Raised Beds Part 1: Construction

by Erin Enouen

A raised bed complete with irrigation, hoops, and lightweight row cover protection.

Raised beds are a great choice for gardeners with poor or no soil, or for those who want to "keep it contained." I decided to build raised beds in the demonstration garden in a very rocky, sod covered section of the garden. Once the materials were gathered and prepped, it took me and one other person less than 3 hours to build and fill 3 raised beds.

When building a raised bed, a small amount of planning is required first.

  • You first need to consider your location. This will determine the number of beds you build and the size. If you have a small space, this might be easy because you only have so many options. However, if you are working in a larger space make sure the spot you choose will have full sunlight and easy access to water.
  • Based on the location, choose a size. Since I have a good amount of space to utilize, I wanted to build the most efficiently sized bed, but I also wanted numerous beds so I could make each one unique. I contacted my farmer friend Jesica of South Pine Street City Farm, a farm in a "vacant" lot in downtown Kingston, NY. Since her vacant lot didn't have any soil, Jesica built a 1/4 acre worth of raised beds to grow food in. (Her small scale urban farm is a glorious sight. Check out her blog here.) I thought if any one knows the optimum size for a raised bed, it's Jesica. She recommends beds that are 4' wide.* As she pointed out, with a 4' width, you can reach the middle of the bed without straining from either side. I chose to make my beds 10' long, since that was the longest length of wood I could safely carry on the roof of my car. Jesica made her beds 20' long by connecting 10' lengths, and using cross braces to stabilize the structure.
  • The depth of the beds depends on what you choose to grow, so make a list of the veggies you plan on growing. Crops with shallow roots can be grown in raised beds that are 6" high, however, I am planning on planting potatoes, tomatoes and long season greens such as kale and chard, so I opted for 8" deep beds.
  • Consider also garden expansion when planning the layout of your beds. If you want to start small but plan on doing more in the future, make sure you position your beds in a way that will lend itself to growth.

To assemble one bed you will need:

Adjust quantity and size for your garden space and planned number of beds.

1-2"x9"x8' UNTREATED* pine, cut in half

2-2"x9"x10' UNTREATED pine

12-2" screws

screw gun

saw (to cut the short sides)

To set up your raised bed you will need:

"clean" cardboard or another weed barrier*

garden soil*

wood chips for mulching pathway

1. First, assemble the bed frames. Lay the lumber in position on a large, flat surface. Have one person hold the corner square while the other puts three screws in place on each corner. For a raised bed, your corners don't have to be perfectly square, but try anyway. Assemble as many bed frames as you are planning on building.

2. Once the bed frames are assembled, prep your site. Measure the site and account for pathways. If your bed is going to be placed on a sodded area, mow it very short.

3. Lay out cardboard over the entire site, including pathways.

4. Wet the cardboard well. This helps makes the cardboard easier to work with and allows it to breakdown faster. You may end up wetting it throughout the process.

5. Position the beds. Depending on your garden plan, you may want to measure, mark and square your bed frames in place. I will be building a fence around the beds, so I wanted to make sure there will be a 2' pathway around all the raised beds for easy access. I made sure the raised beds are evenly positioned together, for access and symmetry.

6. Begin filling the bed with garden soil. The soil will compact, so fill it as full as you can. Rake the top flat and fill in any shallow parts.

7. Depending on your garden plan, you can mulch around the raised bed with wood chips or stones.


1. If you are putting your raised bed in a corned against a building or fence, and don't have the space to put a pathway around it, you might opt to have a shorter width so you can reach across the entire bed from one side.

2. Make sure you get untreated wood, you don't want any chemicals polluting the soil you are growing your food in! Also, look for the straightest, least knotty lumber.

3. "Clean" cardboard, meaning little to no ink and no tape. If building your bed where there is no soil, you don't need a barrier.

4. If you get a load of soil, make sure it is dumped near your raised bed site. This will make filling the beds quick and easy.

The soil pictured here is Dynagro Garden Soil from our local organic compost and soil company, Croswell Enterprises.