- Most Read
- Cinder Block Gardening Ideas – Tips On Using Cinder Blocks For Garden Beds
- How to Make a Cinder Block Garden
- Dangers of Cinder Block Gardening
- How Much Does It Cost To Build A Concrete Block Raised Bed?
- Cinder Block -vs- Concrete Block
- How To Build A Raised Garden Bed With Concrete Blocks
- Determine Your Concrete Block Raised Garden Bed Design
- How Many Cinder Blocks Do I Need?
- Best Soil For Raised Beds
- Steps For Building Concrete Block Raised Beds
- How to Build a Cinder Block Raised Garden Bed
- What To Put Around Cinder Block Raised Garden Beds
- What To Plant In Your Cinder Block Raised Garden Bed
- Favorite Gardening Resources:
- Should You Use Cinder Blocks For Raised Garden Beds?
- Cinderblock versus wood for raised beds?
- The pros and cons of building raised garden beds from concrete blocks
- Materials for Building Raised Beds
- Answers to common questions about the safety of treated wood and other materials in vegetable gardens
- What are some ways to preserve wood that will be used for a raised bed vegetable garden?
- Should I be concerned about arsenic or other chemicals in pressure-treated wood used in raised beds?
- Is it safe to use cement blocks to build a raised garden to grow vegetables?
- Additional Resources
- DIY Garden Projects To Decorate your Home Easily:
- DIY Cinder Block Planter Idea – Free Tutorial:
- How To DIY Cinder Block Planters – Free Tutorial:
- DIY Cinder Block Vertical Planter – Free Tutorial:
- How To Make An Outdoor Bar + Planter For Less Than $100 – Free Tutorial:
- Build Cinder Block Raised Bed Planter – Free Tutorial:
- How To Build Stenciled Cinder Block Planter – Free Tutorial:
- DIY Cinder Block On The Rocks Planter – Free Tutorial:
- DIY Cinder Block Succulent Wall With A Twist – Free Tutorial:
- Easy DIY Stenciled Cinder Block Planters – Free Tutorial:
- DIY Painted Cinder Block Planters – Free Tutorial:
- Building A Concrete Cinder Block Planter – Free Tutorial:
- Make A Cinder Block Wall Planter – Free Tutorial:
- DIY Stars & Stripes Cinder Block Planters – Free Tutorial:
- Easy DIY Cinder Block Vertical Planter – Free Tutorial:
- DIY Cinder Blocks To Mosaic Tile Planters – Free Tutorial:
- How To Make Mosaic Cinder Block Planters – Free Tutorial:
- DIY Concrete Block Planter – Free Tutorial:
- How To Build A Cinder Block Raised Garden Bed – Free Tutorial:
- DIY Neon Cinder Block Herb Planter – Free Tutorial:
- DIY Cinder Block Planters – Free Tutorial:
- DIY Cinder Block Vases Planters – Free Tutorial:
- Easy Three DIY Cinder Block Projects:
- The Toxic Truth About Cinder Blocks Every Homesteader Should Know
- Cinder Blocks allowing chemicals to get into your plants and food?
Define a backyard space and add visual depth by constructing a raised planter bed in front of a back fence or boundary wall. Easy to maintain, raised beds are useful in gardens with poor soil or drainage.
This planter was built using three courses of Versawall split-faced concrete blocks and topped with matching capstones, from Adbri Masonry.
Building with these interlocking blocks is far simpler and quicker than using regular bricks, as there is no need for mortar to bind the layers.
The blocks are laid on a 100mm footing of compacted roadbase with a 30mm thick dry bed of sand and cement spread over it.
Blocks are positioned on the laying bed to a set stringline for precise alignment, just as in bricklaying.
Corner blocks allow for perfectly square angles and flush capping means the wall can double as a garden seat.
Cut blocks to fit as needed and mitre the corners of the capping using a wet bricksaw, available from equipment hire shops for about $110 a day.
Plant the bed
Fill the planter bed with quality soil mix as you build each layer.
Once construction is complete, choose a range of suitable plants, bearing in mind the amount of sun and shade the area receives.
Place your selection of plants on the soil and adjust their location until you’re happy with the arrangement.
Remove the plants from their pots and give them a new home in the garden bed, backfilling with soil then watering in well.
These hollow 400 x 200 x 215mm blocks stack together for easy DIY construction of retaining walls, garden steps and planter beds.
Versawall blocks can be built to a maximum unreinforced height of 800mm. They are available in three colours and fit together with tongue-and-groove joints.
As the wall is built, fill the hollow cores with gravel or recycled crushed concrete to add weight, strength and stability. Backfilling behind the wall with gravel to a width of about 200mm will add further support and increase solidity.
TIP Seek council approval and professional advice if you wish to build any higher than 800mm.
Cinder Block Gardening Ideas – Tips On Using Cinder Blocks For Garden Beds
Are you planning on making a raised bed? There are a lot of options when it comes to the material used to build a raised bed border. Wood is a common choice. Bricks and stones are good options, too. But if you want something cheap and attractive that’s not going to go anywhere, you can’t do better than cinder blocks. Keep reading to learn more about raised garden beds made from concrete blocks.
How to Make a Cinder Block Garden
Using cinder blocks for garden beds is especially nice because you can so easily pick your height. Do you want a bed close to the ground? Just do one layer. Want your plants higher and easier to reach? Go for two or three layers.
If you do more than one layer, make sure to place it so that the joints between the blocks in the second layer sit over the middle of the blocks in the first layer, just like in a brick wall. This will make the bed much sturdier and less likely to fall.
Stack the blocks so the holes are facing up too. This way you can fill the holes with soil and expand your growing space.
To make the bed even stronger, push a length of rebar down through the holes on each corner. Using a sledgehammer, pound the rebar down into the ground until the top is level with the top of the cinderblocks. This should keep the bed from sliding around. One in each corner should be enough when using cinder blocks for garden beds, but you can always add more if you’re worried.
Dangers of Cinder Block Gardening
If you search online for cinder block gardening ideas, about half of the results are going to be warnings that you’ll contaminate your vegetables and poison yourself. Is there any truth in this? Just a little.
The confusion stems from the name. Once upon a time cinder blocks were made of a material called “fly ash,” a byproduct of burning coal that can be harmful to your health. Cinder blocks haven’t been mass produced with fly ash in the U.S. for 50 years, though. The cinder blocks that you buy in the store today are actually concrete blocks and totally safe.
Unless you’re using antique cinder blocks, there should be no reason to worry, especially when cinder block gardening for vegetables.
Looking for new ideas for your garden? Check out these raised garden beds built with cinder blocks that you can use in your garden today!
Cinder blocks are a common item that you see, but they often do not have much use other than creating a wall. Well, have you ever considered using cinderblocks as accent pieces in your garden? You can create walls, planting pots, and other highlights in your garden by reinventing the usefulness of a cinder block. In this article, we will explore 15 different ways that you can use a cinderblock in your garden. You will see flower gardens, vegetable gardens, and gardens of other varieties that use cinder blocks in unique ways.
Out of all of the images that will be presented below, the idea that really melts my heart is the tenth one that we will examine on the list. The cinder blocks are placed in the garden in a manner that the different heights give the area a look that sports many different levels and angles. Creating a garden that is more than a simple square is a great way to show personality in your backyard.
The other one that really stands out to me in this list is the 14th idea on this list. It is a solid wall that is created from cinder blocks, but certain ones are placed so that one side sticks out from the wall. This leaves the hole in the cinder block outside of the wall, which means that the open area can be filled with dirt and used as a planter. Simple green plants can be used here or you can plant vine-like plants that will hang down over the side of the cinder block; adding flavor and style to the wall.
Need the basics on how to build a cinder block garden? Watch this video on how to get one started;
1. Crops Galore
Here is one that shows the life of a farmer. Sections of the area are enclosed by a thin cinder block border, and there are dirt pathways that go between the crops. A hose has been left on the ground, which implies that the plants were recently watered.
2.A Patch of Corn
This is a picture of a plot of extremely healthy corn that is growing in a garden that is lined with narrow cinder blocks. The cinder blocks are placed in a double layer that is pretty straight, but you can see a thick layer of mortar between each block.
3.Wall of Cinder Blocks
The narrow cinder blocks are placed in a two layer wall that separates the pebbled path from the flower garden. This design not only gives you that layer of separation, it allows you to create a raised flower garden that will catch your eye as you walk past.
4. Potted Staircase
Source:Homestead & Prepper
The walls of this beautiful garden are created from cinder blocks that can easily be filled with dirt and growing flowers. Each layer of the garden is designed to be higher than the last, which allows you plenty of room to plant in the garden space that is behind the cinder blocks as well.
5. Lovely Lettuce
The first thing that you notice in this next garden is that it is filled with lettuce. It looks extremely delicious, but there are other things to take note of as well. The area that the crops are planted in is raised, and the holes are being used to incorporate an irrigation system into the design.
Source: Sunshine and Rainy Days
This garden is designed with three symmetrical cinder block plots that vary in height. The center one is two blocks high, which makes it stand out as the central area of the garden. The ground outside of the raised garden is covered in small pebbles and the grass is perfectly trimmed.
7. Sidewalk Garden
This raised garden looks like it is positioned along the side a building. You can see windows on the side as well as a brick pavement by the base of the cement plating area. This area is perfect for greeting guests, and this area would be perfect for small colorful flowers that catch your eye.
8. Rose Colored Glasses
Source: Local Llano
This image shows a rectangular garden that is nearly four cinder blocks high. It is only filled with dirt here, but imagine it with a few rose bushes in the soil. The garden is tall enough to place the plants at the perfect height to easily notice the brightly colored blooms as you walk past.
9. The Protective Wall
Source: Two Studs and a Hammer
The cinder blocks in this next garden are placed in a perfect square pattern. The dirt inside the walls is the same level as the outside, which provides a barrier from the wind for the plants you place here. To make the garden seem more alive, filling it with bright green bushes will be key.
10. Garden Throne
The grass in this garden is nicely maintained, and the holes of the blocks are filled with lush green plants. The garden is designed with larger plants in the lower areas and smaller plants higher up, which gives it a sense of style not often seen in an outdoor garden.
The double layer cinder block rectangle garden is placed near the screened-in porch of the home in the image. There is a beautiful pink rose bush planted in the background, and all this raised garden needs to add some flavor to the yard is flowers that stand out and add contrast to the bright pink rose bush.
12. Wild Growth
The first thing that you see in this image is the overgrown plants that are inside the cinderblock planter. It is not a pristine garden, but it has a lovely personality that will turn a few heads. The purple flowers in the back are beautiful, and the youngster’s bike leaves you with a sense of wonder.
13. Desert Landscape
The cinder block wall is encircling the home with an accented angle that makes you think of a garden out west. The flowers inside the raised area are lush and colorful, and there are also palm trees and plants that make you think of a tropical location.
14. Holes in the Wall
This vertical garden is the perfect idea for someone who is lacking ground space. The holes in the cinder blocks are arranged in such a fashion that they can double as planters that make your area a more friendly space.
15. Ebb and Flow Garden
This garden features a beautiful wall that follows the curves of a natural waterway. The left side is only slightly raised, which makes it perfect for tall bushes, and the right side is raised a few feet higher, making it perfect for flowers and smaller plants. The center is filled with small white stones that add personality and flavor to the space. 26K Shares
Popular Garden Ideas
Popular Garden Ideas
A concrete block raised bed is cheap and easy to build, and a great way to quickly add DIY raised garden beds to your yard. The best part is that you can build your raised bed right over the top of the grass! In this post, I will show you exactly how to build a raised garden bed with concrete blocks step-by-step.
A few years ago, I got to work on a project to build a community garden. Originally, we had planned to till up the grass and plant the vegetable garden directly in the soil. But in the end, we had to build raised beds because the ground was hard coral and limestone. Yah, good luck tilling that.
Raised gardening beds become a necessity in cases like this, when the soil is really rocky, full of tree roots, or otherwise difficult to cultivate. One of the things I love the most about raised bed gardening is that raised beds come in many different shapes and sizes, and you can easily customize one to fit into any garden space.
Building a concrete block raised bed rather than planting directly in the ground will add extra cost to the project, but you can keep the budget in check by using inexpensive materials, or reusing items you already have – and concrete cinder blocks are the perfect choice.
Concrete blocks are also easy to work with, and can be installed right over the top of grass or weeds, making this a quick DIY raised garden bed project that can be completed in an afternoon.
Cinder block raised garden beds completed
How Much Does It Cost To Build A Concrete Block Raised Bed?
Making raised garden beds can get pretty expensive if you’re not careful. So, if you’re looking for cheap raised garden bed ideas, then you’re in luck!
Using concrete blocks for raised beds is very inexpensive. At my local home improvement store, the blocks are only about $1 each. So you could build a nice sized raised bed for gardening for under $20.
Of course that doesn’t include the cost of soil, which will likely be the most expensive part of this project. But we’ll talk more about that later on.
Cinder Block -vs- Concrete Block
When it comes to these inexpensive raised garden bed blocks commonly used to build foundations for houses, people usually refer to them as “cinder blocks”. Heck, even the sign at my local home improvement store says “cinder blocks” on it (maybe this is a regional thing?).
Back in the olden days, cinder blocks were commonly made from ash, and that’s where the term comes from. But these days, cinder blocks are usually made out of concrete. True cinder blocks still exist, but from what I’ve read, they’re pretty rare.
The reason I bring this up is because there is an important difference between cinder blocks and concrete blocks. Because of the ash, true cinder blocks can leach chemicals into the soil, and you don’t want that if you’re growing vegetables. If you plan to build a cinder block flower bed, then it doesn’t matter what type of block you use.
If you’re concerned about your cinder block raised bed leaching, then I would recommend using blocks that are actually made of concrete rather than true cinder blocks.
If you want to be sure you’re building your beds out of concrete blocks rather than real cinder blocks, then just ask the retailer before you buy them.
The two terms are used interchangeably, so rest assured, when I say “cinder blocks” I really mean concrete blocks.
Concrete block raised garden bed ready for planting
How To Build A Raised Garden Bed With Concrete Blocks
Building a raised bed with concrete blocks is pretty easy, but there are a few important steps you should take to ensure that your DIY raised garden beds look their best, and fit where you want them to.
First, you need to decide where you want to put your concrete raised bed garden. Be sure to choose a spot that is fairly level and gets plenty of sun (here’s how to figure out the sun exposure of your garden).
Then decide on how many concrete block raised beds you have room for, taking care to allow plenty of space between the raised beds so that you can easily access them and walk between them.
The next step is figuring out the design for your cinder block raised garden bed(s).
Determine Your Concrete Block Raised Garden Bed Design
Since we’re using square blocks that are all the same size, designing a concrete block raised bed could not be any easier. All you need to do is measure the size of the space where you want to put it.
If you have a large space like we did when we built the raised beds in the community garden, you can build several beds that are the same size. Or you could have some fun with it and make them different sizes to create interest or a fun path through the garden.
As you come up with your concrete block raised garden bed design plan, be sure to also think about how easy it will be to work in your beds. You don’t want the beds to be too wide or it can be difficult to reach the middle.
Also, be sure you leave a few feet of space between each bed so that you have plenty of room to walk and move around between them. This becomes really important if you build your raised gardening beds right on top of the grass like we did, and need to be able to mow in between them.
Cement block raised beds garden
How Many Cinder Blocks Do I Need?
It’s super easy to figure out how many blocks you need for building a concrete block raised bed because they are all the same size. Concrete (cinder) blocks are about one foot long, which makes for really easy math! The beds we built were 7′ x 4′, so we needed 20 cinder blocks to build each bed.
Once you decide on your concrete block raised bed design (done in the previous step), it’ll be easy to figure out how many cinder blocks you need to buy so you won’t have any leftover.
Best Soil For Raised Beds
As I mentioned above, buying raised bed garden soil will probably be your biggest expense for this project. I know it’s easy to think about pinching pennies here… but don’t.
When it comes to gardening, the quality of the soil is super important. It’s the foundation in which plants grow, and plants simply won’t grow well in cheap soil.
So, whatever you do, don’t buy topsoil or other types of cheap dirt for your raised beds. Be sure to fill your garden beds with high quality soil. You can buy compost in bulk, or mix your own quality soil to save money.
Supplies for building raised garden beds with concrete blocks
Steps For Building Concrete Block Raised Beds
- Concrete cinder blocks
- Soil for raised beds
- Tape measure
- Marking paint or spray paint (optional)
- Thick cardboard or newspaper (optional, use if you’re going over grass)
- Tamper tool (optional)
- Level (optional, use if you want to make sure your blocks are level)
- Square garden spade (optional, use if you want to remove the sod under the blocks to level them)
- Work gloves
Step 1: Lay out your concrete block raised bed design – The first thing to do is to lay out your design so that you can make sure everything fits into the space you have planned.
It’s much easier to move the blocks around or change the design if you need to at this point than it will be later on in the project. Be sure to wear gloves when moving the block, because cement blocks are heavy!
Laying out concrete block raised garden bed design
Step 2: Ensure the blocks are straight and square – Once you have the concrete blocks laid out, use the tape measure to create a straight line, and then mark the line using the marking paint. This line will act as a guide to ensure you’re keeping everything straight during the next steps.
Step 3: Remove the grass and level the blocks (optional) – If the area where you’re building a raised bed garden is level and the blocks lay pretty flat, then you can skip this step.
But, if you’re building on top of grass and it’s uneven, then it’s a good idea to take the extra step to remove the grass so the blocks will sit level. Blocks sitting on top of the grass will settle in over time, but removing the grass will help to ensure the blocks stay in place.
You don’t have to remove all of the grass, just the section that sits directly below the blocks. The grass in the center of the bed can remain in place.
To make it easy, use a square garden spade to remove the sod. Then you can use a tamper tool if desired to level the ground before laying the block. Use a level to help you make sure the blocks are straight.
Laying cardboard under cinder block raised beds
Step 4: Lay cardboard under the cinder blocks (optional) – This is another optional step, and not required if you’re building your raised bed on top of dirt.
But, since we were building our concrete block raised beds right over the grass, we put down a thick layer of cardboard first to smother the grass and keep it from growing into the beds. If you don’t have cardboard, you can use a thick layer of newspaper instead.
Step 5: Fill the beds with soil – Once you’re done building your concrete block raised garden beds, you can fill them with soil. We found it easier to temporarily remove one block so that we could push the wheel barrow into the bed rather than trying to dump the soil over the top of the blocks.
Don’t forget to fill the holes in the raised garden bed blocks with soil so you can use them as planters. If you don’t like the idea of using the holes in the blocks to grow plants, then you can fill them with rocks or cheap fill dirt instead of garden soil. Just be sure to fill them with something to hold them in place otherwise they can move around easier.
Fill the concrete block beds with quality soil for raised beds
Step 6: Plant your shiny new concrete block raised bed! Planting your new cement block garden is the fun part. Just be sure to give it plenty of water after everything has been planted. Also, keep in mind that the soil in your raised bed will settle over the first few days and weeks, so you may need to add more to fill in the spaces.
Planting the concrete block garden beds
The cinder blocks make wonderful planters for flowers and herbs, which can help to deter pests and attracting beneficial pollinators to the garden.
Marigolds are a great border flower in any vegetable garden, and my top choice. We also chose to use alyssum in the planter holes too, and once it’s established it will cascade over the side to help to soften the look of the concrete block raised bed.
If you’re looking for an cheap and easy raised garden bed project, then building a raised garden bed using concrete blocks is the perfect project for you!
If you’re interested in raised bed gardening and looking for more DIY raised bed projects, I recommend picking up a copy of my friend Tara’s book Raised Bed Revolution. It’s a beautiful book that has everything you need to know about raised beds, including several wonderful DIY projects.
Products I Recommend
More DIY Garden Projects
- How To Make A Concrete Block Planter
- How To Make A Zen Garden In Your Backyard
Share your tips for building a concrete block raised bed garden in the comments below.
Last year we installed one Cinder Block Raised Garden Bed. We hoped to do three but our bodies and budget gave out at one.
Great news! We built the other two raised beds this year! Yay!
There’s nothing quite like growing your own food and I’m anxious to get going again this year!
After planting a tad too early last year, we are exercising our patience and waiting for Mother Earth News to tell us when to plant. It’s really quite slick! Just head over to What to Plant Now, click on >view planting dates, enter your zip code and email address, and it will send you a handy dandy email when it’s time to plant! Pretty cool, huh?
How to Build a Cinder Block Raised Garden Bed
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Here’s the area we are working on. One lonely Cinder Block Raised Garden Bed and a whole bunch of moss with a splattering of grass.
First, we laid out the cinder blocks where we wanted them.
These cinder blocks are 8″X8″X16″ from Home Depot. The long sides of the garden bed have eight cinder blocks and the ends have three for a total of 22 cinder blocks per raised bed.
We plan to eventually add a second row of cinder blocks to match the center raised garden bed. It isn’t necessary but would make it easier on our backs. Perhaps next year!
Of course, the ground isn’t even so we either dug a little of the grass out underneath or used a bit of sand to make the cinder blocks line up. It really wasn’t too bad.
Next, we used painter’s paper from the paint section at Home Depot in the bottom of our beds. Newspaper or cardboard work great too!
Then, a half yard of a compost/topsoil mix was used to fill both beds. They aren’t completely full but it works!
What To Put Around Cinder Block Raised Garden Beds
Wondering what all that cardboard is about? I knew you were!
Our original plan was to rent a sod cutter and remove the moss and grass, bring in a load of sand, and lay flagstone around our cinder block raised garden beds.
We decided our budget would like us better if we used pea gravel and, hey, why not just lay cardboard over the grass and dump the pea gravel right on top?
It was an easier and less costly option.
Steve dug out a trench for edging. We used the black plastic edging but, I have to say, I’m not too impressed. Someday we will have that cool concrete edging!
What To Plant In Your Cinder Block Raised Garden Bed
And voila! We are ready to plant!
Get your Garden Plan Worksheet here:
Now the question is … what do I plant where? Check out these plant companions for ten common vegetables. It’s a great resource for plant friends and foes.
For even more information on plant companions, check out Everything You Need To Know About Companion Planting.
Every morning I open our blinds to this fun view. It will be even better when these Cinder Block Raised Garden Beds are full of scrumptious veggies!
Do you see marigolds in the picture above? They aren’t there just to look pretty! Read more about them in 5 Secrets To A Healthy Garden.
I love walking barefoot on the pea gravel. It’s a great way to get a little ‘earthing’ in. I’ll take that over an earthing mat any day! Of course, the beach would be even better but we work with what we have!
Favorite Gardening Resources:
Mother Earth News will send you emails when it’s time to plant!
The Old Farmer’s Almanac is where you will find garden friends and foes.
Old World Garden Farms is one of my favorite gardening blogs. If you love to garden, I would suggest subscribing to their site and you will receive super useful emails full of great gardening information just when you need it!
Another helpful blog post is How To Grow A Vegetable Garden by Ruth at Living Well Spending Less.
Soil For Raised Beds gives ideas on how to create the best soil for raised beds!
Grow What You Eat, Eat What You Grow
Twenty-two cinder blocks, 1/4 yard of topsoil/compost mix and you’re in business! The rest … well, that’s just for fun!
Should You Use Cinder Blocks For Raised Garden Beds?
Update: It has been brought to my attention that it may not be in our best interest to use cinder blocks for our garden beds. There may or may not be heavy metals that will leach into the soil and possibly the plants.
Read more about the use of concrete blocks here:
A Warning about Cinder Block or Concrete Masonry Gardens
Is It Dangerous to Make A Garden Bed From Cinder Blocks?
There is also a discussion on the use of cinder blocks here.
Cinderblock versus wood for raised beds?
I can give you a few nice options, I built about…..well at least over 40 raised garden beds of different types!
How many beds, how big, and what is your region? This will help determine the best beds.
1.) Cinder blocks do tend to crumble, chip, leak, and even bow out, simply due to the constant water presence. It is also pretty expensive compared to start up costs for what I will list next. It DOES last for a long time, and it is easy to fix. The aethetic value is so-so, and if you are improving on a home you own, pitch in for the following long-lived style.
2.) Corrugated metal sheeting/ aka this type of bed… it really does work very nicely. Because it is a galvanized metal, many people voiced concern of the metal tainting the soil and ultimately the garden plants.
This metal does leach of a small amount of zinc in acidic soils….which does not harm the plants, it is naturally occurring in soil everywhere, and it poses no toxic threat at all to people. We consume far greater quantities in our cold tablets than in any instance regarding these types of beds.
I personally used this style of galvanized bed, however I did the beds in round arches along the perimeter of my property. I then used a dump truck load of retaining wall rocks and small boulders, and built up the stone wall flush to the top of the beds. The galvanized sheet walls provided strong stability, and prevented the rock walls from falling due to leaking soil/erosion/watering.
I needed really strong garden walls, because I design my garden beds to practice deep Hugelkultur in all of them. Example of Hugelkultur in raised garden beds.
I live in Northern NV, which is not the hubris that is Vegas. We have 4 solid seasons, good snow pack for water resources, and rain. Not so much anymore. The whole West to Midwest, anything below the 40* Latitude line is experiencing long term severe drought, with a NASA forecast for increased periods and trends of such. Warmer years, record setting highs, little precipitation, lots of wildfires.
Water is very very important.
So, I studied and designed, and integrated multiple methods used to retain and use water efficiently.
Hugelkultur takes existing wood and biomass, you bury it in a particular layering, and after about 3 years, when the wood has stopped absorbing and locking in nitrogen, it will begin to release it.
As the mound decomposes, it becomes a giant bio-active sponge that will retain snow melt, flood and rain water, and wick-it back up to the plants as they need it. With nitrogen and nutrients!
No water lost to ground water, storm drains, etc, other water systems. All reserved for the garden! No need for artificial fertilizers, and if you install a microdrip system off of your existing irrigation, all you need to do is plant your garden, address disease or pests, prune, harvest, put the garden to bed, compost foliage waste, repeat!
All raised gardens will experience some inflating and bowing out of the sides after monsoonal rains, or heavy snow melt. This is very bad, because walls burst, break, or topple over…and water, soil and plants are lost. Make sure you install drain ports along each side of the bed at certain critical levels.
By utilizing the corrugated sheet metal, with retainer wall rocks, my beds don’t budge. Any overflow is addressed in drain ports (a hole and some large PVC pipe) I have installed to route overflow water to other swales or garden beds.
Corrugated metal lasts a very long time, a well as the rocks. Little repair is necessary, other then stabilizing boulders that shift during ground heave. This is what the finished look would resemble, depending on what rocks your suppliers provide.
You can also utilize corrugated sheeting AND cinder blocks, however natural stone tends to really inflate your home value, it is worth the investment for owned homes. In a lot of cases, corrugated steel and an order of field stone is cheaper than a shipment of cinder blocks.
Wood beds are beautiful, but they are difficult to put together, they are a significant start-up investment for quality redwood or Douglas fir, and good deck screws.
You need to premeasure and design your bed, then order correctly. I have made mistakes that sucked. Better to order larger than smaller!
Wood beds tend to warp and move and shift. They need to be inspected annually to address loose boards or posts. They often need to be treated with a sealant like linseed oil or black poly-plastic to line the interiors….this prevents water based decomp, mold, etc.
Wood quickly changes color once it has dried out in the sun, or washed out.
I used beds with Hugelkultur, and some failed despite using deep support posts. So I moved and set up the beds for my chicken feed gardens, and their ‘salad bar’, and went to corrugated and stone.
The corrugated sheet panels and the stone was about 32% cheaper vs redwood, and 26% cheaper than Douglas Fir.
Cinder block is much cheaper compared to redwood/douglas fir for a 2ft tall, 3 ft wide, 12 ft long bed. However, once you get beyond 8 beds, the costs start to level out.
You can also do an interior wall of cinder block, and line the exterior with fieldstone or riverstone, not only to increase the value of the property by aesthetics, but to reduce costs. You will need to ensure your cinder block walls are secure with either….a string of rebar tapped down into the cider block holes, or gravel to fill in the holes and give the cinder blocks more weight.
Price + Aesthetics
Corrugated sheet panels + fieldstone (Very sturdy, inexpensive, attractive)
2.) Cinder block + fieldstone (Medium sturdy, attractive)
3.) Metal Sheet panels + cinder block (sturdy, not aesthetic)
4.) Cinder block (not sturdy, aesthetic)
5.) Wood beds (not long in life, not sturdy, high maintenance, beautiful)
The pros and cons of building raised garden beds from concrete blocks
Building raised garden beds has many benefits. Depending on how big you build them and your choices of materials, you can recoup the costs in just 1 to 4 years. They need less watering than planting directly into the ground and it is much easier to keep weeds and many pests out of a raised bed. For those (like me) with a bad back, raised garden beds are also much easier on your back and depending on how you build it, can be used as a temporary seat while working in the bed.
But cost to complete can vary greatly and there are many other factors to consider. In this article we will be looking at the pros and cons of using concrete blocks to build your bed. I will be writing additional articles on other materials in the near future. To keep cost comparisons as easy as possible I will try to keep all measures for cost purposes to 4-foot x 16 foot (outside dimensions)
Advantages of concrete block construction
- Barring a natural or manmade disaster, they will last pretty much forever. This is a biggie in budget considerations.
- Higher side walls have greater stability that many other materials.
- You can add flat rocks or make your own fake rocks with molds available online, that are very aesthetically pleasing. This will add to your costs of course.
- Unless you choose to add a topper block to your bed, you can use the holes within each block to grow herbs around your garden. Choosing herbs that provide some benefit to what you are planting can help keep pests from the garden while being a source of herbs to use in cooking.
Disadvantages of concrete block construction
- Without adding a decorative over layer, some people consider them to not be aesthetically pleasing.
- In some areas there are laws against having cement blocks showing in any construct on the property. Check with your local officials before starting.
- Unless you have worked with concrete blocks in the past, there is a little bit of a learning curve, but most anyone can do it if they do a little reading before they start. It may however take a little more time to complete than some other materials.
Labor costs can vary greatly depending on your area and how many friends and family members you can get to help out. For that reason, we will not be including labor costs in our numbers. The project can be completed by the home owner to save some money.
A standard concrete block in the USA measures 16-inch-long, 8 inches high and 8 inches wide. We are building our bed 16 feet long x 4 feet wide. Each layer high we choose to build will be 8 inches. For most people 16 inches will be perfectly fine. If you have a bad back you might want to double that which of course would double your material costs. It is a decision you will need to make for your personal situation.
Let’s do the math to determine how many blocks we need per layer. Since our sides are 16 feet long and our blocks at 16 inches long, it is easy to know we need 10 blocks per side for a total of 20 blocks per layer.
For the ends we need we need 4 blocks per end. Keep in mind, the blocks are much wider than wood, so the inside dimensions will be only 3 feet. If you want that extra 12 inches in width, simply add 1 additional block per end and you will have the entire 4-foot width inside. So, we need a total of 10 blocks per layer for the ends.
Each layer of our bed will need 30 blocks. I would build a minimum of 2 layers high but if you choose you can build an 8-inch-high bed with only one layer.
My local Home Depot sells the blocks for $1.22 each. That means a 2-layer high bed would cost 60 x $1.22 = $73.20 plus tax for the blocks. You will also need Mason Mix to glue the block together. Home Depot sells it for $6.45 per bag. The number of bags needed will vary depending on how much you use between the blocks, but 4 bags should be plenty for the project making the cost just $25.80. The total so far is $99 plus tax.
Depending on where you live, this could be the only material costs. That would of course mean your bed would retain the look of concrete block. If you want something a little fancier, you will need to cover the outside of your bed. There are many ways to do this.
- Paint – Many community gardens choose to use blocks because they rarely need to be replaced and are very cheap. Volunteers then paint bright colorful scenes on all sides creating a happy environment. You could also choose to simply paint the blocks in a solid color. This would add only the cost of the paint which can vary from $25 a gallon to $50 a gallon or more.
- Stucco is a surface treatment that can add a more pleasing style to your blocks. It comes in many colors and costs range between about $16 to $35 per bag. Make sure you compute the square footage of the outside area of your bed so you can determine how much you will need to buy. The one drawback with Stucco is you may need to hire someone to put it on so be sure to figure their pay into your costs if you need to hire an installer.
- Rock – This can be a beautiful choice and depending on your choice of rock can provide an upscale or a rustic look. Cost can be a major drawback as rock is fairly expensive and usually requires hiring a contractor to install it. To save some money, there are molds you can buy online that allow you to use concrete mixed with a colorant to make very realistic looks rock.
- Adding a topper – To achieve a more finished look, you may choose to add a topper to your bed. There is a wide variety of choices but it can be a major addition to costs. Check with your local supplier to determine the best choice for the look you are seeking to obtain. There are concrete versions that are relative inexpensive with materials such as marble at the higher end.
That is the basics of what you can do with concrete blocks. In my mind, the biggest advantage is the fact your garden bed will probably last longer than your lifetime (and perhaps your children’s lifetimes too). Wood will need to be replaced at least every 8 to 10 years and perhaps sooner in areas with poor drainage or higher rainfall totals.
I hope you find this useful in your decision-making process. If so, would you please consider giving me an upvote and/or resteem.
Remember: Freshly grown food is cheaper, of higher quality and can keep your family fed if supply chains break down for any reason.
Materials for Building Raised Beds
Answers to common questions about the safety of treated wood and other materials in vegetable gardens
What are some ways to preserve wood that will be used for a raised bed vegetable garden?
There are several options:
Paint the wood with exterior latex paint to minimize soil contact with treated wood (Source: Oregon State Extension)
Treat the wood with a semi-transparent oil-based stain (Source: USDA Forest Products Lab)
Apply a heavy plastic liner between the treated wood frame and your garden soil, allowing for soil drainage (Source: Iowa State University, Mass. Dept. of Environmental Protection)
Build your raised bed with a decay-resistant type of wood, such as cedar, black cherry, oak (bur, chestnut, post, white), black locust, Osage orange, or redwood. (Source: USDA Forest Products Lab)
Use a non-wood material such as stones, concrete blocks, bricks, or synthetic lumber.
Should I be concerned about arsenic or other chemicals in pressure-treated wood used in raised beds?
An older type of wood preservative called Chromated Copper Arsenate (CCA) contained arsenic, copper, and chromium. CCA treated wood is no longer available for residential use as of 2004.
Alkaline Copper Quaternary (ACQ) is currently the most widely available type of wood preservative for residential use. It does not contain arsenic, but it does contain copper. It is considered to be low in toxicity. For information on the health risks associated with ACQ-treated wood, see the National Pesticide Information Center ACQ information page.
Avoid using older types of wood treatments such as CCA, creosote, and Penta-treated lumber. If you have concerns about using ACQ-treated wood for raised beds, paint or stain the wood, use a heavy plastic liner between the wood and your soil, or use a non-wood building material (e.g., stones, bricks). See Additional Resources below.
Is it safe to use cement blocks to build a raised garden to grow vegetables?
Cement block, cinder block and concrete block, all are made with cement and fine aggregates such as sand or small stones. Fly ash is also often included. Fly ash is a byproduct of burning coal and so contains heavy metals and other hazardous waste. Labels do not give specific information on exactly what aggregate is used in the manufacture of the block. There is also little research data on this topic. Ultimately, this becomes a personal choice based on your comfort level. If you plan to use block as a raised bed material — and many people do – and you are concerned about potential risks, you could seal the blocks with polymer paint. Or you can choose to use another material.
- Toxicity Concerns About Raised Bed Construction Materials | Iowa State University (July 2017
- (PDF) Paint, Stain, Varnish or Preservative? It’s Your Choice | USDA Forest Service (July 2013)
- Home and Garden Use of Treated Wood | National Pesticide Information Center
- Pressure Treated Wood: Questions & Answers | Massachusetts Department of Environment
- Environmental Soil Issues: Garden Use of Treated Lumber | Penn State Extension
- Information for Homeowners | American Wood Protection Association
- Overview of Wood Preservative Chemicals | U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Compiled by Christa Carignan; Reviewed by Jon Traunfeld, UME Home & Garden, 1/2018
Cinder blocks are outstanding rectangular and square concrete blocks that are mostly put together for making durable concrete building walls but they can be much more than just being a building construction material! You can do some amazing DIY projects too with your concrete blocks that will rock your entire dwelling! However, if you are concerned with sprucing up your outdoor by installing some hilarious and outstanding focal points in your green space or outdoor then going with concrete planters would be a great and budget-friendly option!
So, you can just install the concrete blocks in different configurations and arrangements to build fantastic looking planters and planter walls which will definitely go eye-catching! Hack some great cinder block garden projects from this big list of 22 DIY cinder block planter ideas which are truly amazing and will help to make your outdoors look modern inexpensively! Moreover, these concrete block planters would also be lasting longer due to being made of concrete and will be super quick and easy to build also!
While installing the concrete block planters, you need to keep some certain points in mind! Just make sure that concrete block planters are having a better drainage system and those which are ending outward, come with covered bottoms to hold the potting soil well inside! Moreover, while stacking the cinder blocks for amazing raised planter you can use a concrete adhesive to just hold them in place beautifully!
Moreover, you can give amazing different variations to your cinder block planters! The very first thing you can, in this case, is that you can easily change the arrangements of stacked cinder blocks for a different looking planter or planter wall! Next, you can go with custom stencils, paint colors and with vinyl letters also to personalize your cinder block planters and also to create stunning colorful hues of them! Check out here some brilliant sample given in the list that is truly fantastic!
Next, you can also build outstanding furniture out of stacked cinder block walls, for example just put a big wood shelf over the two concrete block piles and build a graceful bench and hence you can also install bars and tables using the same concrete block planters! Check out some concrete planter bench and bar samples given below that are truly magnificent and eye-catching!
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Check out the entire list of these DIY concrete block planters and see what goes interesting to your eyes! Build also raised flower or vegetable beds with cinder blocks and also use the single cinder block planters as coffee or dining table centerpieces! Stack also the cinder blocks for outstanding looking vertical planters and stack the concrete blocks for visually captivating succulent or flower garden on your patio or porch! Get inspired by some lovely given samples!
Each cinder block planter project comes with a source link attached to the bottom side which can just be clicked once to open the hidden project instructions, step-by-step tutorial and easy to follow visual guides for that respective project! So, do visit the source links for your favorite cinder block planters from the list that you will just love to copy!
DIY Cinder Block Planter Idea – Free Tutorial:
The cinder blocks, the concrete masonry units can be much more than a construction material! In DIY, you can do amazing projects with them and can even start potting them to get beautiful planters! Just have a look at this stacked cinder block planter that is looking just fabulous! Here each block has been covered first with wire mesh and then with landscape fabric to hold the potting soil and for water drainage! Experiment this planter with a different arrangement of cinder blocks! Complete tutorial and instructions here instructables
How To DIY Cinder Block Planters – Free Tutorial:
Get inspired of this another great arrangement of cinder blocks that ends giving a stunning planter! Here the cinder blocks have mostly been stacked against the wall and some also comes as edged for amazing visual details! Cover the cinder blocks with wire mesh or landscape fabric to hold the potting soil and just pot your favorite plants and herbs! Another enchanting way to install succulent and herb garden anywhere in or out of your home! Complete instructions and visual guides are here apartmenttherapy
DIY Cinder Block Vertical Planter – Free Tutorial:
Install some vertical garden towers in your garden, patio or to porch area to create amusing focal points! Check out here a handsome vertical planter that is made of stacked single and double cinder blocks and is really looking super beautiful! Just cover the bottoms of the cinder blocks with waterproof fabric and with wire mesh for water drainage and also for holding the potting soil in place! Willing to duplicate this vertical cinder block planter for your garden? Then just grab a full free guide and visual instructions from here thegardenglove
How To Make An Outdoor Bar + Planter For Less Than $100 – Free Tutorial:
Check out here an insanely smart use of cinder blocks that results in a beautiful vertical planter and come in stacked arrangements that also help building a bar! So, here a dual functional project has been done with the cinder blocks! Here you can add your own desired number of shelves to stacked cinder blocks for a storage-friendly bar table! Willing to duplicate this brilliant looking cinder block planter and bar project? Then just grab the full free guide and visual instructions from here hgtv
Build Cinder Block Raised Bed Planter – Free Tutorial:
If you are not willing to start potting in the cinder blocks then you can also stack them for making bigger planters or beds in your garden or porch area! Check out here the sample raised bed planter that is having wooden top and has been built with stacked cinder blocks! Here the concrete cinder blocks have stacked to form a big concrete holding that has then been filled with potting soil! Another great cinder block planter creation, done to inspire and rock! Complete project details and tutorial here lowes
How To Build Stenciled Cinder Block Planter – Free Tutorial:
The cinder blocks you will stack for making adorable and lasting longer planters, can also be painted in so many different colors for a custom look and appeal and they can also be stenciled to look stunning and gorgeously beautiful! Check out here some amazingly beautiful sample, the stenciled cinder block planters that are bigger and have been stacked to fill a corner beautifully for a dashing green and colorful environment! Willing to duplicate this handsome cinder block planter? Complete project instructions and guide is here realitydaydream
DIY Cinder Block On The Rocks Planter – Free Tutorial:
One more brilliant hack is here, the cinder block on the rocks planter, built to inspire and rock and is really something praise-worthy! If you are thinking of a cool makeover of your patio, garden or any outdoor then this cinder block planter would just rock and is amazingly beautiful! Here custom cinder blocks have been put together and comes with filled potting soil and have finally been finished with a wooden top and hence this planter will also serve as a table or bar! Complete project instructions tutorial here huntedinterior
DIY Cinder Block Succulent Wall With A Twist – Free Tutorial:
Are you a big fan of greenery and flowers and are willing to install a rocking planter wall at your patio or porch then you will definitely like this cinder block succulent wall that comes with some edged cinder blocks with covered bottoms and hence really looks just fantastic and visually captivating! This is here another outstanding cinder block planter idea, done to rock and inspire! Complete project details and visual instructions here decoist
Easy DIY Stenciled Cinder Block Planters – Free Tutorial:
You can also select the cinder blocks in various different sizes to build great looking outdoor planters! Moreover, you can also personalize your finally finished planter by making the cinder block painted or stenciled in a custom way! Check out here the sample stenciled cinder blocks that have been put together for a raised corner planter that is looking highly visually attractive! Complete project instructions and tutorial here rustoleum
DIY Painted Cinder Block Planters – Free Tutorial:
Cinderblock planters can rock any indoor or outdoor space and can bring a great garden vibe to that particular interior space! So, while building custom cinder block planters, you can also paint the cinder blocks in a custom way to give some colors to your finally finished planter! Check out here a fab sample, the half black painted cinder block planter that is really looking handsome and beautiful! Another great cinder block planter to inspire your creativity! Willing to duplicate this another fantastic cinder block planter? Then just grab the full free guide and visual details here littlemissmomma
Building A Concrete Cinder Block Planter – Free Tutorial:
Just look at this another great cinder block planter suggestion and design, this is here the corner cinder block planter that has been done to inspire and comes with multiple stacked rows of cinder block that give an enchanting corner fill! Here the stacked cinder blocks also comes with covered bottoms and look amazingly beautiful and enchanting! Want to own this another great cinder block planter? Grab the full free guide and visual instructions from here getbusygardening
Make A Cinder Block Wall Planter – Free Tutorial:
Get inspired of this another great and good looking cinder block wall planter that is also a lasting longer and quick to build planter ever! Here once again the cinder blocks have been stacked to build a mini concrete wall and have been filled with potting soil by making the bottoms covered! Finally you can paint the cinder blocks or can stencil them for a graceful look and appeal! Another great cinder block planter idea! Complete project instructions and tutorial here penick
DIY Stars & Stripes Cinder Block Planters – Free Tutorial:
Check out here another great cinder block planter that is looking damn beautiful and gorgeous! Here the stacked cinder blocks have been painted for beautiful stars and stripes and hence makes country flag! So, this will definitely as a patriotic cinder block planter! This planter would also be a perfect country love décor idea that you will love to duplicate! Another fantastic and gorgeous looking cinder block planter, built to inspire and rock! Complete visual instructions and tutorial here designs
Easy DIY Cinder Block Vertical Planter – Free Tutorial:
You can figure it out that how to stack the cinder blocks beautifully in so many different way making a gorgeous looking planter every time! Check out here another great vertical cinder block planter that is insanely beautiful and is made of single and double cinder blocks stacked for an enchanting vertical tower! Let the edged cinder block comes with covered bottoms for a better drainage system and also for holding the potting soil! Give amazing variations to your finally finished cinder block planter by using paint and custom stencils! Intending to duplicate this another beautiful vertical planter? Grab the full free tutorial and instructions from here hometalk
DIY Cinder Blocks To Mosaic Tile Planters – Free Tutorial:
Get inspired of this another rocking cinder block planter that has been decorated with mosaic tiles, another outstanding cinder block planter makeover, done to inspire your creativity! You can do anything special with your concrete cinder blocks from making them painted to stencil them beautifully and this would be a great way to personalize your concrete block planters! Check out here this sample cinder block planter that is looking great and outstandingly beautiful! Complete project tutorial and instructions here diydelray
How To Make Mosaic Cinder Block Planters – Free Tutorial:
Once again the dashing cinder block planters here that are built to inspire and would definitely grab your attention! Here the old and broken up pieces of tiles have been glued on the side of cinder block for an instant charm and grace! This is here another outstanding and glam looking mosaic cinder block that will definitely inspire your creativity! Another great and epic design of cinder block planter that will rock any of your garden or patio! Complete project guides and visual instructions here delicateconstruction
DIY Concrete Block Planter – Free Tutorial:
Have a look at this another fantastic and glam looking concrete block planter that is also praise-worthy and has just been made to spruce up any outdoor space! Here the concrete cinder blocks have been stacked beautifully to fill up a corner and are looking much beautiful and graceful! Here the concrete blocks have been filled with potting soil and also come with covered bottoms for water drainage and to hold the potting soil! Another mind-blowing and outstanding concrete block planter built to rock any garden space or patio! Complete project instructions and visual tutorial here ehow
How To Build A Cinder Block Raised Garden Bed – Free Tutorial:
Also install great looking raised garden flower beds with concrete blocks which can simply be fixed in place and can be filled with potting soil also beautifully! Here the concrete blocks build a large rectangular garden bed which really looks great and outstanding! Another great cinder block project to inspire your creativity! Willing to duplicate this fantastic-looking garden bed for your garden space? Then just grab the full free guide and visual instructions from here sunshineandrainydays
DIY Neon Cinder Block Herb Planter – Free Tutorial:
Another outstanding and great looking cinder block planter that will rock a corner space with its bright colored appeal! Here the rectangular concrete blocks have been stacked to give 3 rows of planter and they are really looking great in corner side! Another great and outstanding herb garden project that will definitely hold your attention! The neon painted cinder blocks are looking damn gorgeous and this will also be an indirect way to colors to any of your patio or garden space! Complete project instructions and step-by-step tutorial here homesteadlifestyle
DIY Cinder Block Planters – Free Tutorial:
Get inspired of this another fantastic looking cinder block planter that comes raised and is definitely something outstanding to look at! This is how you can build outstanding cinder block planter wall at your patio for extra grace and charm and to lure the number of views of any of your outdoor space that is looking boring! Looking forward to duplicate this project? Then just grab the full free guides and visual instructions from here handsoccupied
DIY Cinder Block Vases Planters – Free Tutorial:
Get inspired of this another fantastic cinder block planter that comes with painted squares or in mosaic appeal and are just looking damn gorgeous and fantastic! Here these cinder block planters are made of single cinder blocks and just goes fetching to eyes! These planter will also rock any tabletop or shelf and are super easy to make at home! Looking forward to duplicate these cinder block vases? Then just grab the full free guides and visual instructions from here designimprovised
Easy Three DIY Cinder Block Projects:
Have a look at this another fantastic cinder block pattern that is looking mind-blowing and stunning! Here the custom stenciled cinder blocks have been put together for a raised corner planter that fills the entire corner gracefully and beautifully! This is here another epic and graceful cinder block planter project that will surely hold one’s attention who is a big fan of greenery! Complete project details and tutorial here craftboxgirls
by Connie Oswald Stofko
Is it safe to use cinder blocks in a raised bed, or might chemicals from the concrete blocks leach out of the blocks to contaminate your soil and food plants you grow there?
Can you use pressure treated lumber?
Can you grow food plants in the hellstrip, the area between the street and sidewalk?
John Farfaglia, extension educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Niagara County, responded to my questions on soil safety.
Cinder blocks in raised vegetable bed
I have seen warnings on the Internet that cinder blocks or concrete blocks used in a garden might leach harmful chemicals into the soil and ultimately into your food plants.
After doing some research, Farfaglia’s short answer was: “I doubt whether there is any issue to worry about.”
He found universities recommending the use of concrete blocks in container gardens or raised beds.
The concern cited in many warnings is specifically fly ash, the residue you get from burning coal, that might have been used in older cinder blocks, but he doubts whether that is commonly used anymore.
However, one thing you should take into consideration when using old bricks, old concrete blocks or other recycled material is where those materials came from, he said. The materials may have been resting in soil that was contaminated with chemicals. If you’re going to use bricks for pathways, pressure washing the materials should be sufficient. If you’re using materials for a vegetable garden, you would want to be more cautious.
If you’re unsure of the source of used materials, he recommends using new material.
UPDATE (8/13/2018): A reader left a comment, saying:
“Connie, you and Farfaglia are wrong – fly ash is still used in manufacturing ‘cinder’ blocks, sometimes. If you go to this product page at home depot for a 16 in. x 8 in. x 6 in. Concrete Block https://www.homedepot.com/p/16-in-x-8-in-x-6-in-Concrete-Block-30163601/100350201 and look at the question answer section, you will see that a customer asked: ‘Is there any fly ash in these concrete blocks? If so, how much?’
“The manufacturer responded with: ‘It may sometimes be included in the mixture. Fly ash is a recycled green product and is requested from some builders because they have green criteria they would like to meet – LEED certification, reduce CO2 emissions, etc.’
“I take that to mean that sometimes they have to put fly ash in a batch because it is requested by a builder, and to keep costs down, assuming the builder does not want to buy the whole batch, they have to sell the remainder to home depot and other retailers so the block you buy at a retailer like home depot might have fly ash in it.
“So yes, modern day ‘cinder’ block might have fly ash in it.”
John Farfaglia looked into this more and said that there probably needs to be more research on this. There aren’t any studies to show whether the heavy metals that may be contained in cinder blocks or concrete blocks can leach into the soil. If you are concerned, you could get your soil tested for heavy metals.
Naturally rot-resistant wood like cedar or redwood is the best choice for raised bed construction for gardeners that have concerns regarding any possibility of exposure of chemicals in the building materials.
Farfaglia also sent along information from the University of Maryland Extension: Cement block, cinder block and concrete block all are made with cement and fine aggregates such as sand or small stones. Fly ash is also often included. Fly ash is a byproduct of burning coal and so contains heavy metals and other hazardous waste. Labels do not give specific information on exactly what aggregate is used in the manufacture of the block. There is also little research data on this topic. Ultimately, this becomes a personal choice based on your comfort level. If you plan to use block as a raised bed material — and many people do – and you are concerned about potential risks, you could seal the blocks with polymer paint. Or you can choose to use another material.
(Polymer paint is latex paint or acrylic paint.)
Pressure treated lumber in raised vegetable bed
Farfaglia said people often ask about using treated lumber for raised beds. At one time, arsenic was used in treated lumber, but isn’t any longer, he said. The risk of using new treated lumber is low, but he still recommends using natural wood such as cedar to be safe.
Line a raised bed to protect against potential leaching
As added protection, when growing food in a raised bed, you can line the bed with plastic to act as a barrier from any chemicals that might leach into the soil from the building materials. Use a thick gauge plastic, like 6 mil, Farfaglia said.
Hellstrip not best option for food plants
Awhile back, we told you about one local gardener who plants herbs in her hellstrip, the area between the road and sidewalk, but a reader commented that he would be wary of eating food planted there.
I asked Farfaglia about it, and he cautions against it.
“In a lot of cases the risk is not high, but as a general practice, save that strip for ornamental plants,” he said.
That area can contain residues from salt and other chemicals used on the road, and there may be a higher concentration of lead still there from auto exhaust.
You should also be wary of beds near the foundation of an older home that may be contaminated with lead from paint that flaked off and accumulated in the soil, he noted.
If your soil is contaminated, rinsing your herbs or vegetables might not be enough to get rid of the contamination. How big the risk is depends on many factors, including how high the concentration of the contaminant is, how often you eat the food and how you cook it.
You can get soil tested
If you’re concerned about your soil being contaminated, you can get your soil tested at the Cornell Nutrient Analysis Laboratory. It costs between $50 and $150, with some tests cost extra.
The Toxic Truth About Cinder Blocks Every Homesteader Should Know
Image source: Rustoleum.com
Planning to add some raised beds to your homestead this year? Raised beds are excellent for those who need more compact gardens or those who have back or knee pain, as they eliminate the necessity of bending down to weed the rows.
Natural rock can be used to create raised beds. Think of the stone fences frequently seen throughout the countryside. Most of these barriers were constructed out of rocks gathered from the adjacent fields. Although you may not be able to gather enough rocks from your homestead alone, visiting with a local building contractor may allow you the opportunity to glean rocks from new construction sites for the amount needed for your project.
Of course, raised gardens also can be constructed out of lumber. Cedar is a popular choice, since it is resistant to wood rot and deters termites. Avoid using treated lumber of any kind. Treated lumber can harbor toxic chemicals that will leach into the soil, contaminating both the soil and plants grown in the affected soil. The same can be said for railroad ties and other scrap lumber of unknown origins.
In an effort to save time and money, many homesteaders have turned to using cinder blocks, new and reclaimed, to build raised beds on their property. Although cinder blocks are relatively easy to obtain, are simple to work with and last for years with very little maintenance, there are a few safety concerns that should be addressed.
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First, you must determine if you are working with true cinder blocks or cement blocks, as there is a difference in their composition. Cement blocks are made with Portland cement and aggregates. They are heavier and costlier on average, while cinder blocks are made with Portland cement and fly ash, a byproduct of the coal industry, and they are lighter in weight and most often cheaper to purchase.
The addition of fly ash to the Portland cement is the cause of concern. Fly ash is a byproduct of coal-burning electric plants. The ash is trapped and collected, then used as a partial substitute for Portland cement. While it is true that this process creates what is now considered a green building material, questions remain about how safe fly ash truly is. The coal itself contains many heavy metals and other substances known to be toxic. A considerable amount of these metals and substances remain in the ash and are subsequently found in the cinder blocks that are created from it.
Garden beds, framed with cinder block, may be fine for flowers and other nonedible plants, but be wary of using them to frame gardens that will be home to edible plants and medicinal herbs. There is the potential for toxic materials to leach from the cinder blocks into the soil. These materials have been known to affect cognitive ability, cause nervous disorders, contribute to increased cancer risks and have given rise to many general health complaints.
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There are some ways to safeguard yourself and your raised beds if you are concerned about the increased health risks from using cinder blocks.
1. Plant only in the actual garden space created by the cinder blocks. Do not plant edibles in the hollow chambers of the blocks. The roots of these plants are completely surrounded by the block and may absorb the higher amounts of toxic material leached into the soil from the fly ash.
2. If building a new bed, seal the blocks with a waterproof sealant on all surfaces. This may lessen the amount of leaching that occurs over time from watering and natural rainfall.
3. For a few seasons, grow cleansing plants, such as sunflowers. Some species of plants clean the soil by removing toxic materials from the soil, or at the very least neutralize them. At the end of the growing season it is best to destroy the plants. Adding the contaminated plant to the compost pile will only spread the toxic materials to a new location.
Do you garden with cinder blocks? What advice would you add? Share it in the section below:
If You Like All-Natural Home Remedies, You Need To Read Everything That Hydrogen Peroxide Can Do. Find Out More Here.
Cinder Blocks allowing chemicals to get into your plants and food?
Thank you for your question about cinder blocks, and the materials from which they are made (concrete and coal cinders). Concerns about the fly ash (also called “coal ash” or “coal fly ash”) began to surface earlier this century, and the EPA was asked to weigh in on its disposal in the environment. Specifically, the issues were about “leaking of contaminants into ground water, blowing of contaminants into the air as dust, and the catastrophic failure of coal ash surface impoundments.” It would seem that the potential contaminant leakage is the component that a vegetable gardener would have as the only concern. The EPA’s reports prior to adopting rules (preliminary and final) indicate that the states, rather than the federal government, were responsible for regulation of this absent “a finding of imminent or substantial endangerment in a specific circumstance.” Apparently, there has been no such imminent danger detected in concrete blocks to as to require regulation by the EPA.
Contrast this, however, with the perspective of the Physicians for Social Responsibility which asks: “How dangerous is coal ash to humans? The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found that living next to a coal ash disposal site can increase your risk of cancer or other diseases. If you live near an unlined wet ash pond (surface impoundment) and you get your drinking water from a well, you may have as much as a 1 in 50 chance of getting cancer from drinking arsenic-contaminated water.” You can read their entire report here.
So, the question becomes whether the leaching of the fly/coal ash from the blocks can/will contaminate the soil surrounding it, and whether any such leached chemicals can be absorbed into the roots of the plants and translocated to edible plant parts. The same PSR report indicates that “heavy metals including arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium and selenium, as well as aluminum, antimony, barium, beryllium, boron, chlorine, cobalt, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, thallium, vanadium, and zinc.” Some of these are actually micronutrients that plants need (boron, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, zinc, and chlorine); others are toxic even to the plants.
Oregon DEQ has found that “If heavy metal and dioxin concentrations in ash are high enough, ash can affect public health if swallowed (ash can stick to hands or to food crops), and can affect ecological health (metals and dioxins can accumulate in worms that birds eat).” The agency found, further that as an “Ingredient for Concrete Fly ash contains several properties that are beneficial as a concrete ingredient. Chemically, fly ash can help bind concrete together. Physically, fly ash can help wet concrete flow better. However, fly ash quality is extremely important.” (Emphasis added.)
One might conclude that “if it’s harmful to the worms, it isn’t good for humans.” However, I can find no specific cautions about or bans on use of cinder/concrete blocks in a vegetable garden. And, were the blocks to have a barrier, such as thick plastic, between them and the soil surrounding the plants’ roots, arguably these concerns could be ameliorated. Just don’t know about the worms.
Sorry this is so long, but the answer appears to be rather unclear, and I wanted you to have the science, if needed.