If you’re curious about growing your own produce but are put off by the effort this seems to require, or think you need a big garden to make it worth your while, take heart. Raised beds are the answer to all your problems. Growing your own fruit and vegetables in a raised bed is a delight because:
Set aside an area of garden and get three 8-foot planks or from your local hardware store or garden center for a 10 square foot bed. You’ll also need some 4” screws, some cardboard or old carpet offcuts, and no less than 190 pounds of garden soil and/or compost for a 12 inch deep bed. Obviously, you can vary the size of the raised bed depending on your requirements.
Arrange the timbers in your chosen spot while making sure they level, both lengthwise as well as diagonally. Make sure the base is square. Then drill through the end timbers into the adjacent pieces top and bottom to make a frame.
Prepare your raised bed with proper drainage while protecting it from weed growth from below. An old bit of carpet cut to size should do the job nicely, and you can also use add some gravel to the bottom. Add sieved topsoil or garden composts that is free from roots and you’re ready for planting.
If you want timber raised beds but do not want to make them yourself, you can use ready-made industrial wood pallets. These are often available free to pick up from warehouses, garden centers or other major retailers.
You will need one (or more) wooden pallets in good condition, enough weed control fabric to more than cover the base, some scissors and a staple gun and garden compost. Turn your pallet over and measure and cut enough garden fabric to cover the entire underside, all 4 sides and enough to fold over the top. Staple the fabric on and, once it’s securely in place all round, turn the pallet the right way round and position in place. Fill it with good garden compost and topsoil and start planting in rows between the wooden slats.
If you prefer something a bit more substantial than timber, or you have a surplus of bricks or paving stone that are perhaps left over from a landscaping job, you can create stone edging for your raised beds. You can easily make a loose laid surround of cobbled paving stones or recycled building bricks to contain the compost – no need to build a proper mortared wall unless you really want to.
Alternatively, for a more stylish and sophisticated finish, you can build concrete raised beds from scratch using breeze blocks. All you need is a friendly weekend brickie, plenty of hardcore, sand and cement as well as enough breeze blocks for 2 courses all around your chosen area.
Clear and level the site, spread and compact an 3 inch layer of hardcore as footings for the raised beds. Mark out the shape of the bed with pegs and string. Lay 2 courses of blocks, using a mortar mix, then
leave to set overnight. Apply 2 coats of render to the outside and, once dry (about a week later), finish with masonry paint. Fill with compost and you’re good to go.
OK, so it’s not raised beds in the strictest sense, but when gardening space is at a premium, you need to think laterally – or vertically. Why not use pallets upright against a wall, experiment with trellises or fences on your balcony, or construct a basic A-frame or tepee for climbing beans and sweet peas? Building a vertical vegetable garden is not only a great way to maximize the use of space; you can also use it to make a real statement in your garden.
Finally, if DIY is not your idea of fun, no problem. Get a grow bag from your garden center – literally a bag of compost that you slit a hole into and plant your seedlings straight in. It couldn’t be easier. Containers may not strictly count as raised beds, but they fulfil the same purpose and may be a more adaptable solution for your space, particularly if your garden is small or non-existent.
Simply fill a large planter with compost, or improvise with quirky containers such as defunct Butler sinks, garden troughs, wooden boxes, buckets, colorful plastic garden trugs or heavy duty burlap sacks, and off you go.
Mike James is an independent writer that specializes in houseplants. He wrote this piece in conjunction with Balcombe Sawmill.