DIY DIVA
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Raised Garden Beds: The Holy-Shit-I-Built-These-for-$25 Edition

April 9, 2013 | 34 Comments | DIY How To
DIY diva

To understand why I was doing an awkward elaine-esq version of a happy dance around a couple of these babies that magically appeared in my yard this weekend…

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(And by “magically appeared” I mean “were brought into existence by the blood, sweat, and tears of yours truly“) you first have to understand that this was not my first foray into the fantastical land of building raised garden beds. Oh no, this journey began four fricking years ago, when I built the mother of all raised beds at Memorial using $150 worth of cedar 2×6′s and 4×4′s. (You can read more about the construction of those behemoths here.)

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You want to talk about a sturdy piece of landscaping? MysteryMan’s grandpa almost ran over one of these things with the tractor and it was like the buick of raised beds… didn’t even dent the damn fender.

I built two of them, and while I wasn’t ever able to turn this into the garden of my dreams (since I was, you know, living in a garage and somewhat occupied with building a house at the time) I knew I wanted to use similar raised beds at Liberty. But I did not want to spend $150 per bed because, hello, I have a dozen mouths to feed on this property all of the sudden. And then I was loitering outside the harware store, looking at fencing for yet another project, when the skies parted and the angels started to sing because there, right in front of my face, were 6′ long 1×6 fence posts for $2.25 apiece.

They’re obviously not nearly as indestructible as a 2×6, but for less than three bucks I figured it was worth knocking a couple of boxes together to see how they held up. And by “a couple” I mean six. For $25 each.

This is what six boxes worth of lumber (plus a few 2x4s for my in-progress chicken coop) look like stacked in the back of my vehicle. Along with a spare tire (don’t ask.)

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Here’s the breakdown of what I used per-bed:

  • 6 -6″ cedar fence pickets (5/8″ thick, 6′ long)
  • 1+ cedar 2×4 (6 19″ sections per bed)
  • 1-5/8″ deck screws
  • Bigass miter saw
  • Drill

They measure just under 3′x6′, are about 11″ deep, and are light enough that I could pick them up and haul them around the property on my own, which is not an insignificant feature.

The first step was to cut the last inch of each board that was dog-eared off so that I’d have 36 straight boards. Since 6′ is too long to set up the guard on my saw and I didn’t want to measure each board, I used the “line ‘er up and cut” method of measurement.

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Basically I just cut the first board, then set it on top of two uncut boards, lined the ends up and used it to mark where to cut. Zipping through two at a time made fast work of it.

For the short pieces I cut a third of the boards in half using the actual stops on the miter saw stand.

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I remember when my dad taught me this trick a decade ago. It was totally mind-blowing that I didn’t have to measure every. single. board. For this reason alone, I’d highly recommend having a stand for your miter saw if you’ve got room for one.

I used the same trick to cut the 2×4′s for the posts down to 19″ (five to a board) and at the end of thirty minutes had six piles of lumber ready to be assembled into boxes.

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Then came the pre-drilling portion of our program, which, honestly, pre-drilling is like the nails-on-chalkboard of building shit for me… it drives me crazy and I don’t know why, but with a 5/8″ thick board, I didn’t want to risk any splitting so the Makita and I spent some quality time together…

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I heart this drill.

So, I kept the pre-drilled holes for the short sides closer to the ends, and for the long sides closer to the middle so that the screws wouldn’t intersect in the posts.

Then, the assembly.

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Once the long sides were done I flipped them up on end and attached the short sides…

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Just like that.

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If you’re looking for a beginner woodworking or outdoor project, I would highly recommend this one. It’s cheap and there’s almost no way to mess it up. There is a way to get a centimeter long splinter in your finger though so, you know, run your hands lovingly over rough-cut cedar at your own risk.

On Sunday I assembled four of the six boxes. I haven’t installed any at Liberty yet because I’m still finalizing plans for the garden and chicken coop, but two of the boxes were for some friends, and we did get those in the ground…

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They were actually much sturdier than I expected once they were set in the ground. To finish them off we’ll install some weed barrier fabric (or cardboard) in the bottom of the boxes, fill them with topsoil, and farm away.

I’m also planning to install a weed barrier around the boxes and fill the “walking paths” with some pea gravel. A ridiculously large pile of which was conveniently deposited in my driveway this weekend.

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That’s going to be a not insignificant amount of time spent with a shovel and wheelbarrow this spring.

Next up for the garden will be assembling the final two boxes, and building a couple of these ingenious vertical gardens…

 

DIY diva

    Comments

  • Nikki


    You are my HERO! I have been looking for an affordable way to build cedar raised beds, and I never once thought about fence pickets. I just checked my local Menards, and they are only $2.35 each! And since I’m planning on at least six of these…well, you get the picture!

    Can’t wait to see how your coop turns out! We are “remodeling” ours this summer, since our MN winter did a number on their run, and the chickens are completely free-range at this point (my neighbors love me, by the way).

  • Marie Roxanne


    Great looking beds! Seems easy enough for anyone to build.

  • AZ DIY Guy


    I think Freddy Mercury had it wrong, it’s actually “big ass miter saws” that make the rockin’ world go ’round.

    Very cool project, but the BAMS reference is what got me chuckling. I may want to use that in the future.

  • Christine


    You do love giving yourself lots to do, don’t you. Haha. What are you thinking of planting?

    • Kit


      I just can’t stop! I’ll definitely have tomatoes, snap peas and green beans, and then zucchini and summer squash, some cucumbers, pickles, herbs, and lettuces. That should keep me busy!

      • Christine


        I did zucchini last year, make sure to leave lots of room for them, they took over my garden and produced zucchini larger than my head!

  • Janeothejungle


    Alright. Straight dope. Is that 5/8″ going to stand up to the wet-weight-dirt-and-growing-things stresses?? I am ridiculously attracted to shit I can cart around easily and am very very tempted to have a go, but I wonder…… The scientist in me wants you to set up an experiment. The girl in me just likes the pretty.

    Props for 6 boxes worth of ‘stuff’ in one car load.

    Cheers,
    Kat

    • Kit


      It’s a good question and I won’t know until they go through a full season. I’m more worried about how quickly the cedar will rot/degrade more than if it will bow or break. (ie, I’m wondering if they’ll only last 2-3 seasons). Only one way to find out, and I’d still be happy to get a few seasons out of them.

  • Sarah In Illinois


    My mom has always wanted raised beds….hmmmm….maybe a chance to build something and knock out a Mother’s Day gift?

  • Sandra


    I love the raised beds. I just dread the weeding that comes with all gardens. Recently, I found the neighbor’s kid playing in an admittedly poorly defined flower bed. Then I figured out that my cat was using the bed as a giant outdoor litter box. That’s some bad neighbor karma.

    • Dave


      Raised beds solve a lot of the typical garden problems. Weeding is kept at a minimum and if you keep at it for one year so the weeds don’t go to seed, following years will be almost weed free.

      • Sandra


        That sounds fantastic, but I have never had that happen. Weeds seem to always trying to hang out with my irises.

  • Kenz @ Interiors By Kenz


    Oh hey. I think I really like these. I really want raised garden beds. So, I’ll probably have to put my big girl panties on and just do it. I am feeling extra lazy though. So maybe next year. I think that’s what I said last year. Damn.

  • Dave


    Give some serious consideration to installing a brace across the middle of the box to tie the two long sides together. The weight if the soil will bow out the middle even with the 2×4 posts sunk into the ground. I know from experience. And trying to install that brace after its full of dirt is a pain.

    • Kit


      I actually don’t think it will, given the middle posts. The ones I installed at my friends house were much sturdier than I anticipated (there’s less than 3 feet unsupported and the depth of the posts is really what will hold the weight). Only way to really tell is to test them out though.

  • Kit's Mom


    I want to help with the gravel!

  • anne


    damn that is a lot of gravel. We had half that size delivered and it felt like we might never finish wheeling it in. I love the look it gives to the garden though.

    Have fun gardening!

  • Julia at Home on 129 Acres


    Is the weed barrier necessary? I hate weeding as much as anyone, but is it really effective? (I’ve never done raised beds before and read the comments that they have fewer weeds with interest).

    Oh, and good luck with the wheelbarrow. We too have an alarmingly large gravel pile. Except ours is a gift from previous owners and is waaaay out behind the barn stranded part way between two hay fields. It looks like perhaps two dump trucks worth. I don’t think a wheelbarrow is going to cut it. But our muddy driveway could really use some fresh gravel dammit!

  • Nikki @ 86nIt


    Brilliant idea.

    And I’m with you, I HATE pre-drilling. Gets on my nerves. Sometimes I’ll just hammer in a nail instead and then yank it out. Stupid, but it isn’t as annoying as changing the drill bit for the millionth time.

  • katie


    Lol… I love it! Great job for making these for just $25!

  • Sydney


    I too have been trying to figure out an inexpensive way to make a fenced in gardens. Way too many critters here to leave any veggie unfenced. I have a question about the fence boards. Are they left untreated and safe to use in the veggie gardens? I’ve been having a tough time figuring out what wood to use without spending a small fortune.

  • Kylae J


    Your beds are amazingly beautiful! This is exactly what I needed. Thank you!!!

  • Newton's Mom


    Thank you so much for this post. We made the raised beds using your formula and a several months later are feasting on the best cucumbers ever :)

  • Lauren


    Thank you for the instructions! I was at Lowes a few months back looking at lumber and the fence posts had me thinking. I’m wondering if you had any bowing in the middle? How did they hold up through the winter? My building project begins next weekend. Wood is in the garage now. :-)

  • Rebecca


    Thanks so much for this tutorial!! Planing on starting my first garden with my 2 and 5 year old and this is the perfect price and size :) I was just wondering if you have any updates on how they are holding up and if you would recommend any changes.

    Thanks again!!

    • Kit


      So far, so good! I plan to make more the same way this year.

      • OutsideAllDay


        Hello Kit,

        Can you post a picture of what the beds look like today so I can show my wife? I’m trying to convince my wife to build her beds using these instead of the heavier, more expensive 2 x 6 but she’s not convinced they will hold up.

        Have you notice any bowing issues after a year? And do you think I could get by without burying the legs 2-3 inches into the ground instead of 8″ like you did?

        • Kit


          See this post for how the beds look a year later:
          There is a little bowing but not much, if you use 4×4′s instead of 2x’s that would probably take care of it, OR use 2x’s and sink them two feed into the ground. 2-3″ will make the bowing a lot worse, since those posts provide the structural support for the beds.

  • Fred


    Wonderful job… For those worrying about bowing… just change the 2x4s to the outside.

  • John


    Excellent! And I agree, making the beds shorter – but more of them – should help the soil weight bowing problem. Creating some sort of below the soil barrier around the edge of the beds is essential to keeping grass and weeds out too. (Found that out the hard way.) I staple gunned that cheap plastic edging to the bottom outside edge of my bed, then dug an equal depth trench before I laid out my bed. No more invading grass. Also leave out the landscaping fabric off the bottom of the bed – if you’ve done your homework and dug out most of the grass and weeds – they will be minimal and easily pulled. Your plants will be much happier without the fabric because earthworms will soon invade your bed and set up camp there. With the fabric in place? No naturally-occurring earthworms and if it rains they may not be able to burrow to the depth they need in the soil to survive.

    • Kit


      I used cardboard in the bottoms of my beds. It should decompose in a year or two, but kill off any grass in the process without digging, etc. Everything has been great in my 2nd-year beds so far!

  • Christy


    I was wondering if you knew about how much soil you used to fill each bed. Just curious. Thanks

  • Trackbacks

  • Trackback from Twosday: Grow Edition |
    Tuesday, 7 May, 2013

    [...] A friend of mine keeps telling me how easy they are to build, and Kit over at DIY Dive just wrote a how-to post on it so I might give it a go this weekend.  After all, I did buy seeds to plant in my [...]

  • Trackback from End of the Garden 2013: Planning for Next Year | DIY Home Improvement Blog
    Thursday, 21 November, 2013

    […] the weekend I finally got around to cleaning out all of those raised beds I built and grew an overwhelming amount of tomatoes in this year. (I also grew green beans, brussels […]

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