Design & DIY

Reader project takes raised bed gardens to new heights

I very much enjoy gardening and get lots of husband Brownie points when I bring fresh veggies into the kitchen; however I very much don’t enjoy the biennial ritual of emptying my raised beds to rid them of all the fir and cedar roots that love to move in. I once asked a gardening expert here in the Gulf Islands of British Columbia what I could do to solve the problem. “There’s nothing you can do,” was her reply. Now, I have news for her. Thanks to the inventiveness of my friend Don Williams, there is a solution.

Don, a senior like me, was sorely troubled with the same intruding root problem, but his problems were far greater than mine. His wife loved to garden, but was beginning to find it physically very difficult. Kneeling and bending were problematic. The joys of planting, watering, weeding, watching, and harvesting were no more. Then came Don to the rescue.

His answer to the dilemma was to build a raised bed garden that was elevated to countertop level. In fact he was so enthused with his idea that he built six high-flying raised beds. Now those perennial problems are solved. Fir and cedar roots are banished. Gardening is accessible to those who find bending and kneeling a challenge and, as an added bonus, such beds are barriers to slugs and many other invaders that chew and munch away at our hard work.

Why this is a great design: You can garden standing up at counter level and you can garden from a wheelchair. You will find very few insect pests in your garden bed. The construction of the beds is really quite simple, using minimal tools. All measurements and materials may be amended to suit, depending on your circumstances and what you have on hand.

Here’s how to construct a bed like Don’s:

1. Position the raised bed: select a sunny area and mark the rectangular position of the footings, in this case, 5 ft. by 2 ft.
2. Make the footings: at each corner, d
ig down approximately 18 inches and insert a 6-in. diameter Sonotube leaving 4 inches above ground level. Fill and consolidate concrete and insert a 4×4 post saddle bracket. Ensure all four bases are level.
3. Make the upright corner posts: for each post, sister together a 27-in. 2×4 to a 6-ft. 2×4 so that the base of each post can fit into the 4×4 saddle bracket. The longer pieces will form the outsides of each upright.
4. Frame the long sides of the raised bed: attach an 8-ft. 2×2 horizontally to the inside of two of the upright corner posts, so that its top surface is flush with the top of the 27-in. uprights and so that each end is 18 in. beyond the corner post. Repeat for the other side.
5. Make the side of each frame: attach 2 1×6 8-ft. cedar boards to the inside of the  of the 6-ft. corner uprights, one above the other, resting on top of the shorter piece.
6. Make the base of the bed: cut 16 1×6 boards to span the distance between the sides. Lay them in on top of the 2x2s. This will allow for drainage. (Plus when the time comes for you to change soil, partially or completely, just take a bed board out one at a time and catch the soil as it falls into your wheelbarrow positioned below.)
7. Make the ends: cut 8 1-ft. lengths of 1×2. Screw 2 pieces to the inside of the end of each side piece so that they form slots to insert your end boards.
8. To provide shade: make a frame to fit the top of your four posts and attach screen material. The material should be fine enough to let rainwater pass through and able to be rolled back when snow is imminent. It also acts as a shield against fir needles and other flying debris.
9. To help thwart climbing little critters, you can spread deterrent on top of the four concrete footings.
10. When you soil up your beds, fill to a depth of 9 inches.  

Don tells me that four raised beds this size should keep a family of four in veggies for a year. He has six of the super-charged beds. He wins on the Brownie points. 

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