How to build an enclosed vegetable garden?

Build a sturdy enclosure in your yard to protect your delicate garden from pests.

Click through the above slideshow using the arrow on the right.

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Side Walls

On a flat, level surface, lay the 4 x 4 posts out and attach the 2 x 4 board and 2 x 6 board to the top and bottom with 3-inch wood screws and exterior glue. Attach to the center a 2 x 4 x 72 piece on edge. Adjust for square by taking diagonal measurements and making sure the two measurements match.

Build two side walls.

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Front/Back Walls & wall framing

Use 3-inch wood screws and exterior wood glue to attach the 2 x 4 piece to top and 2 x 6 piece to bottom to create the front and back wall framing. Adjust for square by taking diagonal measurements.

Attach remaining 2 x 4 x 72 on edge to front and back walls, 24 inches from the 4 x 4 corner posts.

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Mesh/Chicken Wire & TRIM

Wrap the bottom exposed 4 feet of the enclosure in chicken wire or mesh, securing with staples. Leave opening for door between 2 x 4 x 72 long.

Over top of the mesh or chicken wire, attach remaining 2 x 4 and 2 x 6 boards with 3-inch exterior screws and exterior wood glue.

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Cross Bracing & raised beds

Ensure the enclosure is square. Then attach cross supports to insides of project with 2.5-inch exterior wood screws and exterior glue.

Attach 38-inch 2 x 6 boards to inside of 96-inch 2 x 6 boards to create raised beds. 2 x 12 boards can also be used. Use 2.5-inch exterior screws.

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Door Frame & door Cross support

Attach 1 x 2s to top and bottom of 2 x 4 boards to create door frame. Use 2.5-inch exterior wood screws. Check and adjust door frame for square.

Lay cross support board over door frame. Mark with a pencil. Cut off ends with a circular saw or jigsaw.

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DOOR MESH OR CHICKEN WIRE

Staple mesh or chicken wire to the door frame.

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Door Trim

Attach 2 x 4 and 2 x 6 door trim to the door frame with 2.5-inch screws. Also attach cross support.

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Door Hinges

Attach door to enclosure with gate hinges.

) ) )Introduction

Build a sturdy enclosure in your yard to protect your delicate garden from pests.

Click through the above slideshow using the arrow on the right.

Step 1

On a flat, level surface, lay the 4 x 4 posts out and attach the 2 x 4 board and 2 x 6 board to the top and bottom with 3-inch wood screws and exterior glue. Attach to the center a 2 x 4 x 72 piece on edge. Adjust for square by taking diagonal measurements and making sure the two measurements match.

Build two side walls.

Step 2

Use 3-inch wood screws and exterior wood glue to attach the 2 x 4 piece to top and 2 x 6 piece to bottom to create the front and back wall framing. Adjust for square by taking diagonal measurements.

Attach remaining 2 x 4 x 72 on edge to front and back walls, 24 inches from the 4 x 4 corner posts.

Step 3

Wrap the bottom exposed 4 feet of the enclosure in chicken wire or mesh, securing with staples. Leave opening for door between 2 x 4 x 72 long.

Over top of the mesh or chicken wire, attach remaining 2 x 4 and 2 x 6 boards with 3-inch exterior screws and exterior wood glue.

Step 4

Ensure the enclosure is square. Then attach cross supports to insides of project with 2.5-inch exterior wood screws and exterior glue.

Attach 38-inch 2 x 6 boards to inside of 96-inch 2 x 6 boards to create raised beds. 2 x 12 boards can also be used. Use 2.5-inch exterior screws.

Step 5

Attach 1 x 2s to top and bottom of 2 x 4 boards to create door frame. Use 2.5-inch exterior wood screws. Check and adjust door frame for square.

Lay cross support board over door frame. Mark with a pencil. Cut off ends with a circular saw or jigsaw.

Step 6

Staple mesh or chicken wire to the door frame.

Step 7

Attach 2 x 4 and 2 x 6 door trim to the door frame with 2.5-inch screws. Also attach cross support.

Step 8

Attach door to enclosure with gate hinges.

For the past few years, cucumbers, squash, and zucchini have wilted in my garden – no matter what.

My best guess is that my soil is infected with a virus, be it phytophthera or some other crippling condition.

Since then, I have planned to build a raised bed for cucurbits, which would give me some fresh soil to try growing them again.

Well, I finally got around to it! I built a raised bed out of dog-eared cedar fence posts and pressure treated 2x2s. It measures 6 feet long by 18 inches wide by 11 inches high.

It’s a little skinny for squash and zucchini plants, but I was desperate to create an area with fresh soil without breaking the bank. So, we’ll see how it goes!

While the size of this DIY bed may be a stretch for large plants, like zucchini and squash, it is beyond perfect for growing root crops, which need loose, loamy soil to reach their full potential.

Place it up against a fence or add a piece of trellis to the back and it’s equally great for climbing crops, like peas, green beans, and cucumbers.

I spent around 20 dollars on lumber and already had exterior screws on hand. And it was less than 35 dollars to fill with soil – but this will vary depending on what type of soil you use and have available.

While I don’t consider a total of 55 dollars a small sum, I do consider it an investment.

Next year, I’ll just have to top off the soil with some compost and possibly more sand for added drainage. So it’s nearly a one-time expense.

Want one (or five) for your garden? Keep reading to learn how to build your own DIY raised beds at home!!

What You’ll Need

Materials

  • 6 dog-eared cedar fence posts, 6 feet each
  • 1 pressure treated 2×2, no less than 4 feet long
  • ¾-inch exterior screws
  • 1 ¼-inch exterior screws

Tools

  • Circular saw or miter saw
  • Pencil
  • Speed square
  • Drill
  • Tape measure

Get to Work

First Things First – Cut Everything to Size

Cedar is expensive – but buying dog-eared fence posts is a way to get it for cheap.

Keep in mind that you’ll have to cut all of the dog-eared ends off the fence posts before beginning assembly of your beds.

To do this, take one fence post and mark a straight line with your speed square just below the dog-eared end. It should measure a little less than 6 feet.

Cut the end off with your circular or miter saw.

Use this picket as a guide for all of the others, so they are the exact same length.

Set four of these pieces aside – they will be used for the long sides of your new bed.

For the short sides, you’ll cut one fence post into four equal sections, around 18 inches each.

They may be a little longer or shorter than 18 inches – it will depend on your particular boards. The important thing is that they are all the same size.

Then you’ll take your final 6-foot fence picket and cut it into four to six sections, each section measuring roughly 11 inches, which is the height of the raised bed.

These pieces will be for stabilizing the long sides, as well as adding a little bit of character.

All you will have left at this point is the 2×2. Cut four sections from the 2×2, each measuring 11 inches. These will become the corners of the structure.

That’s it! Those are all the pre-cut pieces you’ll need.

Assembly

Now it’s time to put it together.

First, assemble the long sides.

Lay two of the 6-foot fence pickets on the ground, one above the other with the ends flush.

Then, take two of the 2×2 sections you cut and line them up with the ends of the boards.

Pre-drill your holes, then attach the 2x2s to the cedar pickets with 1 ¼-inch exterior screws.

Cedar can split relatively easily, so don’t skip the step of pre-drilling.

Repeat this process with two more 6-foot pickets and two more 2x2s. These will be the long sides of the bed.

Next, attach the short picket sections – the ones that measure around 18 inches – to the same 2x2s that are now on the long picket sections.

Just a heads up: the screws will show from the outside on the short sides of the bed.

If you don’t want the screws to show, you have a few options:

  • Attach the screws from the inside.
  • Use a Kreg-jig.
  • Sink the screws into the cedar a bit and plug the holes later.

I generally avoid the Kreg-jig, since I have found this option to be more difficult to do with cedar.

At this point, you should have the entire box assembled.

To better secure and stabilize the long sides, use ¾-inch exterior screws to attach the remaining 11-inch sections of cedar to the long sides of the bed.

You can choose to put just one per side or several per side, or sandwich the bed between two of them like I did in the picture above.

If you want to add a little bit of character, try putting these pieces on the exterior of the frame – but attach them from the inside, so the screws aren’t showing.

I’ll be honest though, functionality was my main concern while I was building this.

Take whatever creative liberty you like to make it look a little more finished and charming, if that’s your style.

Filling Time

As for filling this beauty with soil, I went ahead and purchased four 3-cubic-foot bags of organic raised garden bed soil.

I also added a 50-pound bag of coarse, multi-purpose sand – the bag actually listed soil amendment as one of the suggested uses.

I gave it a good mix, watered it well, and sowed my seeds.

Not Much to It

That’s all you need to do. Really!

This is just a guide to get you started, so feel free to improvise according to your own whims and needs. You can always use different materials and adjust the size, or make your own embellishments to the basic style.

Do what works for your garden!

If you need something larger, I would recommend using 4×4 cedar or pressure treated posts for the corners instead of the 2x2s.

Also, keep in mind that raised beds dry out faster than planting directly in the ground. So, particularly before seeds germinate and while they’re still seedlings, you’ll want to keep the soil consistently moist.

Have you ever built a raised bed before? Think you’ll give this one a try? If you do, let us know how it goes. We would love to hear your feedback!

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Photos by Amber Shidler, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details.

About Amber Shidler

Amber Shidler lives in Cincinnati, Ohio and holds a dual bachelor’s degree in botany and geography. For four years she worked as a horticulturist, but is now a stay-at-home mom. With experience in landscape design, installation, and maintenance she has set her sights on turning her tenth-of-an-acre lot into a productive oasis. Amber is passionate about all things gardening, especially growing and enjoying organic food.

Mounded Raised Beds: How To Make An Unframed Raised Bed

If you’re like most gardeners, you think of raised beds as structures enclosed and raised above the ground by some sort of frame. But raised beds with no walls also exist. In fact, they’re the most common way to build raised beds on a large scale, and they’re popular on small vegetable farms. These mounded raised beds are also great for home gardens.

Advantages of Growing in Unframed Raised Beds

Unframed raised beds offer most of the same advantages as framed raised beds. These include improved drainage, a deeper volume of loosened soil for plant roots to explore, and a raised growing surface that is easier to reach without kneeling. Raised bed soil also warms up earlier in spring.

An additional advantage of unframed raised beds is that you can install them with significantly less expense and effort, which is especially important if you’re gardening on a large scale. You will also avoid the potential toxicity associated with some framing materials.

Potential Disadvantages of Growing in Unframed Raised Beds

Raised beds with no walls don’t last as long as those with walls, however. If left untended, they will eventually erode and sink back to the level of the surrounding soil. That being said, you can simply build them back up every year or two, and this presents an opportunity to work additional organic material into the soil.

Mounded raised beds also take up more space than framed raised beds that provide an equivalent growing space. That’s because you need to account for the inclines at the margins of the bed. However, the lack of walls may allow squash and other vining plants to sprawl over the sides without being damaged, and small plants like mixed greens may be able to grow on the inclines. This can actually expand your growing area on the equivalent volume of soil.

Since there are no walls separating the walkways from the bed, weeds can spread more easily into an unframed bed. A layer of mulch on the walkway will help prevent this.

How to Make an Unframed Raised Bed

To build an unframed raised bed, mark out the area you will use for the bed. Common dimensions for an 8-inch-deep (20 cm.) unframed raised bed are 48 inches (122 cm.) between walkways with 36 inches (91 cm.) of flat growing space across the top. 12 inches (30 cm.) horizontally are left for the inclines.

When the soil is dry and warm enough to work, use a rototiller or a spade to loosen the soil. Simply by tilling or digging, you will reduce compaction and break up clumps, typically causing the soil surface to elevate by several inches.

Next, add at least 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7.5 cm.) of organic material, such as compost, to the entire area designated for the raised bed. Mix the organic material into the loosened soil using a rototiller or a spade.

As an alternative to adding material on top of the bed, you can dig down into the walkway between your raised beds. Add the soil to the beds so that you both raise the beds and lower the walkway.

After building your mounded raised beds, plant them as soon as possible to prevent erosion.

Anna Pavord: “Forget raised vegetable patches – veg are better off grown at ground level”

It is perfectly possible to grow vegetables in your garden or on an allotment without making raised beds. There. I’ve said it. I’m swimming against the tide here, but I’ve always thought it odd that gardeners (especially those new to gardening) so often seem to think first in terms of timber.

I can see part of the appeal. A raised bed edged with wooden planks gives an illusion of order in what may be a sea of intractable weeds. If you are short of time, as so many gardeners are, a raised bed presents an area that you can weed and maintain in a single session. We understand that not treading on soil is A Good Thing and a series of parallel raised beds with earth paths between allows us to sow and plant without setting foot on the sacred tilth.

But constructing a timber-edged bed is time consuming. Much new softwood is rubbish and will have rotted within five years. We found this with board edgings that we used along the edges of the paths on the bank. Soil immediately alongside a board edging will warm up, and create the perfect habitat for red ants. Their burrowings disturb plants but they also excrete a substance which can be toxic to their roots. Even if your board edgings don’t attract ants, you may find that in a hot summer (such as the one we’ve just had) the soil next to the boards dries out very fast which means seeds there don’t germinate and plants don’t grow as well as they should.

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Raised beds have always been around. Asparagus, for instance, has traditionally been grown in raised beds, but for a good reason. Asparagus, being a plant of sand dunes, does best in light, well-drained soil. But a raised bed used to be just that, a simple, unboarded affair, constructed in the way that Joy Larkcom describes in her invaluable book, Vegetables for Small Gardens.

Beds, she explains, can be anything from 1m to 1.5m wide with paths of 30-38cm between. The point is that you should be able to cultivate the beds from either of the two long sides, without ever having to step on them. But Larkcom’s first instruction in the process of making a bed is: “Initially cultivate the whole area to a depth of 15-20cm”. Too often this doesn’t happen and a raised bed is made directly on top of whatever compacted soil, rubble or rubbish lies beneath.

After marking out the position of the beds, Larkcom then suggests spading 15-20cm of soil from the paths and using that to raise the beds. She favours un-edged, flat-topped beds with sloping earth sides, which can be cultivated right up to the edges because there are no boards causing the soil to overheat. Finally, she says: “Rake the bed to level it, then shape it into a curved shape if required. Firm the sides with the back of a spade.”

The great thing about Joy Larkcom is that you can see her doing the job she is describing. She has experimented more than most people with the best ways of cropping a small patch and her advice is always worth listening to. Another important point was made by the late, great Geoff Hamilton, who through his role as TV’s Number One Gardener was chiefly responsible for introducing the concept of raised beds to the wider public.

He explained that a raised bed was likely to be most useful on heavy ground, or ground that was exceedingly poor. On heavy ground, a raised bed gives better drainage; on poor ground you can build up a growing area rich in humus and all the other things the underlying ground does not have. But on light, fast-draining ground, a raised bed can compound the difficulty of water disappearing faster than plant roots can take it up. Regular mulching with bulky organic compost will help prevent this and, on any raised bed, is necessary to maintain fertility.

That’s another thing that gets forgotten. You can only crop intensively (one of the much-vaunted advantages of a raised bed) if you feed liberally. And that means bulky stuff, not just Miracle-Gro. Only by adding bulky humus will you improve the soil’s ability to hang on to more moisture when it comes. It feeds too, though more slowly (and sustainably) than feeds from a bottle. Orientation matters as well. If you lay out your beds on an east-west axis, then one of the long sides of each bed will face the sun, which the plants will enjoy.

One of the disadvantages of boarded raised beds is that it fixes the design of a plot. Having done all this carpentry, you are not likely to dismantle it until rot and decay forces your hand. But a veg patch can be a very engaging moveable feast, if you have the freedom to lay it out each year in a different pattern. One year it could be a noughts-and-crosses board of nine equal squares, another year a star-shaped pattern of eight triangular and kite-shaped beds radiating out from a central point, or spirals of crops whirling in a Catherine wheel of marigolds and parsley, radish and viola.

In our old garden, I played around very happily in this fashion, with never a raised bed in sight. One year, zinnias made a spectacular centrepiece, sown direct into the soil. I’ve never grown such good zinnias since. Around them were beds of different lettuces, beetroot, French beans and two beds of sweetcorn standing opposite each other. Surrounding the circle of zinnias was a sprawling edge of squashes.

A veg patch no more than 5m square can easily give you between eight and 10 different compartments for planting, depending on the layout you choose. When Nori and Sandra Pope were gardening at Tintinhull in Somerset, they laid out a plot in the walled garden like a Mondrian painting, interlocking squares and rectangles of beans and sweet peas, kale and courgettes. It was spectacular, as well as productive. So before lashing out cash on those planks, those stakes and those screws, remember, there are other ways of growing veg. And with the money you’ve saved, you can buy young plants of your favourite vegetables instead of seed. That really does make growing your own an easier proposition.

WEEKEND WORK

WHAT TO DO

* Runner beans and French beans that have cropped to exhaustion (or stringiness) should now be cleared off vegetable plots together with any weeds.

* Globe artichokes that have sprouted new growth may need protection against frost.

* Let house plants drift into semi-dormancy. Cut down on feeding (once a month is plenty) and watering, but keep the atmosphere round the plants slightly humid by misting over leaves, or standing pots on a layer of damp pebbles.

* Shading should be washed off greenhouses and an insulating film of bubble polythene fixed in its place.

WHAT TO SEE

* Derry Watkins’s enthusiasm never wanes, which makes her one-day courses great favourites with gardeners who definitely feel they are running out of steam. On Tuesday 4 November you can brush up on pruning techniques – shrubs, fruit trees, perennials and grasses – to enhance form and increase vigour and flowering. The £75 price includes homemade lunch. Ring 01225 891686 to check availability before booking.

Garden Fundamentals – become a better gardener

Raised beds are becoming more popular, but do they make sense for the garden? What benefits do they provide? Will they grow more food than convention low beds? Does a raised bed need to have side walls? What is the best building material and soil for raised beds? In this and the following posts I will try to answer all of these questions so that you can make an informed decision about adding raised beds to your garden.

Raised beds with hoops

What is a Raised Bed?

The term raised bed is a bit confusing. If you add a few inches of soil to a garden bed that is at ground level, it is a raised bed. When most people talk about raised beds for vegetable growing, they mean a bed that has been raised with walls surrounding the soil, sometimes called a garden box or framed bed.

I’ll use the term raised bed to mean a bed that has walls and compare it with a traditional bed that does not. A traditional bed may or may not be raised above grade, but it is usually not raised more than six inches.

Benefits of Raised Beds

The pro side make many claims for using raised beds. The problem with many of the claims is that they are not comparing apples to apples. When you compare raised beds, using intensive cultivation to traditional farming practices you do find many benefits, but that comparison makes little sense. If you want to understand the real value of raised beds you need to compare them to intensive gardening done on level ground, or even raise ground without side walls.

I will look at many of these myths in a future article on GardenMyths.com, but for now here is a summary of some claims for raised beds that are not true.

  • need fewer seeds
  • has fewer weeds
  • more productive
  • longer growing season
  • less compaction

Raised Beds – the Pro Side

There are some legitimate reasons for using raised beds.

  • The garden looks neater. The walls keep soil in place, and pathways can be kept cleaner.
  • They require less bending to work on the plants, but a 12 inch wall does not help much for us tall folk.
  • They can be used in areas that have very poor soil, contaminated soil or no soil at all. Containers are small raised beds.
  • They warm up quicker in spring, allowing earlier planting.
  • They can be great for people with a disability.
  • Different beds can hold different types of soil allowing you to match soil to crops.
  • Drainage can be better in areas with very poor drainage, but raised beds can also cause drainage problems.
  • Bottoms can be screened to keep gophers and voles out.
  • Helps keep kids and pets from stepping onto plants.

Raised beds for handicapped

Some people claim they deter slugs and animals like rabbits. Others say they have no effect on these pests.

Raised beds may help concentrate resources like compost and fertilizer to the growing areas, but if you are careful you can also do this in a non-raised bed.

Notice that none of these reasons have anything to do with higher productivity, better flavor or improved nutrition. If you grow the same food, in the same kind of soil, raising the soil level and adding walls will produce exactly the same food as growing in the ground.

If you use better soil in a raised bed then it might produce more food, but you can also use better soil on the ground.

Techniques like square foot gardening make all kinds of claims for improved productivity, but the reason for increased productivity is due to intensive cropping – not the raised bed. You can do all of the intensive cropping on level ground.

Raised Beds – the Con Side

There are some very good reasons for not using raised beds.

  • You have to buy soil, unless you have high spots in your yard that you want lower.
  • They cost money to build.
  • Soil dries out much faster in summer.
  • Requires more watering.
  • Less sustainable since you need to buy and transport walls and soil.
  • There is some concern about chemicals leaching from the material used to build the walls.
  • Soil gets warmer, which is not good for roots, except in early spring.
  • Perennials need to be hardier since a raised bed gets colder in winter.
  • The rows between beds need to be wider if you plan to use a wheelbarrow with taller walls.
  • Drip irrigation is more difficult to install.
  • Soil cools down quicker in fall.

Productivity is probably better without a raised bed. The roots of a tomato plant in the ground grow several feet in all directions, but in a raised bed its root system is confined. Raised beds dry out quicker in summer, and water becomes a limiting factor for yield. Given good soil, and the same amount of fertilizer and water, it is hard to see how plants crammed into a raised bed would produce as much food as in the ground.

Are Raised Beds Better?

Unless one of the pro arguments is very compelling for you, I recommend gardening on the flat ground. This is especially true if you are a first time gardener or someone that might move in a few years. Give it a try before spending the extra time and money building walls.

Read all about intensive cropping, including such topics as wide beds and succession planting. If drainage is a problem, you can move the soil from the paths onto the growing beds to raise them a bit. Adding organic matter will raise them a bit more. With beds that are eight inches taller (no walls) you will have a very productive garden, and the obvious paths will keep you from walking in the growing areas (unlike the lady in this picture).

Vegetables growing in wide beds – try not to walk on the beds.

Recommended Reading

I don’t normally recommend books, but these are very good for learning more about intensive vegetable gardening.

References;

  1. Photo source 1 and 2: under license
  2. Photo source for Vegetables in wide beds; Kate Holt/AusAID

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