Raised-Bed Gardening


I was wondering if any veggie garden experts could weigh in as I try to figure out our vegetable garden this year. We bought a house and this is the first time I’ve had a yard in which to plant! So I’m very excited.

I’m certain that we’ll need to do raised beds. We don’t have a fence yet, so this poses somewhat of a problem in terms of keeping our produce away from whoever wants to nibble, but I’m thinking I can put wire upon the sides, internally, to help with that at least somewhat. And we might have a fence by Spring’s end anyway.

We are in the Midwest and zone 5. We are interested in keeping it as organic and natural as possible. Our yard is in a new development and we don’t have any natural shade. But I can create shade if necessary.

The veggies I’m interested in planting are the following: tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, broccoli, peppers, sugar snap peas, lettuce, sweet potatoes and squash. I like green beans and kale, too, but I think that may not work very well here.

I plan on having a container garden for herbs.

From what I understand, I need to till the ground beneath the raised beds and mix that soil with the top soil I purchase to make water absorption as smooth as possible.

I want advice about buying seeds vs. buying transplants - and can I get transplants at nurseries? And how to nurture the seeds/transplants inside until the appropriate time to transfer outside. What has your set-up been?

I also want advice about planting. The sides of our raised bed will be no taller then 18 inches, but the depth for growth will be longer then that since we’ll have the underbed tilled too. The width of the beds will be four feet, but I haven’t decided on length. How much space (sq footage) should I plan on having for the raised beds? I want enough yield to be able to have extra for freezing and canning. We are only a family of three, so we don’t need tons. I’m not sure about spacing and such, either. What veggies go next to each other safely?

Anyone have advice about organic pest control?

Also - with constructing/purchasing the raised beds - how did you do it economically? We are thinking intreated wood or possibly concrete blocks. Advantages/disadvantages? I notice some sites say that concrete blocks don’t need mortar, but that just seems like an accident waiting to happen.

I’m sure I’ll have more questions, but that’s it for now. Thanks!


I wish I could help you with raised beds, I’ve never done that before. In any case, just to let you know, rabbits dislike coyote pee, and hair. Spread it around your garden area. Also, let your dog go out there and do his business. That kind of thing keeps them away too.

Or you can get a German Shepherd that hunts rabbits like me. :slight_smile:


**My mom is very interested in raised bed gardening too so we have been doing a little bit of research… but hopefully there are some expert gardeners who will help you (and in turn my mom) out:thumbsup:

Some stuff I do know… if you want to be as natural/organic as possible, don’t use treated wood. Most are treated with arsenic that can leach into the soil and into your plants. I have read that cedar or redwood is best. I’m not so sure about concrete blocks as those have chemicals too:shrug:

I know that planting certain flowers in with the veggies help control pests…marigolds are one I remember. Also planting onions and garlic help too. There are tons of books on this subject at the library (I think my mom has checked out all of them, lol).

Let us know what you find out/decide!!!**


Oops, I meant to type UNtreated, but somehow it came out as in-treated. :slight_smile: And I wasn’t sure if concrete posed a problem, but I definitely don’t want any chemicals leaching into it so I think I’ll just write it off as a possibility. Plus, it seems like it’d be pretty ugly. :slight_smile: Wood is much prettier! Ha.

I will look into the possibility of flowers keeping pests away! That’s a great idea.


I don’t know a whole lot about it b/c my DH does the gardening around here. We tried the marigolds and it didn’t help much - but they look nice :thumbsup: . Pest control has been our biggest problem. We don’t have much damage by critters but bugs are bad. I don’t know if there are other plants than marigolds to try to keep bugs away or not.

And ours is not a raised bed so I’m no help there. Sorry.

How big could yours get? Last year we had a pretty good yield. Our garden is 16 X 20, I think. Not too big. We had corn, green beans (which always do well), peppers, watermelon and carrots. DH said the corn would have done better had he thinned it out more. You can’t put too much in a small space b/c it won’t do very well. We’ve learned that in years past. :o

I think DH wants to expand this year to 20 X 20.

Good luck with it! We’re really looking forward to our garden this year.


Get All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew and Rodale’s Complete Guide to Organic Gardening. Both are great resources. I’m not an expert but hope to be one someday! These books have been a huge help to me.



This is the book my DH uses most often. He really likes it. :thumbsup:


The square foot gardening book is great. You can plant more than you think. At least that was the case with us.

Why don’t you think you can grow beans or kale? We planted Winterbor kale late last summer (July/Aug) and I’m still harvesting it. The stuff is great.


Untreated wood will just rot. Use the concrete block retaining wall units available at any Home Depot. Follow the installation guidelines and they are an awesome product, no mortar needed. (Trust me, I design such things for a living). Plain concrete will have no harmful chemicals.

Most new subdivisions have only 4 to 6 inches of topsoil on the lawn overlying VERY hard compacted clay or silt. Expect some heavy duty tilling and import the topsoil needed to raise your bed.

Good luck!


“*lasagna gardening”*is what I do. It is raised bed and you do not need to til and dig and til and dig. I forget the name of the woman who wrote a book about this method. I have used this for 3 yrs now. Esp. great if you have some area of turf (grass)and you want to convert to a garden for veggies or flowers. I will explain it to you in detail but I bet you could get lots of info from simply googling.


But cedar or redwood will last much longer than regular pine/spruce… I’m sure that the square foot gardening books go into the different material options and their pros/cons.


I have a fenced in garden. I have found baby rabbits nesting in my strawberries, inside my fenced in garden.:blush:

Tomatoes and peppers are easy, corn takes up a lot of space, as do vining vegetables (squash, cucumbers, sweet potatoes).
Brocolli gets these funky green worms that seem to always make their final appearnce at the bottom of the cooking pot.:eek: Carrots need loose soil, and green beans actually are very easy.

To have enough of something to can, you should focus on a few things, like tomatoes and peppers and green beans. If you start to get too much, you end up with not much of anything, except a taste.

I second the lasagne gardening method. It works great. Also, be sure to add compost and compostable material – leaves, coffee grounds, egg shells. Dig it into the dirt and it decomposes nicely. Also, I mulch with grass clipping laid over newspaper. It really helps in keeping the weeds down, plus at the end of the growing season, turn it all over, and voila! compost with very happy earthworms!:smiley:


Ah, raised gardening (or just gardening in general) – one of my favorite topics!

I used cedar for mine – lined them with industrial weedblock fabric or plastic (can’t remember which as it’s been a long time since I built them). I think it was plastic to keep the moisture from the dirt away from the wood on the inside, to reduce rot. They were great and probably still are (this was four houses ago, and I haven’t even figured out where to put them in my new yard yet). The wood didn’t cost too much, but the cost of all that soil to fill them could be for some. The cost is much lower if you have a truck to buy it buy the cubic yard instead of by the bag.

Lasagna gardening is great for getting the soil rich and wonderful. I recommend a drip irrigation system so water goes only to the plants you want to grow. Use a thick layer of mulch on top of the drip system to seriously reduce weed growth.

When choosing the height and width of the raised beds, consider whether you want to be walking in the bed, or trying to garden from the outside. I recommend a 3 foot width if you want to garden from the edges rather than walking in the beds, so you can reach everything.

Personally, except for tomato plants, I start everything from seed right in the yard. Our “last frost date” here is May 10 (yeah, right), and I try to get my seeds in the ground around Memorial Day. That gave everything time to grow and yield much fruit. Starting from plants is exponentially more expensive ($2 a plant vs. $2 for a pack of seeds yielding dozens of plants), and not every type of plant does well with transplanting.

Using raised beds will help you keep plants from cross-pollinating, which is how I ended up with hot and spicy bell peppers and sweet and mild jalapenos, as well as green, white, and orange pumpkins and squash one year. Keep crops that are in the same family as far away from each other as possible to avoid bizarre cross-breeds.

Plant corn in a group of at least four rows. Give any pumpkin or melon plants tons of room (a whole bed to one or two plants) and be prepared for long, beautiful (and invasive) vines. Plant “cool weather” crops (lettuces, broccoli, snap peas, for example) early in the season as they don’t do well in the intense heat of summer.

Green beans do exceptionally well in my area (CO), but be careful to read the seed packet to find out whether they need a trellis to grow. Some varieties grow low to the ground (bush beans) and don’t need the trellis.

Most fruit and vegetable crops do very well or even need complete sun to grow their best. Think of the farmer’s field – it’s filled with crops and no shade of any kind (until the plants grow and shade their own bases).

God bless your gardening, and have fun!

Gertie the gardener :thumbsup:


I’ve gardened all my life-20 years of it in the mid-west. I have done open gardening and raised bed. You’ll get better results with raised-bed, but it is expensive and much more work. The cost of top soil to top off the beds has to be considered. Cedar, red wood, etc. are good for the sides but very, very, expensive. Concrete blocks won’t contaminate and don’t need cement. There are a lot of new designs of landscaping blocks that will work fine. The only plants I ever started indoors were tomotoes, as every thing else can be seed-planted directly into the garden. Starting tomatoes inside requires lots of work, special lights, proper temps., etc. Tomato sets don’t cost that much, and you save a lot of trouble and get better results.
I’ve tried marigolds, onions, garlic, human and dog hair, and everything else around the periphery of my gardens to repel varmits, and its all useless. The rabbits ate all the marigolds, for one thing. Inexpensive chicken wire rigged as a fence will stop rabbits. As for room, any vine crop requires a great deal of space. Remember, a good was to cultivate cucumbers is on any kind of trellis or fence. They climb naturally, and will require much less space. Figure 3 feet between tom. plants, and stake them to get more space. Sweet corn is my favorite, but it does require room. Bottom line is, if you’re willing to work at it, and read a simple gardening book or two, you can participate in a continuing miracle, harvest plenty of great food to eat, and have a lot of fun…Roanoker


Wow!! Thank you for the wealth of experience and information.

Thank you for the suggestion to cut down on the variety and focus on just a few for now. With that in mind, I think I’m going to focus on tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, sugar snap peas, peppers and sweet potatoes. I’m thinking about spinach instead of lettuce. I’m undecided about kale. But I’m nixing the squash, lettuce, carrots, celery and broccoli (puke… thanks for the heads up about that). Carrots are so cheap that I might as well not waste time growing them, and I’m the only one that eats celery so… seems like possibly a waste. Plus I would never freeze or can carrots or celery.

I’ve gone back and forth about what kind of materials to use for the raised beds, but now I’m wondering if I’m dismissing concrete too quickly. Hmm. Rotted wood doesn’t sound very appealing. I worry about having concrete in the yard that little ones might bang their heads on in the years to come. Wood seems more forgiving. (But we’re talking about fencing in the gardens before we fence in our actual yard, so that might help.)

I’m having a hard time visualizing how to set up a cucumber vining place. Is it not appropriate for the raised bed? Is it better to hook up a lattice off of our deck and see if it can vine around that? Or can I put it in a bed and they’ll vine without something to climb on? (Sorry if I’m not making much sense. Obviously I’ve never done this before…)

Is it better to have beds that I can climb up into and walk around to weed, water, etc? Or should I keep them something I can bend over and do, like 3ft wide? Otherwise I was thinking five feet across, or one big square, like 20 x 20.

I’m going to order those books! Thanks!! I’m so excited.


One of the main reasons my mom wants to do sq.ft gardening is so that she doesn’t have to bend down or get down on her knees. Gardening up higher would be so much easier! You could do multiple boxes or one long row only 3 ft wide. (Or several long rows with each only being 3ft wide…).


I love my sq. ft gardens. I have 4 plots this year. We grow salad greens in the spring/ early summer, green beans, squash (zucchini and yellow), onions, herbs, beets,cukes, potatoes, okra and tomatoes as the summer goes on.

In spring we had a wipe out of our squash by squash boers. I pulled them up and started over. Disappointing but it’s ok now. Grasshoppers ate my green bean plants. I replanted and things are good now.

Right now I am struggling with spider mites on the tomatoes and found my first tomato worm (argh!) today. I have been treating the plants with Concern, a purchased soap inset killer for organics. I ran out and got online. I am now trying a 1:3 part alcohol/ soap water solution. Looks like it is working as well as the purchased item. And the weather has been cooler and damper which also helps.

Our potatoes have been grown in a whiskey barrel and a large iron kettle my grandmother used to make lye soap, hominy and wash clothing.

This is gardening I can live with.



It is unbelievably simple. I am a lazy gardener and this works.


I’ve grown most of those vegetables in raised gardens, and it’s super easy. If you want to fill them for not so much money, check out the section in the store with opened bags. There’s very little missing, and they’re 50% off.
With cucumbers, I just trained the vines along the ground outside the bed.


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