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Five Ways to Build a Raised Bed

It’s finally time! Are your veggie beds ready for spring?

Perennial vegetables, potatoes, and a few intrepid greens are here! Before we know it, we’ll be in the middle of the main spring planting season, and the planting window for hot-season veggies like tomatoes and corn isn’t far behind.

Now is the time to build new beds and revitalize old ones. Why not try something new in your garden this year? No matter what your soil conditions, preferences, and experience level, some of these ideas are sure to work for you.

And if you’re looking for even more veggie gardening information, don’t miss our Veggie Gardening 101 seminar with Sky’s own Emily Apple on February 28th! 

Raised beds made from cedar planks, full of vegetables

These rustic raised beds were made from simple cedar planks.


Why raised beds?

A raised bed is simply a garden bed that is higher than the ground around it. They can be anywhere from a few inches to several feet tall, and they come in infinite variety. But most of the ideas behind gardening in raised beds are the same regardless of technique and aesthetic.

Raised beds of all shapes and sizes help maintain loose, fluffy soil that warms up quickly and drains well, creating the ideal environment for delicate vegetable plants and seeds. They require only a small amount of maintenance from year to year, and most can be easily built with materials you may already have on hand.

Although it requires a change of mindset from the old concept of tilling new ground-level beds each year, home gardeners and even many small farmers find that raised beds are well worth the initial effort.

Raised beds five ways

Techniques for building raised beds abound. In the end, no two raised beds are exactly alike. Here are five simple methods for building raised beds to get you started. Perhaps you’ll want to choose the one that sounds best for your situation, or you could always try one of each!

1. Mound it up

The most basic kind of raised bed is simply a mound that gently rises up from the surrounding soil. This is a good choice for gardeners who already have decent soil and just want to improve it a bit. It’s also great for larger gardens and those who don’t want to haul in a lot of input materials.

To build a simple mounded bed, remove any weeds or sod from your garden area, use a shovel or garden fork to gently loosen the soil where your beds will be, and then shovel the top couple of inches of soil from the aisles between your beds onto the top of the beds. Add an inch or so of compost to each, gently mix it with your native soil using a hoe or fork, rake it smooth, and voila! You’re ready to plant.

2. Frame it in

Big Bag Beds with veggies growing happily

Big Bag Beds provide instant raised beds.

Some gardeners frame their low, mounded beds simply as a decorative touch. For taller raised beds, frames can help hold the soil in place. Frames that are more than foot tall can function as large, bottomless containers, allowing gardeners to start from scratch with whatever soil they choose.

If you do decide to frame your beds, try getting creative with your framing materials! There’s nothing wrong with two-by-fours, but why not try stones, log rounds, glass bottles, or whatever else you may have on hand? 

A sample of our raised bed kit materials

You can build your own custom raised bed frame using a kit.

Sky also carries several ready-made solutions for creating framed raised beds quickly and easily. For example, our Raised Garden Kits allow you to easily custom-build beautiful wood frames with no power tools and very little assembly time required. Big Bag Beds are an even simpler choice, since they are ready to be filled with raised bed planting mix as soon as you bring them home. 

3. Lasagna gardening

Also known as sheet mulching, this is one of the easiest ways to build a raised bed up from the ground, with no digging or clearing involved. Unless you have a source for massive amounts mulching materials, however, it’s probably best used for creating small kitchen gardens and other modest-sized projects.

Start by placing a thick layer of cardboard or newspaper where you want your beds to be. At least half an inch is best. This will smother any grass or weeds underneath it, and will eventually decompose so that your plant roots can grow down into the native soil. 

Water well, then start layering whatever mulching materials you have available on top. The key is to alternate layers of carbon-rich materials such as straw or dry leaves with smaller amounts of nitrogen-rich materials like aged manure. Basically, you’re creating a compost pile in place.

Add a few inches of soil on top, water again to soak the whole pile thoroughly, and wait. You can plant while the bed still looks like a compost heap. In fact, your veggie roots and the microbes that love them will help with the decomposition process. But you’ll need to wait at least a few weeks before planting.

4. Hugelkultur

This German word might sound fancy, but it just means building a garden bed on top of rotting wood. The word refers to hilling your bed up over an above-ground wood pile, but you can also build a ground-level hugelkultur bed by beginning with a trench.  This might be a great option if you’re looking for a way to use up extra logs or sticks.

Hugelkultur is a popular technique in permaculture because the rotting wood can provide a reservoir of stored water and nutrients for years to come. Hugelkultur beds can be used to grow annual vegetables. They’re also well suited for larger perennial plants such as herbs, berry bushes, and fruit trees.

You can start with wood in any state of decomposition. It will release more nutrients and soak up more water as it ages.  Make sure to do a little research on the type of wood you’re using, since some are better than others. Whatever you choose, pile it up at least a few feet.  From there, just add soil, compost, and mulch.

5. Straw bale gardening

Straw bale gardens can be beautiful and productive. (Photo credit: Ryan Lane.)

Straw bale gardens can be beautiful and productive. (Photo credit: Ryan Lane.)

One more method of composting in place is to build beds out of straw bales or hay bales. Your partially composted straw bales will essentially work as containers for the season.

You’ll need to get started a couple of weeks before you want to plant. All you need is some straw bales, a high-nitrogen organic fertilizer, water, and a little bit of potting soil. Place your straw bales cut-side up, leaving the twine around them to hold the bales in place. You’ll need to sprinkle them with fertilizer and water consistently for ten days. You can find complete instructions here.

You can plant seeds into a couple of inches of potting soil on top of the straw bales, or plant starts by making a small hole in the bale and adding a scoop of soil. As they grow, your plants will get most of the nutrients they need from the decomposing bales.

After you harvest this year’s bounty, you can compost your used straw, use it as mulch, or just let it decompose in place, perhaps as the foundation of a new lasagna garden bed.

How does your garden grow?

How do you build your garden beds? Do you have any success stories or tips to share? Let us know in the comments!