We live in Fallbrook and are looking to build one or more raised beds for planting vegetables. We purchased your Southern California Gardening book from Costco but can’t find any instructions on building the bed. Can you provide us with a link or two for designs/instructions that you would recommend?
Answer from Pat:
Years ago I demonstrated a quick and easy way to build raised beds on a 50-minute video called “Foolproof Flowerbeds” that I hosted and co-wrote for Better Homes and Gardens and Meredith Video. This video won the Garden Writers of America prize in 1987 for Best Garden Video. It’s still available for loan at some public libraries. I just now found it for sale new or used on Amazon.com. and one nice review. The easy way is first to purchase one 4′ x 8′ sheet of 1/2-inch gauge hardware cloth, a 1 or 2-pound box of 8-inch galvanized nails, a one-pound box of double-ended staples for hand hammering, and three 8′ x 2″ x 12″ redwood planks. Clear redwood is best but rough-cut, unfinished lumber works fine too, is thicker, and costs less. I have some 30-years-old and still working fine. (Don’t use treated lumber for raised beds for edible crops.) Choose straight, un-warped planks with no loose knot holes and none near the ends where you want to drive nails. Tell the salesperson what you are doing, they will help you find appropriate planks. Then ask the salesperson to saw one of the planks in half for the two ends of your box. Choose a level spot in the garden that is in full sun. Cover the ground with 10 layers of newspaper overlapping the edges and cover that with 3 or 4 inches of mulch. Alternatively, cover the ground with landscape fabric, overlapping edges and cover that with a layer of 4 inches of gravel.
Now lay one long and one short plank on edge on top of your mulch or gravel. Fit them together, with the shorter plank fitted flush inside the upright longer plank and drive 5 or 6 nails straight through the side of the longer plank into the middle of the end of the shorter plank. (It helps to stand the other end of the shorter plank against a wall to hold it in place while you drive in the nails.) Once driven in, the nails will be completely hidden and you will have created an L-shaped structure that stands upright on edge. (I prefer nailing or screwing the planks together rather than using bolts, as shown on some videos since moisture can collect in bolt holes and wood can rot.) Do the same with the other two planks. Use the same system to nail the two L-shaped structures you have made into a rectangular box. Turn the box upside down and use the staples to nail the hardware cloth on the bottom of the box. This is to keep out gophers. They cannot climb. If you think there are no gophers in your area, don’t believe it. Once you begin raising veggies they will find your garden. Now, turn your box right side up again, set it in place where you want it, and fill it with good quality, well amended, top soil. Add a watering system and you will be all ready to fertilize and plant.
If you prefer to go a step further in construction, ask your hardware store or lumber yard for the appropriate metal brackets for attaching your planks together with screws or nails. For screws, you will need a drill. Several shapes of brackets are available that will create a strong structure, but—beware of the pitfalls. The right brackets must go outside the structure, not inside and short screws often fail to make a strong structure. My nail system described above makes a stronger, less rickety box than one made with short screws and hidden interior brackets. If you are un-handy at carpentry, Gardeners Supply and other companies sell brackets especially for creating neat, strong corners on raised beds. With these brackets, all you need do is to purchase the lumber and slip it into place.
If this is not enough directions for your liking, or if you want to go fancy with taller boxes, edges to sit on, trellises for climbing plants, and other fancy features, look for plans in paperback books on home landscaping and garden structures. Sunset and Ortho are two publishers of such books and you can find them in hardware stores, lumber yards such as Dixieline, some nurseries and garden centers, and online. You can even find mail-order kits that come with everything you need to construct raised beds. Also, there are folks who now make a business of building raised beds and some even help with upkeep if desired. Raised beds have become a whole new cottage industry putting some folks to work who lost their jobs. There is loads of information online including videos of folks building raised beds in a number of various ways. You can have lots of fun with this project, but no method for building them is simpler or cheaper than the one I outline above.
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