Our backyard has officially become my favorite place to spend time. It is so refreshing to look at our yard and think of how far it has come in the three years since we bought our house. Now that Josh has finished replacing one broken section of our fence we have officially entered the relaxation and enjoyment stage. If you’ve been following my blog you may remember how it looked when we moved in. And if not, you’ll want to go back and read that post to truly appreciate how it looks now!
Our favorite features are the garden beds. We put a lot of thought into how we wanted them to look because they would be the focal point of the backyard and it’s clear that you all like them too, because it’s almost always the first thing visitors comment on when they come over. We’ve been asked many times how we built them so I thought a step-by-step post would be helpful, especially during this time of the year when many people are planning their gardens for the seaso. We didn’t plan on sharing the step-by-step instructions when we built them so the photos you’ll see below do not show each step as clearly as I’d like, but the design is pretty simple so hopefully it will be clear enough. And you can always leave a comment below if you have any questions.
When we were planning our garden we did a lot of research on garden bed design. I pinned photos on Pinterest, looked through magazines and Josh took note of beds he saw in other peoples’ yards. There are so many beautiful and functional options but in the end we chose a combination of wood and cinderblocks for aesthetics, durability and cost.
Once we chose our materials we had to choose a size for each garden bed. We knew we wanted at least two feet between each bed so we could walk easily between them. I also consulted our go-to gardening book and it recommended that beds be no more than 4 feet wide to make it easy to work in the beds. Using cinderblocks made this part easy. Ours are 15 1/2″ long by 5 3/4″ wide by 7 3/4″ tall so we used them as our guide. Our beds came out to approximately 3 1/2 feet wide, 5 1/2 long and 1 1/4 feet tall.
After finalizing the details of design and dimensions, step one of actual construction was to level the ground. We like the look and function of gravel between the beds, so leveling the ground in preparation for the cinderblock foundation of each bed was actually pretty easy. Once the ground was leveled, we laid the cinderblocks out in the desired shape and dimensions, again making sure they were level. If full length cinderblocks won’t yield your desired dimensions, half sized ones on the corners may help out. Next, stack a corner block on a second layer to help anchor the corners, and give the garden bed a little extra stability.
After laying down all four sides of the beds, that left a gap between the second-layer corner cinderblocks. Next we measured the gap distance and cut a 2×8 board to fit and did that all the way around. Once the side boards were done, we measured and cut the cap boards to go atop the cinderblock corners for a convenient seat while working in the garden. These cap boards were also what we attached the side boards to. Once the cap boards are cut and laid flat, we connected them at the corners with a small, rigid metal bracket on the interior of the bed box (see picture below). With the tops secured, we drilled screws straight down into the 2x8s positioned vertically in the gaps between corner cinderblocks to wall in the garden beds.
To better secure them, and to make sure the winter moisture doesn’t bend and warp them over time, we took the extra step to secure wooden stakes to the vertical wooden walls that extend down into the holes of the cinderblocks on the interior of the garden bed box. These stakes help keep the wooden walls and caps, as well as the cinderblocks, in exactly the right place after the beds are filled with dirt.
Our final step before filling the beds was to spread weed cloth and and a layer of poultry fencing on the interior floor of the beds. The weed cloth helps keep any deep-rooting plants in the box (like raspberries, hops, or mint) and the poultry wire keeps pests like gophers and moles from tunneling into the bed. Then we filled them to the brim with a good mix of topsoil, compost, and manure before planting our seeds or starts.
We built seven of our beds in 2014 and followed up with two more in 2015. We’ve had great success with our crops but have had problems with squirrels digging in the beds with seedlings. This year they have repeatedly been digging up our onion, beet and carrot seeds and I got tired of it so we built an extra frame to keep them out.
We made them from scratch using extra materials laying around the yard. We screwed four 2×4 boards into a frame and then stapled a piece of wire fencing to it. The frame provides enough room for the plants to grow tall but prevents squirrels from digging.
Because it has been so long since we built our beds, I don’t have the itemized receipts for them anymore. But based on prices for similar materials at The Home Depot, each bed came out to approximately $50 (not including soil) and three seasons later, they are still holding up. There is some warping of the wood and sneaky plants like hops, mint and raspberries like to find their way through the spaces between the cinderblocks and wood, but other than that we are thrilled with them. There are so many different materials and designs you can choose for raised beds depending on the space you have.
Cinderblocks: $1.56 each
2x8x8 boards – $11 each