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Marking square feet

My dad (John Mann) and I (Elizabeth Mann) spent our Friday afternoon assembling a raised bed. It is a project that we want to learn from and take that knowledge to Burundi, Africa. Building a raised bed has many advantages. It is a great option for those who do not have optimal soil conditions. Our soil is clay and is very compacted which makes vegetable gardening difficult. Raised beds provide more control with soil conditions, looks neater, and stays aerated. Raised beds are also advantageous because they are less likely to become water logged and heat up faster in spring.

We chose to use the square foot garden method. This is accomplished by marking squares using twine or nylon string. Each square can hold one plant or several, depending on spacing requirements for the plant. When it comes to carrots, beets, and smaller vegetables, you can fit up to 16 in one square foot. Below are the steps we took when assembling the vegetable beds.

Preparing to cut boards

First we had to decide what wood to use for the raised beds. Dad decided upon cedar because it is long lasting and pest resistant. Cedar is on the pricey side, but pays off since it lasts for many years. We built two beds. One is 4’ x 4’ and the second one is 4’ x 8’. We decided to use 8" wide cedar boards to allow greater depth for plant roots, but many vegetables only need 6” of depth.

Four feet is a good width for the box because is allows you to reach across the bed to care for plants. You can make the bed as long as necessary, but I suggest keeping the width at a reasonable amount so you don’t have to break your back trying to harvest vegetables.

Alligning boards to drill

To assemble, dad cut the 8’ board in half for the two ends and then we used the two 8’ boards for the sides. You will need a drill and deck screws. Line up the corners and make sure they are aligned correctly before drilling. Find a level place before you begin the drilling process.

Adding weed fabric

We added weed fabric to keep grass and weeds from growing into our boxes. A staple gun helped to make the job fast.

Mixing soil

We got enough soil mix for two 3’ x 8’ boxes, but ended up building one 4’ x 8’ and one 4’ x 4’ box. We purchased 10 cubic feet (cf) of organic compost, 10 cf of peat, and 10 cf of vermiculite. We poured it onto a tarp in batches of 5-6 cf and mixed it up before pouring it into the boxes.

Evening out soil

To finish, we raked the soil mix to even it out. To mark off the square feet grid, you can put a screw every foot along the top of the boards and then string the twine across. All that is left is to plant seeds or transplants, water well, and watch it grow.

Boxes completed

The raised beds are completed. I planted eggplant, tomato, and a cucumber transplants. I planted seeds purchased from Victory Seeds. They sell hundreds of open-pollinated and heirloom varieties. I planted lettuce, carrots, beets, beans, squash, eggplant, tomatoes, collards, luffa (harvested for making a natural sponge), and cabbage seeds. We are looking forward to some tasty vegetables this summer.

2 responses to “Building Raised Beds for Vegetables

  1. Janet Gilbert says:

    We did this in our back yard in Florida and worked very good until the Orange Count Utilities changed our irrigation to reclaimed water. We then were told we could no longer have plants for human consumption where our irrigation watered.
    Patio plants don't grow as well. :(

    Just a side note I learned living on a farm: Don't plant the same plants in the same spots year after year. Change them around as different plants take different nutrients from the soil.

    • John Mann says:

      I completely agree with you on rotating the plants. We move things around every season and add new compost every time we plant. Thanks for the comment!

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