A contemplative hour in the garden. This is a late Summer shot of our raised bed garden from last year. Those are sweet potato vines spilling out in the foreground, and delicious ripe tomatoes in the background. Notice that the gardener is standing up.

What’s up with raised beds? Building a box on top of a plot of earth, then filling that box with more dirt seems counterproductive at first glance. I mean, why not just plant your garden in the dirt and skip the fancy box?

That’s a perfectly good solution for some folks, but others may not have good soil on their property, so a raised bed box provides a container of sorts, in which to deposit better quality topsoil for your garden. If you find kneeling too difficult, a raised bed can allow you to continue gardening without having to do deep knee bends. Raised beds also allow for deep roots and deep roots = strong healthy plants. Being artistically inclined, for me it’s all about the aesthetics and so personally, I like the formalized look of raised beds.

The plan for our Mother Garden (where we grow most of our veggies) is to have nine raised beds laid out in a 3×3 grid. Each bed measures 4 feet wide, 10 feet long, and approximately 20 inches deep.Today I built a new bed box, bringing the total to 6 beds. Here’s what I did.

Materials

4 — 2″x10″x10′ pine boards: For the front and back.

2 — 2″x10″x8′ pine boards: For the short sides. Cut in half.

1 — 4″x4″x8′ untreated post. Corner posts. Cut 4 pieces at 18 inches each.

32 — 4 inch hex lag screws

16 — 1.5 inch hex lag screws

8 — metal corner brackets

3 — 2″x4″x10′ boards

A handful of 2.5 or 3 inch screws.

Tools

You’re going to need a drill, cordless driver, a radial saw, measuring tape, a bubble level, and some socket wrenches.

Process

First I cut the 2″x10″x8′ pine boards in half, then I cut four 18″ pieces from the 4″x4″x8′ untreated post (these will be my corner posts). Next I began the assembly. I lined up a corner post with the edge of one of the front boards. Next I drilled two pilot holes for the lag screws. The screws go through the board and into the corner post. I attached the corner post (with two 4″ lag screws) to the end of the front board. I repeated this step for the other end, then did the same thing with the back board. Check out the pictures below.

As you can see, the assembly is pretty straightforward.

Attach the corner posts to the front and back boards, then attach the short sides to the corner posts.

At this stage, it’s time to move the whole construction to it’s final resting place. You may need a second pair of hands to do this. If the spot you’ve chosen is on a hill, you’ll need to use your bubble level to level up the box.

Getting the box level isn’t as easy as it seems, at least it never is for me. It takes a lot of trial and error involving digging out dirt, adding dirt, using rocks to raise one end, and cursing because that end is too high.

Note the three boxes in the background of the second picture. They’re about a year old, but look a lot older. The wood was left untreated with any kind of preservative because I am loathe to use industrial weatherproofing chemicals on a box that my food is growing in. Fortunately, I think I may have found a solution to this problem, but first, let’s finish up this bed.

The next step is to attach the rest of the front, back, and side boards, using two lag screws for each end of each board. Finally, I cut the 2″x4″x10′ boards to fit as a cap that sits on top. I use the 2.5 inch screws to mount the cap to the box. The cap is actually wide enough to serve as a seat.

Check out the final box below.

You may have noticed the metal corner brackets. This garden box is made of white pine, which is a fairly soft wood that does not hold up well to the wear and tear of outdoor weather. I learned the hard way that a box like this will fall apart quickly without the addition of extra hardware to help hold it together. Still, that won’t stop my new box from turning gray in a few months.

One of the things that a wood preservative does is that it seals the pores of the wood, preventing, or at least resisting, incursion by water. Linseed oil has traditionally been used as a low-impact preservative for wood, but finding linseed oil, unadulterated by chemical drying agents is a tough task in my neck of the woods.

Some environmentally insensitive types use motor oil as an outdoor wood preservative, but not me. What about other oils, I wondered? Eventually I settled on plain old corn oil from the grocery store. I never thought I’d find a use for that stuff. I painted it on with a brush. It remains to be seen how well it does preserving the wood. I’ll keep you posted.