Starting today, Studio 5 lays out week by week blueprint for your “Garden in a Box”. We’ll show you what to plant and how to plant for the strongest, prettiest beds on the block.
Emily Saddler from the Jordan Valley Home & Garden Club brings the garden box to us and will continue to bring it back week after week so we can keep our garden in line with hers.
There are a number of advantages to growing edible plants in raised garden beds; among them are ease of maintenance and water conservation. Raised beds can be very basic or very formal depending upon your budget and style. There is any number of materials which are suitable to construct raised beds but, by far, the most common is wood and thus that’s the type we’ll address in today’s post.
The best lumber to use is generally cedar or redwood- both of which are resistant to rot. Cedar is the most budget-friendly option with redwood being slightly more expensive. Other less-common options include Ipe (expensive) and plastic lumber such as Trex. As rot resistance is important, it may be tempting to use pressure-treated lumber. However, the pressure treating process involves the use of chemicals and one of the most important reasons to “grow your own” is to avoid as many chemical contaminants as possible so it’s best to avoid that type of lumber.
We’ve seen pallets and tires used for edible gardens and would caution against that as well. Most pallets are chemically treated and who knows what chemicals may have been transported on them? Tires are carcinogenic and should absolutely NOT be planted with food crops. We love using pallets for garden projects but limit the plants used in them to ornamental plants we don’t intend to consume.
Raised Beds can be any size you wish but some basic guidelines to keep in mind are reach and plant depth. Most of us have a 2-foot comfortable reach and therefore raised beds which have access from both sides should be no more than 4 feet wide. If the access is from one side only, the depth should be no more than 2- 2 1/2 feet. The Raised Bed Vegetable Display Garden at Conservation Garden Park uses simple 4 x 4 cedar posts, stacked, and configured in an architectural style. This works great for larger vegetable gardens.
Some plants require more soil depth than others. Root crops, such as potatoes and carrots, need deeper boxes as do larger plants such as pumpkins, tomatoes and peppers. However, leafy greens and many herbs can get by with soils which are fairly shallow.
TOOLS & MATERIALS:
2 x 6 Redwood or Cedar Lumber, amount depends on bed size
4 x 4 Redwood or Cedar Post
2 1/2″ outdoor rated screws
Drill with a “countersinking drill bit” and a regular Philips head bit
Miter saw and/or table saw
We pre-cut the lengths of wood to create boxes that are roughly 4 feet long by 2 feet wide- this is a small size but suited to our purposes. The sides boards are 4′ long and the end boards are 2′ long- all are cut from Redwood 2 x 6 boards. We will put the 2 x 6 frames together using 2 1/2″ outdoor screws.
To begin assembly, pre-drill the holes for the screws to keep the wood from splitting. Our longer boards will serve as the outside corner and thus we’ll pre-drill the holes in both ends of each 4′ long strip- 3 holes for each end. Place the “countersinking drill bit” in your drill and use that to enable the screws to settle just below the surface of the wood when attached. These bits can be purchased for $2 at the Home Improvement Store.
One of the boxes we’re constructing will hold herbs and so we’re making it quite shallow. The other box will hold larger scale plants and thus we’ll make it a bit deeper. The difference between them will simply be the number of frames we stack together. For shallow beds, you can simple screw together 2 x 6 redwood boards to create a frame. Honestly, it doesn’t HAVE to be more than that! We find it’s easiest to cut the side boards to length with a miter saw but a table saw or even circular saw will work as well.
To make taller boxes, simply stack more of the same frames on top of each other. Once you start stacking them; however, you’ll need to secure the frames together in some way to keep the unit together. You can simply screw a long wood stake to the inside corner and attach the frames up its length or go for a decorative “corner block”. The corner blocks may look complex but they are actually quite easy if you have a table saw. I recommend that you cut the blocks to length first as it’s easier to run short pieces than 8 foot lengths.
To assemble the taller boxes, we’ll stack 2 of our basic frame units together then apply the corner block. I don’t want to mar the face of the corner block with screw holes so we’ll attach it by pre-drilling a countersink hole at a 45 degree angle on the inside edge of the block where it’s less obvious. First, screw the first frame to the corner blocks on all four corners.
Next, slip the second pre-made frame on top of the first one and repeat the process making sure to keep the frames flush. If you wish, you can make the corner blocks 6-12″ longer than the needed height so that the can be buried in the ground, staking the veggie bed down.
Once the bed is screwed together, it’s ready to plant! We recommend using weed barrier fabric under your vegetable garden beds. You can even staple the fabric inside the box if you wish. This will keep your good raised bed soil from sinking down into the ground below, prevent weeds like Field Bindweed (aka “Morning Glory”) from coming up through your beds and discourage burrowing critters from feasting on plant roots.
FINISHING THE WOOD:
I’m perfectly content to have raw Redwood boxes without any sort of finish. They will weather over time to a nice gray. However, we know many of you will prefer to have boxes that add a punch of color in the landscape. Traditionally, there haven’t been many good options for painting raised beds. The vast majority of paints and stains contain exactly the kinds of chemicals you’re trying to avoid by growing your own! Fortunately, a new version of and old school product is now available that’s perfect for raised beds- Milk Paint!
Milk Paint is literally made out of milk and other natural ingredients- amny of which are already found in your soil. You can make your own (recipe here) or purchase commercially available versions. We opted for the later (Using Miss Mustard Seed Milk Paint in Linen and Kitchen Scale) after verifying that it was, indeed, all-natural. There are just a few places in Utah where you can get pre-made Milk Paint and we purchased ours from Fresh Fabric Shop. Milk paint comes in a powdered form that you re-hydrate with water as per the brand instructions.
Milk paint will weather to an interesting chippy finish. To further increase the “weathered” look, we painted the beds with an intial coat of Milk Paint in the color “Linen”. Milk Paint dries very quickly so don’t mix it all up at once! The second coat we applied is called “Kitchen Scale” and it’s a lovely blue shade. We intentionally under-stirred the paint so some of the pigments would be less blended and give us a streakier finish. Once the Milk Paint is dry, you can coat it with a layer of Hemp Oil or similar product if desired. We want our paint to gradually chip away in a rustic way so we left the finish raw.
Despite what you may have heard, there is no one perfect soil mix for raised beds. I like a mix of simple top soil and compost in my beds. Some of my friends add things like vermiculite or coconut coir, which I’m sure are nice additions, I just haven’t found them necessary. The compost for the beds we’re creating in this post was delivered to us in a large bag from “