I thought it would be pathetic if we lived on a farm and did not grow anything. Although I wanted to till the land and had dreams of harvesting by tractor, I decided on farming on a raised bed garden. The benefits of raised bed gardens, sometimes called garden boxes, are:
- They keep pathway weeds from your garden soil;
- Prevents soil compaction;
- Provide good drainage;
- Serve as a barrier to pests such as slugs and snails; and
- Makes it easier to harvest.
It was primarily the last reason that I wanted a raised bed garden. Growing up, my mother had a small garden, and I remember the backbreaking work it was to weed and to harvest the vegetables. Not backbreaking in terms of heavy lifting, but bending over so many times. A raised bed garden is higher than the ground, and therefore easier to reach the vegetables. No longer being a spring chicken, and not having the Chinese talent of being able to squat for hours on end, I opted for a raised garden.
I did a cost analysis of materials that we could use as the sides of the garden. Most sites tell you to use wood, specifically treated cedar because it will weather the elements best. Ceder planks are expensive though at over $2 per square foot and 12″ wide was the tallest we could make the garden. As I left all of my tools in my last apartment, and did not have a drill and a screw gun (rectified later by buddy Felix’ thoughtful gift of a tool set), I did not want to go out and buy a drill just to build a garden.
The cheapest material I could find to build a raised bed garden was cinder blocks at $1.31 per 18 long” x 6 wide” x 8″ tall block. Cinder blocks come in different sizes. When buying them I opted for the thinnest ones (to make the walls as thin as possible. These are also cheaper than thicker blocks. To build the tallest raised bed garden, we decided to stack two layers of cinder blocks which made our raised bed garden 16″ tall. Wifey did not like the idea of cinder blocks until I told her that we could paint it any color she wished.
MATERIALS & COST
The following is for building a simple raised bed garden. It will measure just under 4 feet x 4 feet, and is perfect for maintaining vegetables for a single household and you should be able to build it in a couple of hours. The one I decided to build was ambitious. I decided to make mine 23 feet by 4 feet, and I made 3 of them side-by-side. That meant ordering three pallets of cinder blocks (250 total) and ordering 15 cubic yards of compost and topsoil. Each cinder block weighs in at about 25 pounds, so moving and laying 250 of them was a bit of work as you can see on the video. 15 cubic yards of compost and topsoil took a space of about 25 feet by 25 feet and was a pile six feet tall. Moving that much growing material to the raised bed garden was a lot of backbreaking work.
|Paint stirring sticks – get these from big box home improvement store or paint store||Free|
|Gloves – You will need these to handle the cinder blocks. I had a pair lying around.||Free|
|Shovel – If you do not have a shovel, borrow one or steal one;||Free|
|Cinder blocks – for a single level raised bed garden, you will need 8 cinder blocks. For a double level, you will need 16 cinder blocks. I’ll assume you will double yours.||$10.48|
|Compost/topsoil – for a single level, you will need just under 1/2 cubic yard of growing material. For a double level, you will need about 3/4 cubic yard of growing material. Cost for me is $27 per cubic yard.||$27|
FOUR STEPS TO BUILDING A RAISED BED GARDEN
1. Plot your garden. I used paint sticks because they were free. I cut a line from one corner of the paint stick to the edge about four inches away. Then I snapped off the resulting triangle. These will be used as stakes. Stick them into the ground where the corners of your garden will be.
2. Till the land you will be placing your garden on. We were placing our garden on grass, and some of our vegetables would have deep roots. I did not want the roots to be stopped by the hard barrier of grass and compacted soil so tilling the grass was necessary. As you can see, we used a tilling machine, but for a 4’x4′ raised bed garden, you can use your shovel.
3. Lay the sides of the raised bed garden.
4. Fill your raised bed garden with compost and topsoil. I could find no guidelines for the ideal mix of topsoil to compost, and many people on the web have used 100% compost successfully, but I opted for a ratio of 70% compost and 30% topsoil.
Our raised bed garden was ambitious because of the size. We have close to 300 square feet of garden now planted. It took a full weekend of hard labor to put it together. To make ours, we needed 250 cinder blocks (3 pallets) and 15 cubic yards of compost/topsoil. We had a 25 foot x 25 foot tarp and the growing medium took up the entire tarp about six feet tall. I am glad that it is done and it is one of those things that you only need to do once.
Here is a photo of my completed raised bed gardens. The inner dimensions of each garden measures 23 feet in length and 4 feet in width for a total of 276 square feet of garden. You can see that we also filled the holes in the cinder blocks and can grow flowers or small plants in them. In terms of overall spend, this is how much I spent:
|Rent Tiller for 4 hours||$50|
|259 Cinder blocks plus delivery||$327|
|10 cubic yards of compost & 5 cubic yards of topsoil plus delivery ($150)||$555|
|Day Laborers to shovel growing medium to garden||$200|
TIPS & SUGGESTIONS
- You should sow your seeds a couple of weeks before putting together your garden.
- Plot your garden in a convenient spot. Think about how you will irrigate your veggies. Also think about placement in terms of convenience of cutting the lawn around it.
- Have all of your materials ready or easy to get. Avoid running full speed to a stop sign. Nothing is a worse momentum stopper than getting the paint sticks and cinder blocks, plotting and laying out the sides of your garden only to wait a week to get compost.
- Consider the growing season. Do this in the early spring. We completed ours in early July, and while my mother was already harvesting vegetables, we had only just planted our seedlings. We are hopeful in getting some crop, but not nearly the bounty we would have gotten if we had put together our garden a month or two prior. Next year we’re going to kill it.
Raised bed gardens of the style that I’ve put together are also ideal for green housing. I plan on placing PVC pipes directly in the cinder blocks and creating a frame where I can attach plastic – then while my mom will be relegated to Whole Foods, I’ll be harvesting veggies year round. You will have to wait for another blog post this winter for that build.