One of my greatest joys in life is growing my own food. I do not grow everything I eat, but am able to supplement a fair amount. I’d say easily half or more of my produce comes from my backyard. There is something about coming home from a long day of work and checking on the garden in my backyard. Its peaceful nature is compelling. Worries do not last long as I gather lettuces, green beans, swiss chard and some purple basil to go with dinner.
This post will focus on the basic overall construction for the raised-bed garden. You may need to modify these plans slightly to suit your yard and any terrain obstacles you may encounter. First you’ll need to locate a sunny spot in your yard 10 feet wide by 20 feet long. The 10 feet wide is critical to this design, but the length can be as short as 10′ to as long as you like. I recommend keeping the length in increments of about 10′ however, as it will be easier to subdivide later for the purpose of walkways and crop rotations. If the location you have selected has any unevenness (most will) you’ll need to start on the highest point with your concrete blocks and work toward the lower end. This is to help ensure that you do not dig down more than you have to while keeping the tops of the blocks level. Using a string and wooden stakes can help to achieve a straight row, while a long level will result in a level garden bed when your project is complete.
Cinder blocks are a good choice for the construction of a raised-bed garden because they are cheap, long-lasting and non-toxic. I have not found any other building material yet that comes close to the advantages of concrete blocks. If you have large logs available for the construction of your ground wall this would be a good option as well, but you would need to replace them every few years as they decompose and breakdown.
The PVC is fairly cheap, long-lasting, but is composed of chemicals that I’d rather not be in contact with garden bed. So the entire frame is anchored on the outside of the concrete blocks — outside the garden. I use two sizes of PVC pipe for the frame. The first is 1″ schedule 40 and the second is 1-1/4″ schedule 40. The schedule 40 part is the thickness of the pipe wall and this is the stronger of the commonly available types of PVC. I buy all the PVC in 10′ sections. The last PVC components are joints at the top of the frame. They may not be carried in you local hardware store because they are more of a specialty item than a standard pipe fitting. You can buy them online or check a PVC furniture store for these fittings. The wonderful thing about these special fittings is that they allow someone up to 6′ 2″ to walk down the middle of the garden once the soil and walkways are in place. And besides that, I love the look of the peaked supports.
The PVC frame will allow you to grow beans, pea or other lightweight climbing vegetable, but you may need to help the vines up the slick pipe by using a string or rope to guide it. The frame also lets us easily cover it with a reusable plastic cover to extend the growing season into late fall. I use heat lamps in mine and am able to grow right through a Florida winter. I can also use shade cloth on the frame in order to minimize the blazing sun in the middle of summer (Florida’s difficult growing season).
After laying out the concrete blocks straight, square and level, cut your 1-1/4″ schedule 40 PVC into 4 equal sections. Make the cuts at a 45 degree angle. This will allow each anchor pipe to been driven into the ground with less effort. Start at the corners driving each anchor pipe right next to the outside of the concrete block, about an inch in from the corner. Use a block of wood on top of the pipe to protect the PVC from the hammer or small sledge while driving it into the ground. Once all four of the corner anchors are in place then measure the distance along the long side and divide it equally or just measure out a distance between 3′ and 4′ along the side. Repeat the exact same measurement along the opposite side (making sure they are directly across from each anchor pair).
Then slide the 10′ schedule 40 1″ pipes into each of the anchor pipes. You may need to fill or extract soil from inside the anchor pipes to keep the rib pipes all at about the same height. Then with a fitting in hand, and possibly some help, grab one rib pipes and bend it down toward the center of the garden. Slip the flitting on the end. Now, with the first pipe firmly in hand, lean over and grab the pipe across from it and work your hand up the pipe to the end. With the help of your forearms bring the second pipe close to the fitting and insert it. This may take a few tries to get the hang of it. Do not be discouraged.
The last step is to add the spine. This is a piece of 1″ PVC that connects each of the ribs at the joints along the top. You can glue up all your PVC joints or do as I have done and use a loop of rope along the spine to compress the structure and keep all the fittings snug. I’m been using this design for 2 years now and I am very happy with it’s performance. I leave the frame up year round and consider it a part of the garden.
I hope this has inspired you to build your own raised-bed garden. Please contact me if you have any questions about the raised-bed garden design or suggestions on how to make the instructions clearer to follow.