How to make a raised bed
Including step by step instructions, explanations and pictures!
Laura Rieber No Spray Staff Writer
Raised beds are an important part of sustainable gardening and the future of food security. Whether you are living in a wet or dry environment, raised beds provide safety to your plants and soil for the long term. Although a little extra work initially, raised beds will save you countless labor hours in the very near future and for the rest of your life. Most importantly raised beds offer you the best possible solution in ensuring that your soil will contain and maintain the six essential components of soil.
How? When constructing your raised bed you get to replace all the missing soil elements to provide your plants the best ecosystem for ever more. Creating an ecosystem is key for labor free gardening. Just like in an old growth forest, where all the trees survive by themselves naturally relying on an ecosystem, your garden plants will do the same.
As a permaculturist, I must add that every single garden will be different, because every single area is unique to itself in landscape, weather, history and personal desires. The principles will remain the same from garden to garden of enhancing the soils ecosystem, but the techniques that you use individually to achieve an ecosystem will differ.
For example, on the Hamakua Coast of the Big Island of Hawaii, we work with initially only 1 – 3 inches of good, healthy top soil . Other than that there is 10 – 30 feet deep of hard packed clay. No rocks. No organic matter. No oxygen holes. No microbes (life). Just hard, bright red or orange clay.
We live in Hawaii on the slopes of Mauna Kea. The land where we are working is relatively flat. Mountains slope to the sea and rarely have natural flat lands. This combined with Hawaii’s sugar cane industry, I can safely assume that a tractor had come through at some point and compacted the soil, where I want a garden.
I start by digging into the soil about two feet deep. I find that I have two inches of black, top soil full of life, roots, organic matter and soil clumps. Under that, the soil drastically changes to hard clay. Digging deeper, I find I have hard packed clay and not much else.
After observing the media that I am working with we have decided to utilize the double digging technique for our raised beds. Depending on what happens when you dig two feet down, you may have to utilize a different technique. If you have rock bottom, sheet mulching and living mulch may be a better technique to utilize.
More about Raised Beds
Raised beds are beneficial to growing food and a solution to providing your garden the Six Soil Health Factors mentioned above! The majority of us live in places where humans have altered the ecosystem. Raised beds offer a solution of how we practiced agriculture in the past. Although initially hard work, the amount of work that is saved in the long run is priceless. Benefits of raised beds include but are not limited to:
- Reduce Soil Compaction
- Provides plants with more oxygen!
- Provides plants with better drainage!
- Retain water more efficiently
- Makes pulling weeds WAY EASIER!
- Prevents ideal soil for weeds to thrive
- Helps Reduce Weeds!!
- Provides an area that can be mulched to prevent weeds from sprouting.
- Helps keep soil warmer and protected
- SAVES Space!
- SAVES Time!
- SAVES Energy!
- Allows for the greatest root development because of LOW compaction, effective drainage and lots of oxygen for microbes and your plants!
Where is the hard work?
The hard work is in the initial building of the raised bed! Building raised beds puts back in carbon that has been depleted. In growing food on a large scale, rows are incorporated to allow tractors to do all the hard work. Tractors are great for specific purposes, but have no business being in the garden or around where you want to grow food sustainably. Tractors do too much damage to the soil’s ecosystem through compaction and exposure of microbes to light.
When creating a raised bed on the Hamakua Coast of the Big Island, we like to “DOUBLE DIG”. This is a labor-intensive way of starting a garden designed in France. I promote it because it works by adding a carbon source back into the depths of the soil. This carbon source adds in the necessary holes and spaces for oxygen and water to be stored. This then allows for microbes to utilize the water and oxygen for their own life cycle. As the microbe population flourishes, so will your garden. It takes about three to five years for this to happen, but when it does say good bye to hard work!
Here is a slideshow showing you step by step on how to double dig:
After you have completed the double digging and planted some plants you just need to find a border! Find something that is accessible, easy to handle and it should be FREE or CHEAP! Stay away from “treated” lumber. This has pesticides and can leach, killing the microbe population you are trying to create. Some ideas to consider:
- Old Cinder Blocks
- Old Cement Pieces
- Recycled untreated wood
- Banana Stumps
- Old Cement Planters
The barrier will help keep weeds out and improve nutrient retention by reducing leaching! This is good for a raised bed, means LESS WORK and MORE HARVESTING!
Find another way!