Learn how to build a DIY raised garden bed for your back yard. This easy project is the perfect addition to any garden!
Let’s face it – you’re not getting any younger.
Before you know it, your knees will have gone soft and wobbly, your hands will be gnarled stumps and your back will protest your every move like PETA at a fur-coat-and-leather-pants convention. Your body will have more snap, crackle and pop than the bowl of Rice Krispies you wish you could eat if you only had teeth.
Yep, you’re not getting any younger. But don’t let it get you down, because I’m here to raise you up! Sound good?
Great! Let’s start with your garden beds.
Are you still scrabbling in the dirt like a 7th century peasant? Look, in-ground gardening is fine if you’ve got a tractor or an ox or a farmboy, but for the rest of us, the ground just seems to get farther and farther away with each passing year. But you don’t have to trade in your trowel for a set of crochet needles and a rocking chair. No way! Instead, you can just bring the ground up closer to you by learning how to build a raised garden bed!
Less bending means less snap, crackle and popping. Your knees and back will be forever grateful! Now, you could buy a raised bed from Home Depot or the like, but those beds are made with boards that are only 11/16 inch thick. Furthermore, the beds are only 10 inches tall – better than ground level, but not by much. As is usually the case, it’s much better to go the DIY route. I’m going to show you how to build a raised garden beds with 1-inch-thick cedar boards that are over 16 inches tall. You can go higher if you like; the choice is yours.
Way back in the summer of ’14, when I was a rosy-cheeked noob in all matters of house and yard, I tore up the sod from a small patch of our yard so I could build us a vegetable garden.
Handan had told me of the wonders of raised-bed gardening, so we decided to give it a try. I staked out a space for three or four 4 ft x 8 ft beds, but that first year, we only got around to building two DIY raised garden beds.
Since we didn’t really know what we were doing, we only made the beds about 10 inches tall, and then, for some strange reason, we placed the raised beds below grade so only about 7 or 8 inches showed above ground.
Like I said – I was a total noob.
The next year, we installed a new fence that we placed farther back than the original one, plus we excavated some landscaping, so we had room for a total of 8 DIY raised garden beds. We built three more 4 ft x 8 ft beds, again only 10 inches tall, but we placed them at ground level. Then we built two 4 ft x 4 ft beds and one 2 ft x 8 ft bed, all of which were 16 inches tall. We gave the extra height figuring we’d grow root vegetables in those beds. Little did we know then just how much easier they’d be to tend!
As the years wore on and my bones ground down, the 4 ft x 8 ft beds became more of a nuisance to work with, especially the two original ones half buried in the ground.
Well, this spring, Handan had had enough of it. She proclaimed that we would raise all of the beds to 16 inches. She further decreed that the original two raised garden beds would be replaced entirely, and those boards that were salvageable would be used to add height to the back beds.
Since these beds are all used to grow vegetables, I only use cedar to make them. Pressure-treated pine is fine for an ornamental garden, but I wouldn’t want those chemicals in the soil if I’m growing food. Around here, the best place for cedar boards is Lowe’s. Their cedar deck boards are a full inch thick – perfect for DIY raised garden beds.
DIY Raised Garden Bed SUPPLIES LIST
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- (9) 5/4 x 6 x 8ft cedar deck boards (actual dimensions are 1 inch x 5 7/16 inches x 8 feet)
- 1 1/2 inch Kreg screws (I used regular coarse thread. If you can find them, the Blue Kote screws made for outdoors would be better)
- (6) 1 1/2 inch x 1 1/2 inch x 24 inch cedar stakes (I made my own from a cedar 4 x 4)
- 2 inch deck screws or any other outdoor screw
- Circular saw
- Kreg Pocket Hole Jig
- Kreg Right Angle Clamp (optional)
- 4 Sawhorses (optional)
- Impact Driver
- Tape Measure
- Eye protection
For each raised bed, I would need nine 8-foot boards. Yes, DIY raised garden beds can be pricey (the cedar boards here are about $13.50 each), but they last a long time, they look great, and they’re easy on my old bones.
I bought enough for two full beds, plus a few extra boards.
With the seats folded down, all that wood fit perfectly in The Donkey. I could have fit much more!
Step 1 – Cut the boards to size
I hauled my load back home and unloaded it in the yard. Using my portable circular saw, I cut 6 of the boards in half (3 for each bed).
Step 2 – Drill pocket holes
I then drilled 3 pocket holes in the ends of each of the small boards.
While I toiled, Pepper rolled around without a care in the world. Ah, to be a dog in spring!
When we built our previous beds, we assembled them on the ground. That’s fine for the young and spry, but I’m getting to the point where things start to hurt if I spend too much time on all fours. The only thing worse than crawling is sitting Indian style. I sat like that for about 15 minutes the other day while I was working on a new outdoor heater we got for the deck. Then I realized I couldn’t feel my legs. I tried to move them, but my knees had locked. I needed to enlist Handan’s help to get up, and it took all my will not to start blubbering like a baby from the pain.
My son told me a while back that I’m not allowed to say “Indian style.” I asked him what he calls that position. He informed me that it’s called “Criss-Cross Applesauce” or some such gobbledygook.
I’ll stick with Indian style. As a side note, Poles and Romanians call that position, “Turkish style.” Handan has told me that Turks believe that Native Americans (what we all knew as “Indians” growing up) are Turkish descendants, so it’s interesting that the lotus style of sitting is known today by both names.
Step 3 – Assemble the raised garden bed frames
This time around, I decided to assemble the raised garden bed frames at a proper standing height using sawhorses. I also bought a new Kreg clamp for the project to keep the two boards perfectly aligned in a right angle while I screwed them together. This turns the assembly from a two-person to a one-person job.
We had already dismantled the old bed and removed some of the soil. As I built each tier, we placed it on the ground.
Step 4 – Hammer stakes
After adding the third tier, I hammered in the four corner stakes.
Step 5 – Level the frames & Secure
Since the land sloped away from the back, we wanted to start the leveling process there. We placed the level across the back, and once it was level side-to-side, I drilled pilot holes through the side and into the stake and then drove in the deck screws – 2 for each board.
Once the back was secure and level, we moved to the front. I repeated the process of leveling, drilling pilot holes and screwing.
After pounding two more stakes in the middle and securing them, the bed was finished.
When we built our first beds, we filled them entirely with good-quality garden soil from Home Depot. It’s a great option, but it can get pricey. This year, we filled them with some topsoil we have piled by the driveway that was left over from last year, some yard soil that was just excavated from another project, some peat moss to lighten up the soil and some composted cow poop.
We love how our DIY raised garden beds turned out, and we especially love that all of our beds are now properly raised.
In a year, the new ones will blend right in with the old beds. I love the look of weathered cedar!
So now that you know how to build a raised garden bed, do you think you’ll build one for your garden? Let us know in the comments!
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