A Raised Garden Bed, Because I Guess it’s Really Not Going to Snow this Year

I was going to call that picture, “A quick and easy garden bed” or something of the sort. But then we spent all weekend on it, and then I realized I had something like 22 pictures for this post, and…..I decided to just go with the more correct “simple.”

The weekend, to be fair, was tainted by illness and filled with performances of Aladdin, but still…this took longer than I expected. But not because it was hard, just because there more steps/trips to Home Depot involved than we had really fully grasped. At any rate…here’s the story of our simple garden bed.

I’ve mentioned before that our old house was on a very heavily wooded acre of land. Trees and moss and assorted ferns did just great there, but anything else was a challenge. The only spot that got any sun at all was  in our front yard, right by the road (where they’d had to cut trees down to, you know….make the road), so we put up a little picket fence and put some beds down behind it, and some years we managed to eke out a semi-decent harvest on the 4 or so hours of sun we got a day in the middle of summer. Attempts to expand beyond basic vegetable gardening inevitably ended in failure. Blueberries, apple trees, rhubarb….sad, sad sunless failures.

So I was pretty excited about the possibilities that our new, almost completely treeless, more or less flat, ridiculously sunny and hot half acre offered us. We didn’t move in until mid May last year, so we didn’t manage to get anything planted last summer. But this summer I’m determined to do…something. I tend to be a very enthusiastic and ambitious gardener in the planning stages and a very lazy one when it comes to the execution, so I prudently decided to start small. Specifically, I’m aiming for this one garden bed, maybe another row of tomatoes somewhere, and a few blueberry bushes (if it’s not already too late to plant them; I keep meaning to check). And between that and trimming the bushes out front, I think I’ll be sufficiently overwhelmed for this year.

In the past we’ve always done four by four foot beds, for this is what the author of our favorite gardening book, Square Foot Gardening, tells us to do. But this time we decided to get all crazy and do an eight by four foot one instead, mostly because it would use less wood and save us a little money.

(Incidentally, my friend Tracy asked me why we’re doing a raised bed at all, as opposed to just planting stuff in the ground. And my answer is….uhh, I’m not really sure. Because that’s the way we’ve always done it? Soil around here tends to be pretty terrible…all red clay. But, I mean, stuff DOES grow in it. And one can always mix in compost and such. At any rate, I think we’re going to experiment with digging up some actual ground, too, and see how things compare. Although I like the way neat little rows of raised beds LOOK, too).

We decided on cedar for the wood, in hopes that it will last longer than cheaper pine. We bought two eight foot, 1 by 6 planks and then Dave and his helpers sawed one of them in half to make the shorter ends:

This is right after Dave told them, “remember: turn your heads because I don’t have enough safety goggles for everyone.” Umm….yeah, maybe time to buy more safety goggles. But they were fine.

I bought Dave a Kreg Jig for Christmas, and this was the first project he used it for. So before things could progress, he and the kids had to spend some of Saturday morning watching the DVD it came with. This was way shorter than I feared; they even had time to watch some of the advanced parts. Building a garden bed isn’t advanced, but now they’re ready for anything:

Then back down to the basement to drill our first ever pocket holes!

Dave says that, although he likes his Kreg Jig, he doesn’t think using it for this job was really any better than just screwing it together the old fashioned way. Oh well. At least now he knows how to use it.

We took the boards outside to put them together. It was a lovely day. Once you have your pocket holes drilled, you just use your Kreg screws and attach the boards together (or you just screw the boards together into a rectangle, if you’re skipping the Kreg Jig part):

The dogs really like the garden bed. They appreciated the scent of cedar, apparently:

It was not as sturdy as we had hoped after this step (in fact, it, uhh….fell apart and required new pocket holes and reassembly at one point), so Dave reinforced the corners by screwing in some little blocks of scrap wood:

And then it was finished!

….except that garden beds don’t do you much good if you don’t plant a garden in them, so, really, we had to keep going.

We went to Home Depot and bought lots of garden soil and top soil and compost (this is the part where you remember how expensive making a raised bed is. Of course, you only have to buy it the first year; after that you just mix in compost and you’re good). Mel Bartholomew, of Square Foot Gardening fame, recommends a mix of vermiculite, peat moss, and compost. But we’ve spent too many hours in past year looking all over for vermiculite, so we decided to just go with what they had at Home Depot instead.

We lined the bottom of the bed with cardboard to help keep weeds under control:

And then we added all the dirt:

The baby took a nap while Gable babysat:

And Ari was still sick:

This is the point where we sometimes, in years past, might have gotten lazy and started putting seeds in. But Mel says you don’t really have a square foot garden at all if you don’t section your squares off somehow. So, to make Mel happy, we made a grid of square feet out of twine:

(the book gives you all the details about how many of each kind of vegetable you can plant per square foot).

Some plants are supposed to grow up some netting to save space. We have some frames for the netting, made out of metal pipe and elbow brackets, saved from our old garden. Dave hammered some rebar into the ground and put the frame over it:

Planning this part is when we realized the disadvantage of an 8 by 4 bed. We’d originally planned to have the bed going the other way and have TWO of those frames on the fence side of the bed (the fence is on the north, so we want the tall plants there so they don’t block the sun). Only then we realized that would make some of the inner squares hard to reach (I had to actually draw a picture and start planning what to plant in each square before I realized this). Our solution is only doing one frame and then maybe putting in a few more tomatoes (one of our frame growers) somewhere else. I don’t mind this so much, because I noticed that they have purple tomato cages at Home Depot. And I’m not too broken up about having an excuse to buy purple tomato cages.

Then it was finally time to start planting! We’re still working on this part (and it’s too early for some stuff still), but we planted the strawberry plants that we bought at Home Depot and three squares of carrot seeds (16 per square):

And then all that remained was the watering!

Gus keeps asking what we’re going to plant tomorrow. Let’s hope his enthusiasm is still there when it’s 98 degrees in July and it’s time to go weed!

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A Raised Garden Bed, Because I Guess it’s Really Not Going to Snow this Year — 29 Comments

  1. Between your boys and Gable I’d stay at your house until my welcome was worn out. Garden beds are on our list too, sadly it snowed last night…so I’m basically just upset that you have sun.

    • The sun is gone today….I was totally unprepared for the return of cold and rain! But, yeah, you should just come on down here and wait out the cold weather up there 😉

  2. Ohhhh this looks fantastic. And I am envious that you can just go buy planed cedar, where as I had to have mine planed first, so when we make our raised beds, it’s going to be fir or red wood for us.

    It looks so good.

    Love your wooden dino in the basement. B has one slightly smaller that is waiting to go back into his room 🙂

  3. this is awesome. I cannot imagine where you used to live that had only 4 hours of hot sun in the summer. I live in the bottom of NZ and we have about 18 hours of sun in the summer and it gets too much!! visiting from the Picket Fence spring link.

    • Well, we grow nothing but gluten-laden wheat and barley in our garden bed. Kidding! Entirely gluten free. I do think making the raised bed offsets any savings, at least for the first year, sadly. But it’s more fun to garden than grocery shop!

  4. This a fantastic raised garden bed! How great to have the boys helping out too! Such a great experience for all! Oh and I got a good chuckle seeing the baby on the blanket and the dog standing near! My 5 month old does not nap so you are a lucky mama! Happy planting and growing!

  5. I support the purchase of purple tomato cages, but could you also just put the second frame with netting on the north side of the rectangle, only covering half that side? Since the sun comes from slightly to the south, I would think tall things on the north side of the rectangle would not put other plants in the shade. Just an idea.

    If I ever have a vegetable garden again, I am definitely doing raised beds.


    • We thought about that, but there would actually still be two squares that were kind of caught in the middle and hard to reach. And, of course, also….purple tomato cages.

  6. I loved seeing your box. I’m thinking of doing one. I also love your big dog? Is it a Golden Doodle? I have a Golden Doodle that looks just like this one! I got it from two guys in North Nashville, TN.

    • Thanks, Joy! I definitely see a resemblance to golden doodles in him, but we think he’s actually some kind of big shaggy sheepdog. The shelter called him Old English Sheepdog….it’s all just a guessing game, though, since he’s from the shelter 🙂

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