Last year I decided to grow my vegetables and herbs using a raised garden bed system. These garden beds needed to look nice and organized since they would be visible from the street. I also wanted them to be durable.
DIY metal raised garden beds
I didn't make them but I did adapt these metal campfire rings. I bought the thicker metal ones that had a rolled top. That makes them both sturdy and there is less of a chance to injure yourself on a sharp metal edge.
A significant need is an ability to relocate the whole garden bed in a few years. My hope is that I can do a huge landscape redesign in the future. But in the meantime, my yard and garden need to work for me.
Table of contents
- DIY metal raised garden beds
- Location for your Raised Beds.
- Why Raised garden beds?
- Gardening near black walnut trees.
- Ease of gardening with elevated beds.
- Controlling weeds
- They look nice!
- Amount of sun needed.
- Where I put my garden - the "before"
- What I used for my raised beds.
- Alternatives and inexpensive raised garden bed ideas.
- Cheap way to fill raised bed
- What to grow in your raised garden beds.
- What to put around raised garden beds
- Growing Tomatoes in Buckets
- Raised flower beds ideas
Location for your Raised Beds.
The three main things plants need to thrive are the appropriate soil, the correct amount of sun, and water (just the right amount - not too much, not too little). I give some great tips in this How to Water your Plants post.
Why Raised garden beds?
Gardening near black walnut trees.
I have a huge walnut tree in my backyard. Many of my garden plants would not grow well in my soil because of the chemical called juglone. Black walnut trees excrete this through their roots. Tomatoes are one of the primary plants I wanted to grow and they are the most affected by this chemical. With raised beds, you can control the soil that you are planting in.
Ease of gardening with elevated beds.
Raised beds are easier on your back and easier to maintain. Although my beds are only just over a foot high, they made a huge difference in comfort while planting, weeding, and harvesting. Specifically, when reaching down for these tasks, it's not as far. When sitting, you can reach over vs. always down. Because I can control the soil I put in, it is way less weedy. Raised garden beds have just made gardening so much easier, enjoyable, and way less of a chore.
I know I mentioned weeds already, but they are a challenge! It is so much easier to control weeds in smaller designated spaces. Plus, when starting with a clean slate, you aren't fighting with established perennial weeds. My weeding chore went from a dreaded job to something I just did as I do during my morning walk around my yard.
They look nice!
I have to admit I spent way more money on raised beds than I would have if I would have just planted in the ground. I like my yard to look nice and orderly and my garden is visible from the street. I wanted it to look pretty!
Amount of sun needed.
My home is 100 years old and I have some giant trees in my yard. That makes it very shady because of the tree canopies! I have visually followed the sun around my yard for a couple of years through the different seasons. This year was the first year that I thought I could have a good vegetable garden. It was because I just had a large tree taken down by my arborists.
I found watching arborists work fascinating. As a little aside, take a look at this post, Tree Pruning - Why to use an Arborist, if you find it interesting too!
After removing a tree, I had a spot with enough sun to establish a garden. When you are determining the hours of sun you have, keep in mind that in the spring, it can seem like you have more. I live in zone 5, and many of my trees lose all their leaves in the winter. My trees fill in come spring, and all of a sudden, where I had a whole day of sun, I had maybe an hour. In my experience, you want more than 6 hours of sunlight to grow a healthy vegetable garden. Closer to 8 hours is better.
Where I put my garden - the "before"
Here is the spot that I decided would be my garden. I had a tall maple tree there with girdled roots and it was dying. My choices were to make this into a nice lawn or a vegetable garden. I choose the garden.
What I used for my raised beds.
I wanted to make my beds out of solid galvanized steel for longevity. I had looked into the huge troughs that farm supply stores and now hardware stores have. They were too bulky for me to get home, heavy, and I would have had to drill many holes in them for drainage. I've used small troughs for planters in the past with success. But the big ones were expensive, and I'd essentially be ruining them with the drainage holes. My other concern was I would need to move them in a few years and I couldn't imagine how heavy they would be with the dirt in them!
At my local box store, right beside the galvanized farm water tanks were some solid campfire rings! They were much less expensive, solid, and would be so much more portable in the future. I bought 4 of them. What I liked about these ones is they had a rolled edge on the top, so there was no chance of getting injured from them.
They were roughly 12 inches high and had a diameter of about 3 feet. Full disclosure. They were about $65 each in the early spring and I saw the same ones last week for around $90. This campfire ring looks to be very similar to what I've purchased.
Alternatives and inexpensive raised garden bed ideas.
My raised bed gardens were a more significant expense than expected, but I was investing long-term and knew I would be using these for many years. If you are just starting out and testing your gardening interest, you could buy one raised bed. Many stores carry garden bed kits. Or you can even rig up a raised bed using pots. I did that with my tomatoes because they would have used too much room in my raised beds.
Do not use railroad ties!
Years ago, before I knew better, I created a raised flower bed that I would also put some veggies in. I loved the look of railway ties. DO NOT use these. There are so many chemicals, including creosote and arsenic, in them. The ties themselves were tough to get rid of after I no longer wanted them. I couldn't grow anything I would eat in or near them because I was afraid the chemicals would leach into the veggies and the ground.
I did consider using concrete blocks and may make a smaller bed or two with those next year. I think they would work well! They would be inexpensive and easy to use. You will have to consider a way of stabilizing the concrete blocks if going higher than a couple of layers (I wouldn't be). Be careful that you are not using old cinder blocks. They look the same but were made from fly ash which contained some nasty chemicals. Cinder blocks were made about 50 years ago.
Wooden raised garden beds.
I had the simplest wooden raised garden beds for a couple of years. They were just wooden boards cut to size and screwed together. Essentially just a wooden frame. But that was in the days when lumber was much cheaper. If going this route, do buy rot-resistant wood like cedar. My preference is also untreated wood. Use deck screws to attach your wood together. If going higher than roughly a foot, research and follow a plan so that your frame stays stable.
Buy a kit
I even saw kits at Costco this year. Amazon certainly has many raised garden kits. If you are a beginning gardener, I suggest reading a book on square foot gardening. It will teach you how to allocate space for certain plants. I don't think it's a perfect system, but that's a personal preference. It certainly is a great way to start!
You can also buy elevated planter stands to place on patios. These are elevated waist-high raised beds where you can grow plants in. The point of these is to be able to stand when gardening.
Cheap way to fill raised bed
Be prepared to be surprised at how much soil you need! Layering raised garden beds help reduce costs. It's using other natural gardening/growing items to help fill your bed. It saves money, and as things lower in the bed decompose, they become amendments to your soil. Yeah, free compost!
I put cardboard on the bottom. This had a dual purpose because it would decompose and smother any grass or weeds where I put my beds.
After the cardboard, I put in some ground-up chips from my maple tree. That was to help ensure all my beds were flat at ground level and that the bottom didn't have holes that critters could crawl into. I started the filling process about a month before planting time so I had time to fill the bed with things from my yard.
I had a pile of cut-up branches that I cut into smaller pieces and added a layer of. I also added grass clippings and some of my spring cleanup from my yard. One thing I was cautious of was that I did NOT put anything in from my walnut tree. Walnut trees excrete juglone which prevents many plants from growing (tomatoes, for example, don't do well near walnut trees).
I purchased a variety of bagged soil and mixed them well as the top ½ layer. I used raised bed soil, some in-ground soil, and potting soil. Do not use only ground soil because it is too dense for a raised bed. I used it but mixed it in potting soil to loosen it. I also added some bagged compost into each bed and mixed it well. As I was layering, I occasionally threw in a couple of shovels of chipped wood (untreated and not dyed). I don't have an exact soil mix recipe since I used what I had and what was on sale.
What to grow in your raised garden beds.
There is no limit to what you can grow. I have four raised beds, and here is what I did!
Herb Raised Garden
I love cooking with herbs and have started preserving herbs. There is nothing more satisfying than preparing and eating what you grow.
My herb raised garden bed has dill, basil, rosemary, parsley thyme, and sage. It's full and I love it!
My Bean Bed
I planted bush beans in one bed. It was great for having fresh beans for dinner and even a few to freeze. I found garden fresh beans were delicious enough to eat raw (with a bit of salad dressing as a dip). As the summer went on, I started using about ¼ of this bed as a plant nursery for some flower cuttings, etc. Once the beans stopped producing and I pulled out the plants, I planted a second batch and am waiting for my next crop of beans to mature in early fall. As long as the weather stays warm and there is no frost, I'll be eating fresh beans again in a few weeks (This post was written in early September)!
Cucumber Raised Bed
This was a dual-purpose bed. I put a trellis in a couple of my raised beds. I planted peas in the spring since they are a cold crop. On the other side of the same trellis, I planted cucumbers. This was a bit of an experiment, and it worked perfectly. The peas grew great in the cooler weather. I started cucumber seeds inside, and when it was warm enough to plant them, I did. They began to grow up the trellis right about when the peas were done. The cucumbers did great; I could share so many with others. I'm doing this again. Cucumbers growing up the trellis made them easier to access and contained this plant.
Pumpkins, gourds, and squash
If you have ever grown pumpkins and squash, you know they take up a lot of space. The pumpkin vines seem to grow a couple of feet overnight. It's crazy to watch! I planted the seedlings (I started from seed with heat mats and grow lights) in the raised garden and let the plant drape over the sides and spread on the ground. The ground around my raised beds has a thick layer of maple wood chips from when my tree and the roots were ground up. This gave the plant great soil and lots of space to expand. These plants are crazy and all over the place now. I will try to have a bed specific to these plants a little further from my other veggies next year. Gardening is often learning by doing, and I need to plant or move less of these. I LOVE my homegrown pumpkins because I plant and grow bigger ones.
What to put around raised garden beds
When I had my maple tree cut down, I asked the arborists to grind it and leave the grinding for me. It's kind of like free mulch! I had a thick layer of my ground-up maple tree where I put my raised beds.
One other thing I planted around my beds was marigolds. They are supposed to keep pests away from your garden. I'm not 100% sure they do, but I liked how they added a little visual interest.
Growing Tomatoes in Buckets
I almost forgot to tell you how I grew my tomatoes! I started the plants indoors, and they got big. Then I planted them in buckets that I had. My one son made fun of my kitty litter buckets holding the tomato plants. So, I spray-painted them brown, and they looked much better!
Raised flower beds ideas
And, of course, I also added a raised bed of flowers. I was so lucky to be able to buy an inexpensive antique wash tub for this! If you have never shopped on Facebook Marketplace, you may want to try it. I get great buys like this there!
One of the first crops that I harvested was radishes! I put them in my bean bed before the weather was warm enough for beans. Here is how I grew them and a quick recipe to use them.
Radish Salad (and how I grew radishes)
I grew tons of basil last year. Here is how I grew it from seed and then dried some and froze some to use later
Basil - growing and preserving over the winter
Basil - How to freeze with olive oil
Love the flower planter? I LOVE creating planters. Here is a post with lots of flower container ideas!
Over 25 flower containers in my neighborhood
I hope this article and some of my other articles are helpful and inspiring to you! Please feel welcome to look around my site for other things that may interest you!
They did OK but not great. I found the soil in the pails dried quickly, and I was watering twice a day. I will buy more campfire rings and plant the next tomato crop there.
I did look at that. It felt like a lot of work, and then I wasn't sure how neat they would stay, especially since I would need at least two rows for the height.
I used tree grinding. Also, branches had fallen in my yard (careful not to use walnut branches). I also used some fall leaves that had accumulated in one spot in my yard.
Watch for sales! Soil is so expensive now. I'm noticing
Costco has reasonable prices when they have soil. Hardware stores have sales. Watch prices and stock up!
Print the image below to your Pinterest account.
Fire rings - what a great idea! Simple, easy to move, durable. I agree that you have to think about ease of movement as you age as a gardener.
Sue at Blu
We're gonna try raised belds in the spring. Pinning this for reference!
I haven't had much luck this year in the garden. Switching to raised beds might be a good choice for me. Never give up, right?
Get good soil and make sure you only water when the soil has had a chance to dry.
That looks wonderful! Putting this in my idea file for my new vegetable garden I am going to plant next spring. Thanks for the inspiration!
We made the mistake years ago and used pine boards for our raised beds, and I was so cross when they started collapsing after two seasons. Thanks for all the great advice. This is going to come in very handy
Thanks for all of your great tips!