Follow Our Easy 10-step Guide and Start Growing Your Own Food in No Time
In this article, I want to show you how easy it is to create the perfect vegetable-growing patch. Whether you have ground space in your garden or the perfect spot on a patio, a raised vegetable garden will help you to grow your own food.
It’s easier than you might think. I’ve been growing my own vegetables for a few years now and trust me; it’s worth it! Homegrown veg tastes great, and you’ll save so much money as well.
First, I want to explain all about raised beds. Then we’ll move on to an easy 10-step guide to building your own. Or you can buy a readymade freestanding one and get growing straight away.
What Is a Raised Bed?
A raised bed is a box-like structure that you fill with topsoil and compost for growing plants in. The level of the soil is raised above the rest of your garden and kept separate.
Some gardeners like to use them to grow plants that they can’t otherwise grow in their garden soil – for example, if you want to grow heathers but your garden soil is alkaline (heathers prefer acid soil).
Raised beds are also great for growing many other plants and even shrubs and small trees. They are particularly helpful when it comes to growing fruit and vegetables.
Why Are Raised Beds Good for Growing Veg?
A raised vegetable garden has many benefits. I’ve listed a few below:
- The soil in a raised vegetable garden warms up more quickly in the spring than your garden soil. This means you can start growing your veg earlier in the year
- A raised bed can be covered with netting easily to keep pests off
- You can keep your veg organised and rotating crops to improve soil nutrients is easy if you have a few raised beds
- Enriching the soil in a raised bed means you keep the nutrients where you need them, for your veg
- If you build quite tall raised beds, you will do less bending down and kneeling
- Raised beds drain more quickly than garden soil. This is helpful if you live on heavy clay soil
- You will have more soil in your raised beds than you can put in containers, so you shouldn’t need to water as often as pots.
What Can You Grow in Raised Beds?
You can grow pretty much any vegetables in raised beds. Soft fruits such as strawberries, raspberries and blackberries also work well.
Think about what you most like to eat. I like to grow salad leaves such as rocket, cress and lettuce, some root vegetables such as beetroot and potatoes, and a few different peas and beans. Especially runner beans, because they are so easy to grow!
Building a Raised Bed Veg Garden – Getting Started
Where to Put Your Raised Bed
First of all, think about what size you want the raised vegetable bed to be and where you are going to put it. As well as space for the bed you’ll need to allow room to get around it easily. You’ll want to be able to reach into it to plant, harvest and weed, so avoid making it wider than 1.5m/5ft.
How Big Should a Raised Bed Be?
I find it helps to do a little sketch when you’re planning something like this in the garden. You don’t need to be Van Gogh, don’t worry. Just draw out the size and shape you want on a piece of paper and do some measuring up.
You’ll need about 0.3m/1ft of space all around, but more like 0.5m/18 inches if you want to get a wheelbarrow through. Think about the width of the garden equipment you might want to take backwards and forwards.
Ideal Size for a Raised Vegetable Bed
A width of 1.5m/5ft and length of 2.1m/7ft makes a good rectangular raised bed shape – but see what will fit best in your garden. Don’t make beds too long; otherwise, you might be tempted to step in them to make a shortcut, which will compact the soil and ruin some of your crops too!
Choose Your Materials
Is this going to be a permanent feature or something you want to try out temporarily this year to see if you like it? If you want something permanent, you might consider brick-built or stone-built raised beds or pre-cast concrete ones which are already shaped for you. Wood is easy to work with and doesn’t require bricklaying skills. You could build the beds with sawn logs, gravel boards or scaffolding boards. Or, you could make use of readymade raised bed kits. Have a look at all the different options below.
Bricks or Stone
Great for permanent structures in your garden. Consider how much it will cost to build a raised bed in stone or brick and the additional skills you might need to bring in. Raised beds built with masonry need footings and a bricklayer.
Old scaffolding boards make brilliant raised beds, and they are relatively cheap. Gravel boards are good too – these are the bits of wood that fence panels are built on top of, to separate the fence from the ground. Or try something a bit different – sawn logs stacked and held together with metal rods give a rustic appearance.
Untreated timber can last pretty well. Buying treated (known as ‘tanalised’) timber will preserve your wooden raised beds for a few more years, or you can treat them yourself with wood preservative. If you use treated timber, it’s a good idea to line the raised bed with polythene before you add the soil, to stop any of the wood preservative leachings into your vegetables.
Ready-Made and Other Materials
You can buy pre-formed raised beds made in concrete, reconstituted stone and even timber-effect recycled plastic. This cuts out the making part of the process entirely and is a great option if you want to spend your time growing rather than building.
If you are just starting out in vegetable growing or don’t want to commit to a permanent structure in your garden quite yet, I think the freestanding ones you can now buy are a great choice. They are often called raised bed planters or trugs.
You can get various sizes, and they don’t take up much space. But if you are ready to build your own, here’s how to do it with wooden boards.
Making a Raised Bed Vegetable Garden – Easy 10 Step Guide
What you’ll need:
- Reel of garden twine
- Measuring tape
- 45cm (18 inches) wooden stakes – at least 4 per bed
- Wooden planks cut to length – scaffolding or gravel boards are ideal
- Soil (if you don’t have good quality garden topsoil) – John Innes No 2 or 3
- Gravel/rubble for drainage layer
THIS GUIDE IS FOR BUILDING A RAISED BED STRAIGHT ONTO BARE EARTH IN YOUR GARDEN. IF YOU ARE PLANNING TO BUILD ON A HARD SURFACE LIKE A PATIO, READ THE EXTRA ADVICE AT POINTS 9 AND 10 BELOW.
- Clear your chosen site of all weeds and vegetation and make sure the ground is level – you can use a spirit level to check.
- Use canes and garden twine to mark out the shape of the bed.
- Hammer 7.5 x 7.5cm (3 inch square) wooden stakes into the ground at each corner, and at other intervals if you are building a long bed. They will need to go at least 30cm or a 1ft into the ground. These will support the sides of your raised bed.
- Attach your wooden planks to the retaining wooden stakes with screws. Check everything is level again.
- Heap up the earth a little around the outside of your planks, all the way around the base of the bed, to about 3cm (1.5in) high. This will stop soil leaking out of the raised bed onto your paths.
- Once the sides are up, dig plenty of compost into the soil within the bed. Or, if your raised bed is going to be deeper than 50cm (20in), take out the topsoil (you will add it back in later). Add the turf you removed when you were clearing the space, and any old rubble and gravel. This is to help drainage. Put the topsoil back on top of this, firm everything down and dig in plenty of compost.
- If the soil isn’t good quality, leave it as a base and add new soil on top – John Innes No2 or No3 are good choices.
- Leave the ground to settle for a couple of weeks before planting your veg. You can be planning what goes where during this time and getting your seeds and plants ready.
- For raised beds on patios: Make sure you build it at least 60cm/2ft deep because plants will need enough room to root. This also means you won’t need to water as often.
- For raised beds on patios: Add extra drainage material in the base if you are building a patio raised bed. A 10cm layer of gravel or stones works well. Cover with soil and compost as above. This also applies if your garden soil doesn’t drain well.
You can also join scaffolding planks together by cutting notches out with a handsaw and jigsaw, and then slotting them together in a neat fashion.
This is a straightforward design, but I’ve decided to keep my guide as simple as possible by featuring equipment that most people will have at home. Not everyone has a jigsaw hanging around in their garden shed!
Five Top Tips for the Best Raised Vegetable Garden
- Build a raised vegetable garden in winter or late summer, so you are ready for the start of the growing season.
- In dry weather, water raised beds regularly – the soil will dry out more quickly than it does in your garden.
- Avoid using railway sleepers newly stained with creosote as this is not good for the skin or for growing edible plants.
- Use the turf you removed to make space for your raised bed in the bottom of the bed – it will enrich the soil as it rots.
- Use topsoil from elsewhere in your garden to help fill your raised beds. Take soil from the areas that will be paths, as they don’t need to have good soil. You could refill paths with bark chippings.