What Do I Need to Know About Growing in Raised Beds?

As our country grows and the dynamics of the rural landscape continues to change more people find themselves with a much smaller piece of real estate to enjoy. For those who still want some of nature’s bounty to enjoy the calculus about how to accomplish a garden becomes more complicated. One alternative to this issue is to consider growing your vegetables or even flowers in raised beds. These handy creations have loads of benefits and really aren’t that hard to erect.


I think the first question to ask is if a raised bed is right for you. The reasons for a raised bed could be many, including some of these: 1)I have a lot of issues with rodents (possums, groundhogs, rabbits, raccoons), 2) I would like to have the crops I grow higher from ground level to ease the picking burden 3) I would like to have more order to my garden.

In our experience 1 & 2 are true. For a few years at the beginning of our stay where we live now we had a great “critter dog” that kept the animals at bay, allowing us to reap great benefits from our traditional “in ground” gardens. But unfortunately this dog, Louie, had no respect for machines with heavy wheels and his tenure was cut short after 7-8 years.

I want to say that we have always enjoyed beans, tomatoes, corn, cucumbers, peppers, watermelons and more. So having everything at risk was just not a good plan. We tried electric fences, traditional woven wire fences and other devices, but our results were just nothing short of disappointing until we made the choice to “GO RAISED”!


There is a varied list of items you could use to create your raised bed and Pinterest is one of my favorite places to “shop” for ideas. I have used landscape timbers in the past when we build a smaller bed for strawberries. I would caution against treated lumber now because of the knowledge that the chemicals used to treat the wood can leech into your soil.

You could use the landscape stones that are intended for retaining walls. They will last forever, but the cost can be significant depending on the size of your bed. For our beds we chose to use regular untreated lumber, which is less expensive and foregoes the concern of chemicals.


This decision will come when you determine what you want to grow. When we started last year we were only intending to grow tomatoes. But we like tomatoes, so we wanted enough room for several. Many tomatoes recommend 18″ between when planting, so when we thought about planting twelve tomatoes we knew we needed to be 12-16 feet long and four feet wide. Using four 16′ 2 x 10’s cut at twelve feet allows us to make the 4′ x 12′ bed. The 2x10s made the bed 20″ off the ground. Think that is no big change, wait until your are fifty-something and your back screams every time you stoop to work on anything!

Our results were so good with our first tomato season we determined we wanted to expand our “raised gardens” area. We have them right beside an area where we grow dahlias and calla lilies, so we just planned for another 4′ x 12′ bed in which we could grow lettuce, onions, peppers and squash. Because the lettuce is so much earlier it was out of the way before the cucumbers sprawled across the space.

Our biggest question was how big could we make a bed? If we wanted to grow a large quantity of green beans could we use a long raised bed? I can’t say I ever saw such, so doing it was something of a try it and see proposition. Trying to be economical, I went back to the 2″ x 10″ x 16′ idea, but doubled the length so the bed is 4′ wide x 32′ long!


If you think about the inner dimensions of your raised bed you can make a rough calculation of how much fill it will take. So for a 4′ x 12′ x 15″ deep bed you are considering 60 cubit feet of fill. But then we thought about our 4′ x 32′ x 15″ deep bed and you are talking about nearly 3 cubic yards of fill.

You could go to your local home improvement warehouse and by garden soil in the bag, but that can quickly get expensive and burdensome. We chose to move away from garden soil because of the way it will pack as it receives rain and sun. For best results you want your roots to be able to penetrate the soil as far down as possible to retrieve from the water table when the skies are dry.

In our town and a neighboring city we have local government facilities that create compost. For the money this was our best alternative and after the success of our tomato bed last season we knew it would work for our beans and second bed. One thing in my favor for this was a pick-up truck, trailer and Kubota sub compact trailer with a bucket on the front to aid in unloading!


1 Comment

  1. Good tips, Joe, and the 20-inch minimum height is a must. Elevated gardening is so easy, once we raised our vegetable bed we wished we had more room to add additional ones.

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