Building a Raised Bed for Your Garden

For those who have lived in the desert you might know what it’s like to try and dig in the rocky soil. In a word, frustrating. The soil in the Phoenix area isn’t terrible, but more often than not it needs amendments such as rock removal and organic fertilizers. For those who don’t have the time, energy or desire to dig and amend the soil (and then wait) a raised garden bed is a fantastic option.

A picture of a raised garden box I builtI’ve built three raised garden beds now (click here to skip right to the directions on how to build your own). I built the first one a few years ago and just a few weeks ago built box numbers two and three (the third one I built for my mother-in-law).

The first box I built was pretty basic. Nothing more than a little bit of lumber and some deck screws. I made that box’s dimensions approximately 3 x 6 x 1.5 (in feet). When I decided I wanted to expand my garden area some by building another raised box I wanted to go just a little bit bigger. I ended up with a new box with outer dimensions approximately 4.3 x 8 x 1.5 (again, in feet).

This time, on top of increasing the size of the new raised garden bed I also decided to add a few new features: a sitting bench on top of the box and the ability to easily add plastic or shade cloth on top of the box as the weather requires.

How to build your own raised bed

Required Materials

  • Nine 8 ft 2×6’s
  • Box of 21/2 inch deck screws
  • One 6 ft 4×4

Optional Materials

  • Two 8 ft 2×6’s
  • One 10 ft 2×6
  • 1/2 inch chicken wire
  • 1/2 inch PVC pipe
  • 1/4 inch flexible PVC

Required Tools

  • Electric drill
  • Drill bit
  • Screwdriver bit
  • Miter Saw (optional)
  • Staple gun (optional)

Before you do anything you’ll want to cut the wood to size (try to get the hardware store to cut this if you can). Feel free to make variations on the size of the lumber to fit your needs.

I bought nine 8ft 2×6’s for the actual box and only had to get three of those cut (in half). I ended up with six 8ft 2×6’s and six 4ft 2×6’s. I also bought a 6ft 4×4 and had it cut into four equal pieces (the 4×4 is for extra support). Make sure to buy either Redwood or Cedar as they’ll last the longest.

That’s all the lumber you’ll need for the actual garden box (if you want to build a bench on top like I did you’ll need more lumber — directions below). Now that your lumber is cut and ready to go, let’s start with the fun stuff.

First, find a level surface to build your box on (I used the cement patio in my backyard).

Now lay down one of your 8ft boards (the 2×6) and one of the 4 ft boards (2×6). Line the edge of the 4 ft board against the inside edge of the 8 ft board and drill two pilot holes through both boards (you’ll want a drill bit that’s just a bit smaller in diameter than your screw). Now drill in your screws. Continue to connect the 2x6s until you have one entire row screwed together.

Now take the 4×4 posts and connect them to the inside of the box. Make sure you drill a pilot hole before trying to screw everything together. Now add the second row of 2x6s. Finish the raised bed off with the the third row now and you’re done with the basic box.


Options, Options, Options

Keep out Gophers

If you want to keep gophers and other burrowing animals from digging up into your garden you’ll want to install some chicken wire on the bottom of the box. This isn’t too difficult, just cut it to size and staple it to the bottom of the garden bed with a staple gun. You’ll want to use long-ish staples if you can, to keep them from popping out when you’re trying to get the chicken wire installed. Try at least 1/2 inch staples, although you’re probably better off with 3/4 inch.

Add a ‘bench’ to your garden bed

For the bench you’ll need a miter saw to cut angles into the lumber. You’ll need to start with that. You should have two 8ft 2×6’s and one 10ft 2×6. Your completed garden box should be about 4’3″ wide and 8′ long, which is why you’ll need a 10′ board for the top. Cut the 10′ board into two pieces that are approximately 4’3″ long (these should be the same length as the width of your box). Now use your miter saw to cut 45 degree angles into each end of the 8′ and 4’3″ boards.

Now all you have to do is screw the bench onto the top of the garden box. You can use the same screws you used on the construction of the box. I put a screw in every 2 feet and it’s plenty secure. Use more or less as you prefer. The corner of your box will look something like the picture to the right.

Protect your garden from the sun and the cold

One great thing about gardening in the desert is that our cold season is generally pretty short and we don’t often have to cover our plants to protect them from the cold. On the other hand, shade cloth is almost an absolute necessity during the warmer months.

With that in mind, I wanted to make it as easy as possible to put up and take down shade cloth (and plastic during the cold season). I dug around the internet and found this idea: attach 1/2 inch PVC pipe to the edge of the box and then use 1/4 inch flexible PVC to hold up shade cloth. If you built a bench for your garden box then installing the 1/2 PVC is easy. Just drill a hole in the bench and drop the 1/2 PVC in the hole. Now you can take up and put down the 1/4 inch flexible PVC whenever you need it.

Alternatively, if you didn’t build the bench then you can just attach the 1/2 PVC with a few screws and a PVC pipe bracket. Easy as pie. Here’s one last look at the finished product:

Full view of the raised garden box I built
Notice the white 1/2 inch PVC pipe I dropped in so I can add easy shade later on.

That should do it for the instructions. Good luck building your very own raised garden bed. If you have any suggestions, questions, etc I’d love to hear them. Leave it in the comments below!

The Start of a New Garden

My wife calls me a dirt nerd. That’s a nerd I’d never really considered I might be. I’ve always been a huge tech nerd (and absolutely still am) but there’s nothing quite like digging around outside and watching plants grow from just a tiny seed to something else entirely: a fruit or veggie plant, bush, vine or tree. I guess dirt nerd is actually an appropriate title. Maybe just nerd.

I picked up gardening as a hobby a few years ago when I moved into my current house. I started out pretty slowly, learning a little at a time, but unfortunately have struggled to retain certain pieces of information that could be useful. I tried (unsuccessfully) to keep track of planting dates, and monitor progress by keeping a garden journal, but I never managed to do it consistently, let alone in one easy to access place. I’ve been itching to start another blog after having started and run Debit versus Credit for the past few years so this is my solution to both ‘problems.’ I’ll be monitoring my garden through regular posts and will also write about other random stuff that’s interesting to me (e.g. gadgets, technology & green living).

To kick things off, here’s a quick post on what I’ve been up to this spring in the garden. First, a few pictures (if you want to get a closer look you can click on them for the HD version).

My new raised garden bed

That’s my new garden box. I went all out this time around.

This is my old garden box, in front of the new one. Don’t let the picture fool you, the old one is quite a bit smaller then the new raised garden bed.

My old raised garden bed, next to the new one

Both garden beds are made from redwood, which is used often in decks because it’s slow to rot, at least when compared to other woods. The smaller one (which is also the older one) is 6 feet long and 3 feet wide. The newer box is 8 feet long and 4 feet wide. They are both approximately 18 inches tall.

You’ll notice that I built a sitting bench all the way around the top of the new garden bed. I built it using the same 2×6’s that I used to build the rest of the box, so effectively that reduces the “useable” width from 4 feet to a little over 3 feet and the useable length from 8 feet to a little over 7 feet.

Did you notice the PVC pipe along the edge of the new garden bed? That’s to be used for shade and/or plastic (to act as a sort of greenhouse) in extreme weather. Being in the desert I get plenty of that. I’ll tell you more about my raised garden bed design later. For now, back to the plants.

Some of the plants in my new raised garden bed

For reference I’ve been subscribing to the knowledge of Dave Owens, otherwise known here in Phoenix as “The Garden Guy,” through his book, Extreme Gardening (that there is an amazon affiliate link). I’ve been using it primarily for information on companion planting and also when to plant different things here in the low desert.

You can see planted there in the top row (starting from the left): sweet pepper, salsa pepper (spicy), marigolds (haven’t sprouted yet), Early Girl tomato, Rose tomato, rosemary (again hasn’t sprouted) and in the area just to the right of the picture, Blue Lake pole beans.

In the second row we have Nasturtium (seed), Swiss Chard, Onion (seed), Basil, Basil (again), Calendula, and just off the screen pole beans again.

In the bottom row you can see Muskmelon in the far left followed by Lavender, Spinach (kind of wilty), pickling cucumber, nothing (yet — carrots soon), and off the screen to the right is a vining cucumber.

Dwarf Peach Tree with Strawberries

Here you can see my dwarf peach tree starting to bloom and next to it a large strawberry plant. I’ve never had much luck with strawberries here in the desert, but I’m hoping that the more established plant, that should be shaded by the peach tree in the afternoons, will make it through the summer.

What do you think about my new garden? It’s absolutely still a work in progress, but is really coming along I think. Stay tuned for more…