foot deep in soil. I thought plants needed more depth than that.

  2. John Says :
    1 October, 2008 at 9:41 am

    Hi Margaret. Indeed, the beds are about 8 inches deep, but the soil provides all that the plants need, even if the roots can’t go as deep as they’d like. If you think about hydroponic growing, that’s based on 3 inches of water, which is just a medium for delivering the nutrients. The weeds on the paths seem to grow quite happily on no soil at all :)

    The trade-off is that with shallow roots, the plants are less hardy through dry times so you have to be more vigilant with watering in the summer. The other gardens I’m developing in the paddock above the house are more traditional and I’ll be able to plant much wider spacings to take advantage of the moisture below. With more space to play with I can do some experiments with zero-watering gardens – apparently it is possible with the right technique.

  3. Jane Eschenbach Says :
    18 November, 2008 at 8:17 am

    This is looking great, John. We’re looking forward to your practical assistance with setting up ours now :)!!!!

    Roll on the corn and potato crops for our 4 ever-growing and constantly-hungry boys. And if you need some manual labour in miniature form, just call up our boys on a Saturday or during the holidays!

    Cheers, Pete & Jane Eschenbach

  4. John Says :
    19 November, 2008 at 7:08 pm

    Thanks Jane – there are always plenty of manual labour tasks around here if suburbia isn’t burning up enough of their energy :)

  5. Vicki Says :
    14 April, 2010 at 11:46 pm

    Fantastic setup, I’m officially coveting your gardens! I just wish I’d found your site before I made my beds – yours look like much less work than mine were to build … ah well, I will bookmark this page for the next wave of raised beds I plan to make. Excellent – thanks!

  6. wayne d Says :
    16 February, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    love the raised beds i want to build a couple but 2 by cedar is not an option, i live in wisconsin and i would like my beds to be at least 12 ” high , you wrote about pine boards {more in my price range } ,what do you mean about resin ? are they fresh cut and not kiln dried or what . your info is very much appreitiated .

  7. John Says :
    16 February, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    Thanks Wayne

    The pine I mentioned is what we call Old Man Pine, or ~100 year old trees rough sawn and the wood used wet. The resin is what makes the wood so resistant to pests and rot.

  8. wayne d Says :
    17 February, 2011 at 11:49 am

    were would you find such wood and is it fairly reasonable ? i thought of making some raised beds out of 3/4 ” ceadar and stakeing it every so often. just trying to find a more cost effective way of making them.

  9. Weekend Project « Making Cents Says :
    2 February, 2012 at 9:56 am

    [...] the wood is very thin and wouldn’t last long). I’m planning on building something like this and I’d like three beds eventually, but we’ll see how the first goes. I’ll be [...]

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