So you want a raised garden for vegetables, but don’t have a boatload of cash? Use what America is built with: pressure treated 2×4’s.
But but but, chemicals!
When originally looking into building raised beds I saw many articles requiring cedar, and shying away from pressure treated pine because of Arsenic. This has been factually incorrect for more than 10 years. CCA (Chromated Copper Arsenate) hasn’t been used to treat lumber since 2003 (see the EPA). And there the big issue isn’t actually leaching, but burning the wood and dealing with the ash. That said, use cedar if it’s reasonable. It smells great and looks awesome too, if you ask me. But at my lumberyard here, cedar 2x4x8’s are >$8 a piece. Pressure treated pine are ~$3 a pop.
What to buy
- 9 2x4x8 Boards
- 1 4x4x8 Board
- Deck screws certified for pressure treated lumber
For the last one, I personally love these guys: FastenMaster FMGD003-75 GuardDog Exterior Wood Screw, Tan, 3-Inch, 75-Pack. They even come with a pozisquare bit in the package which has all the great features of a Phillips and a Robertson head… end result: let your drill bit fly and don’t worry about stripping it.
- Cut 3 x 2x4x8 boards in half
- Cut 4 x 1.5 foot sections from the 4x4x8
- The 4 x 4x4x1.5 pieces are vertical posts
- The 6 x 2x4x4 pieces are for the short sides (stacked 3 high)
- The 6 x 2x4x8 pieces are for the long sides (stacked 3 high)
Assuming you are placing this somewhere that is currently grass.
- Drop your mower as low as it will possibly go and mow the area.
- Feel free to do stuff to physically (not chemically!) abuse whatever vegetation is left.
- Dig 4 holes at each corner for the posts
- Place the frame on the ground with the posts in your new holes
- Use a mattock or shovel or your hands if you have to, and break up the soil as much as possible to approximately 12″ below the surface.
- Do soily stuff
- Plant plants
This is worthy of a section of its own because your soil is where all of your hard work should go. If you want good plants focus on good soil, the rest will come.
There are a few ways to go with this.
Buy in bulk
If you have a local supplier who is worthy of your business, you can buy garden soil by the yard and haul it yourself or have it delivered. Just remember that 1 square yard covers 27 square feet 1 ft deep in soil. Make sure that the soil has been composted or “cooked”. You want the temperature to have been high enough to kill off residual seeds of weeds and such. You want the soil to have lots of awesome organic components to feed your plants and to provide that nice structural balance that promotes root growth and proper water retention. If they send you something that looks like topsoil send it back immediately. I have heard horror stories of raised gardens full of clay. Try not to let anyone unload anything other than rich, near-black, spongy awesomeness in your driveway/yard.
Buy by the bag
It’s easy enough to get bags of organic garden soil at your local garden center or big box retailer. And this is one of those times organic really pays off. Rather than just adding fertilizer to soil + filler, your typical organic soil will have those sweet sweet organic components that will continue to pay dividends both chemically and in terms of consistency for years.
Ammend your soil
This takes a lot more knowledge and work. You need to know your existing soil and know how to work it to get it the right consistency and achieve the correct chemical balance to make typical vegetables happy. This is more than a topic in itself.
Start composting for next year
I can’t emphasize this enough. You will want it to amend your soil and for your expansion plans which will naturally result after you get hooked. You can start with just a pile or get a fancy composter. But get to work.
I got into setting up a rain barrel, and also setting up a drip-irrigation system. I’ve enjoyed playing with both. The latter especially seemed to help get bountiful vegetables and prevent disease by keeping leaves dry (in my humid climate).
Read science backed articles
I cannot emphasize this enough. Don’t use that spray you found on Pintrest to kill weeds. Yes it will kill the weed, but it will also make the soil you hit with it barren. Look at your state university’s agricultural information it’s often incredibly useful. Look for people citing sources.
When you can’t find science, go back to folk wisdom
It’s closer to science than internet wisdom. Talk to people at locally owned and operated nurseries and garden centers. Ask what works. Judge what they say by what you know. If they make crap up about something you know, then they’re probably not reputable.