How to Build a Raised Bed—Even If You Have No Idea Where to Start
Victory Garden LA’s Raúl Fernández builds raised beds with critter covers, raised beds with legs, and everything else you can dream of.
The following is excerpted from our newsletter, “Sunset 101: The Ultimate Guide to Raised Beds.” To find out more about Sunset’s newsletters, click here.
Commercial director Raúl Fernández began building raised beds in March 2020, when, out of work and looking for projects, his wife requested some handmade planter boxes for their yard (“I can’t really sit still and not do anything and my wife could tell,” he says). The DIY project took off, with friends telling friends telling friends, and Victory Garden LA was born. The team specializes in planter boxes, soil, irrigation systems, critter covers, and really, anything you need for a raised bed.
Fernández’s advice for beginner-raised bed gardeners is to start with a simple list of decisions. Decide where you could place it in your yard so that you’ll see it every day. Decide how big of a raised bed you want and can handle. From there, decide whether you want it on the ground or on legs, if you want to work while standing. And finally, be realistic. As for things like irrigation systems, it “comes down to knowing yourself,” he says. “If you think you’ll go out every day, or if you’re a ‘set it and forget it’ kind of person, that’s fine too.”
We spoke with Fernández about how to begin a raised-bed project, from leveling out your yard to making sure the bed will get enough sun.
If I’m starting a raised bed project for the first time, where should I begin? What are the very first steps you would take?
The first step would be deciding the size, figuring out how big you want to make it, and if it is going to be an open bottom, growing into dirt, or raised up and having the bottom in the actual box. From there it’s just deciding on sizing and how deep you want it. Think about what kinds of things you’d want to eat so you know what to grow. The vegetables you want will need a certain amount of space to grow. Next, decide whether it is low or high. A lot of people love that they can garden standing up, instead of down on their knees.
As for location, to make sure it’s somewhere with enough sun, keep track of how much sun the parts of your yard get and when—depending on the time of year. Try to put a mark somewhere in your yard where you want to put that box, and check in the morning when the sun starts hitting it, then check later on when the sun is gone from that mark. Make sure the bed is somewhere easily accessible, somewhere you’ll pass by daily. Herb gardens should be closer to the kitchen, because the closer it is, the more you’ll use it and water it. Our bigger herb boxes are a good way to get something going, try something out, see your own habits of how you can take care of it. It’s less of a massive commitment. For first timers, we want to take away the fear of messing up and not knowing what to do, and just making it approachable.
No backyard? You can put these pretty much anywhere you have space. We’ve put them on tiny apartment balconies, patios, on the roof of garages, decks. If you have space that gets sun, you can do something. I’ve even made some for apartments that are on wheels so they can move so it doesn’t block doorways in a small space. You can Tetris in versions of these anywhere.
What do I need to do to prepare my yard or space before building or placing a raised bed there?
Try to get the area as level as possible, but that’s about all you need for the raised beds on legs. You also have to decide if you want to run some kind of irrigation to it, if that’s possible. Our irrigation kits just require a spigot that you can run a hose to.
What should I look out for when buying a raised bed?
Quality materials and quality construction. MUST be redwood or cedar. Don’t make the mistake of getting flimsy-made boxes from Amazon. Not only are they cheaply made, but because they have to be packed flat, they are not made to be assembled in long-lasting, strong ways from a construction point of view. Online beds almost always don’t have proper bottom supports so once you fill it and the soil gets wet, people often have bottoms fall apart. A sturdy base is crucial to a successful bed.
If I make my own raised bed, what are the major steps?
More often than not, the simpler, the better. Try to not over-complicate the build. Use weather-resistant screws (deck screws). Decide if you are going to be building bottomless (open to the ground) or with a bottom. Soil depth is also very important. You generally want a minimum of 12 to 18 inches of soil depth space in the box. For vegetables that grow tall or underground you want 18 to 22 inches of soil to provide strong roots. I always recommend lining the inside of the box with landscape fabric to keep wet soil off the wood as much as possible and elongate the life of your planter.
More from this issue:
- How Seth Rogen Turned Meditative Practices into Houseplant’s Homewares
- Booze-Free Bars and Shops Are Finally Gaining Momentum in the West
- Warmer Weather Is Around the Corner: Your February and March Garden Checklist
- These Wellness Getaways Offer Next-Level Spots to Soak
- New Nostalgia Is on the Menu at Seattle’s Hottest Filipino Restaurant
What are common mistakes you see when people start projects like this?
Figure out what you want to eat first, something youll be excited about having when it grows in, and that’ll motivate you to make things work. Set yourself up for success.
What are the major advantages of raised bed gardening?
The most obvious advantage is that it opens up where you can put it and who can do it. Coming off the ground in general, if you have pets, they’re going to get into it. Raccoons, coyotes, rats, birds can get into it. So just bringing it up off the ground helps a ton for that fight. And then what we hear all the time with the elevated raised bed—there are all these people who say they got sick of bending over or gardening on their knees—this brings gardening up to a more comfortable level. It is something you want to get to, keep an eye on things, trim things back, make a habit out of it. You have to enjoy the process.
What is your best advice for a first-time gardener?
Be realistic about your expectations and your level of involvement. You have to want to spend time with your garden and tend to it properly for ultimate success.
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