Raised garden beds are one of the best ways to garden. With a raised garden bed you:
- Control the soil that goes into the bed – no more worrying about what you have to add to make your local soil work well for your plants
- Reduce soil compaction – there is no need to step in a raised garden bed so there will be no soil compaction. This will increase the productivity of the bed and allow you to plant more plants per square foot.
- Have better drainage
- Are easier to work – less back strain to get to the plants
- Extend your gardening season – raised beds warm up sooner and will stay warm longer in the fall
One of the downsides to a raised garden bed is making it! It can get expensive to create a raised garden bed, but there are a few ways you can make them cheaper.
The two things you are going to need for your your raised garden bed, soil and a frame.
Creating your Cheap Raised Garden Bed
If you make your frame from new wood (Lowe's or Home Depot) then you will need three pieces of 2 x 10 x 8 for a 4 x 8 raised bed. Two boards will be used for the long part of the bed and you will cut the third board in half to make the two four foot pieces. a 2″ x 10″ x 8′ board run $6-$10 so the total for your bed will be $18-$30 before hardware. Here are four tips to make a raised garden bed frame cheaper.
- Check your local craigslist for supplies. You can often find pallets for free or recycled wood for cheap. Be wary of using railroad ties. The creosote in the railroad ties is not good for vegetable garden.
- Look in the Home Depot cull section. They have boards that are cut smaller or have imperfections for $0.51 each. You can find some great wood for next to nothing.
- Reuse items. Many people successfully use old tires or large barrels as a frame. I've even seen some cute raised container gardens made out of old wheelbarrows. Look around your property and keep an open mind!
- Use concrete blocks. Concrete blocks will last forever, do not require hardware to piece together, do not contain chemicals, are cheap, and you can use the squares in the middle of the block to grow a single plant (like strawberries or herbs). You can also create different sizes or shapes easier with concrete blocks. You will need 20 concrete blocks to create a 4 x 8 bed, at $0.97 each that will cost you $19.40 new, but you can find them used for much cheaper.
Getting Cheap Soil for your Raised Garden Bed
The soil is one of the more expensive items in a raised garden bed. First you will need to calculate the soil needed for your raised garden bed. If you are making a 4 ft x 8 ft x 10 inch bed then you will need 24 cubic feet of soil. A bag of soil is generally 1 cubic foot (you can find larger bags that are 3 cubic feet).
If you mix your own soil then you can use a few different formulas:
- 1 part peat/coir: 1 part vermiculite: 1 part compost (Mel Bartholomew from Square Foot Gardening)
- 1 part soil: 1 part compost: 1 part peat/coir
- 1 part soil: 1 part compost: 1 part manure: 1 part peat/coir
You can often find free manure locally. Make sure that it has been cured or you will need an area to age it. “Manure” has been composted, or aged, for about 6 months. Before that it really is just dung. I see ads for free manure all the time, when what they are really offering is the waste material that creates manure! You do not want to use this on your plants until it has been aged. At the least, the salt and nitrogen level will burn your plants, at the worst, you can transfer pathogens to them.
Check with local landscaping and waste facilities. They often have soil and soil amendments for a lot less than the “by the bag” cost. Sometimes they will even sell an already mixed soil (make sure to get vegetable gardening soil and not potting soil – potting soil does not contain as much, if any, organic material and usually contains a much higher percentage of peat or vermiculite). They will sell the soil by the cubic yard, which is the equivalent of 27 cubic feet. A cubic yard of garden soil sells for $25-$35. A cubic foot bag of soil averages $4 ($108 for a cubic yard).