So your dirt is no good huh?  Mine either, let's fix it!

        

I have noticed there are kits available for purchase now that you can order online or purchase in the local hardware stores with pre-cut wood that you put together (build yourself) at home.  That's great!!  Except there is one problem.  Have you seen the price on them?  Wow!!   Upwards of hundreds of dollars for SMALL beds you still have to build.  The best I have seen locally is one the other day for only $29.99 at a local store.  It was a 4x4x6. (smallish)  That was the fairest price I had seen, however, it really didn't look like it would last long at all, flimsy really. It was made with thin wood, at least it kinda looked like wood, and it came with stakes for screwing into made of thin plastic. By the time I had bought enough of them to put together the entire garden bed sizes I wanted I'd have spent three times what I ended up spending.  Build it yourself, it's easy!!  Since I built my own I have been comparing the prices and quality with what I have found online and frankly, you'd be better of just making your own too.

So here's what you do; purchase pre-treated wood from the local hardware store, some place like Lowe's or Home Depot for example, make a few cuts and screw those boards together.  Till up the dirt on the inside, optionally you may lay some landscape cloth in the bottom of the beds, but it's not really necessary if your beds are at least 6" or more deep.  Mine are 8" deep so I did not use bedding cloth, you know, that roll of black material that keeps weeds from coming up in small flower beds.  Of course this article is just a spark, a guide to get you moving on your own beds, make any changes you choose, make those beds work for you.  When planning your beds keep in mind what you may need to do in the future for maintenance and make them in a way that will allow you to change boards out in time as inevitably all things deteriorate. We made ours as simply and as sturdy as possible.  I haven't painted my boards, but I may do that another day; maybe red with orange polka dots?  If you choose to paint yours, choose paint colors you will be happy with in 3 years.  Also choose good quality outdoor paint for wood and you may optionally choose to use a clear sealant once your paint has dried well.  Make your money stretch as far as it can by getting a good start. 

The first thing I did was walk out into my yard for a bit with a tape measure and look around to plan where the beds would thrive the best.  Consider your sunlight throughout the day and what you typically will always plant in your garden.  We like salads and pizzas so there will always be veggies in our gardens.  Most garden plants need at least partial to full sun.  You may want to keep your beds closer to your water source or get a long hose.  I used some pine cones to measure and mark off the spaces I considered and walked away to see how much of my yard space I would be sacrificing for years to come.  We have two children and they play in the yard constantly so I kept those things in mind when deciding what would not take away from them or be in danger during their playtime.  Kids and pets stomping through a plant bed can get a bit irritating.  I originally planned 2 long large beds to be (8" deep) 23'x5' but once I saw the size of that first built bed and considered I had already one the same size in the yard filled with strawberries I digressed. :)  I realized I might be over doing it and might be using up more space than I was willing to tend to.  So I ultimately decided on one long (8" deep) 5'x23' bed and two (8" deep) 7'x4' beds.  I could always use the smaller beds for special things or flowers too. 

Okay so the second thing I did after I decided how big I wanted the beds to be and where they would go, is to make a simple sketch of the beds out on paper and marked my measurements down.  Thirdly I visited my hardware store and marked the pricing down of boards or materials i might use.  I took in account the price of the solid cynder block pavers and various sized wooden boards.  Here is a tip to remember.  Purchasing longer boards and making several cuts from those boards will usually save you money as opposed to trying to purchase different sized boards for sides and lengths.  You are going to have to cut these boards anyway, so get the long ones and make a couple cuts out of one board and save a few dollars per board.  It adds up.  So I bought twelve 2"x8"x12' boards, but without cutting errors, I could have gotten away with 10.  It worked out to my favor though since I did make a couple of bad cuts with the saw and ended up using the left over boards.  The scrapes can be used to make smaller planters later.  Waste not, want not and you can always return uncut boards that you do not use so to have more than enough is better than having to make more than one trip to the hardware store. 

HERE IS WHAT I NEEDED:
  • (12) 2"x8"x12' pre-treated pine
  • (1) box full of 2.5" galvanized screws
  • An adjustable circular cutting saw with a good sharp blade
  • A measuring tape

If you choose to paint or seal your boards, of course you'll buy extra material, but it CAN be this easy.  If you don't have a saw already, I bet you know someone who does.  Ask around, you may even end up with a helper running the saw for you.  You may consider buying one for future projects as well, making smaller planters, window boxes, etc.  My husband has many tools and he's the saw man in our house.   

So here are the last two tips and then you're off! 

You can see from the first picture at the top that we cut the ends of our boards at a 45 degree angle.  We did this to simply make them look nicer.  My husband insisted on it because he had not done it with the strawberry bed and lives with some strange daily regret about it.  We are working through it. ;)  He is right though, it does look sharp! :)  So keep in mind when you are measuring your boards which side of the boards to cut the angle on and when you measure, be consistent to measuring whether or not you want the inside of the garden to meet your measurements or the outside of the bed to come to those measurements.  The 2" of board thickness may through you off otherwise  I would just measure point to point and make the cuts in the boards after you have your length cuts.  We made a couple of bad cuts trying to do it all at once, but if you just cut your boards the lengths they should be for the bed and then make the angled cuts out of them before you piece each piece together you'll probably find it easier.  Ultimately it doesn't matter if the outside of the bed or the inside of the garden meets your original measurements since these are going in your own yard and are not for sale so who cares if your bed is 1" bigger or smaller than you originally planned on paper.  Be as peculiar as your heart desires. :) 

In the third picture above we had two 12' boards (on the long bed) meet end to end so my husband also angled them and screwed them together.  As you can see from the picture the screws were way too long, so buy smaller screws OR you can do what we did and cut the extra screw length off with a saw.  Do cut them off though our you may get a nasty scratch the next time your digging by hand near the edge of the garden.  You may also opt to use a small block of wood on the inside of those boards and just screw both long boards (butted together) into the wooden block for extra security.  Once the dirt is in your bed it will also suffice for extra shaping.  You may also find some neat contraptions at the hardware store made just for connecting boards at corners or at ends so ask an employee in the decking department if they have anything like that and you may grab a few of those and make it easier that way.  My husband mentioned that after we made our beds, but since he angled those ends it actually looks nice and seemless this way too.  You can be creative in the way you build your bed, but it can be this simple.  You don't even have to angle the ends, you could just angle the screw from one board to the other while pulling them together.

Now I believe those are my garden bed thoughts for today.  Once you are done you can till up the dirt in the bed, lay landscaping cloth or just kill grass and weeds inside with a chemical.  You decide what you prefer.  I used a chemical, but go light on the chemicals so it does not affect your garden above it.  With an 8" depth of dirt most of that material will die out anyway.  I plan to go in with a manual tiller and tear it up a bit before we fill the dirt in.  It should break down under the pressure and act like a slow deteriorating base compost.  My neighbor has graciously offered dirt from his farm so we are blessed not have to purchase the dirt.  We will have to dig it all up off the farm so we get to work for it. :)  Once the beds are filled in and I plant my garden plants I will re-post a nice finishing article to this year's garden beds.  Enjoy building your beds!!!