Idiot’s Guide to Building a Garden

The idiot being me, of course.

A number of people have asked me recently for a step-by-step guide to building a vegetable garden. I’m not an expert. But I’m happy to share what worked for us. We built one 4’x12′ garden bed last year and loved it. This year, we extended that bed by doubling its height, and added two more beds: one 4’x12′ and one 4’x10′.  There are probably a million different ways to build a raised garden bed. We tried to make it as simple as possible.

What you’ll need: wood, obviously. Any wood that you like will work. Pressure-treated is best, to avoid rotting down the road. It’s tempting to use rail ties because they are oh so pretty, but the chemicals in them make them not safe for vegetable gardens. We opted to go with one board per side. To build one 4’x12′ bed, we used TWO 4’x12’x10″ boards and ONE 4’x8’x10″ board cut in half to make two 4′ long boards for the ends. Home Depot will do these cuts for you (for FREE!), which makes it even easier. You’ll also need nails, or screws. You want to use the green ones that are safe for use in a vegetable garden. Lay your boards out on a flat surface, like the floor of your garage. You’re going to create a rectangle with the two long boards and the two short ones. When you start screwing the boards together at the corners, you might want to use a right angle thingy to make sure that each corner is square and you don’t end up with a wonky box.

Once you have the basic shape, it’s just a few more steps until it’s ground ready. To ensure that the bed stays relatively secure in the ground, we added a few short posts to each corner and the centre of the the long boards by cutting up some spare 2x4s we had lying around.

Side note here on dimensions of wood. Did you know that a 2×4 does not actually in fact measure 2″ x 4″?? I learned this from my dad while picking out wood last year at the Depot (or the Deep, as I like to call it) and felt like a total airhead for not knowing previously. They actually measure 1 1/2″ x 3 1/2″ ish. Why the discrepancy? Something about rough cuts vs. dried and planed finished lumber that went right over this blondie’s head. Now go ahead and drop that little bit of knowledge on your friends to really impress them. You’re welcome.

Once you’ve got your bed ready to go, you need to prep your yard. We traced out the inside of the bed where we wanted it in the backyard and dug up the grass and some of the dirt. We went down maybe 6 inches, or enough so that the bottom edge of the bed was just below the grass. Then we placed the bed in the hole and leveled it out. We placed a layer of landscaping fabric inside the bed (it’s supposed to help keep weeds and grass from growing through your garden) and then filled it up with soil. You can get a large amount of soil delivered to your driveway and then you just need to wheelbarrow it to your backyard. It helps if you have a handsome shirtless worker doing the heavy lifting, trust me. We used Bradford Greenhouses and they send us beautiful, dark, rich top soil. Fill your bed all the way to the brim. It might seem like a lot but you will get some settling over time.

Now you’re ready to plant!

Grab your favourite veggies, dig a hole and stick em in. Try not to overcrowd and be sure to research the particularities of the plants that you intend to grow. For instance, you’ll need a trellis of some kind for climbers like peas, cucumbers and zucchini to latch onto. I used an old window frame that I picked up at the Cookstown Wing Ding (which is on this weekend, fyi) that I stapled some chicken wire to. Does just the trick. It’s also a good idea to look into which plants get along well together and help each other grow, versus which ones repel each other. Check out my Pinterest garden board – I’ve pinned a bunch of articles and charts on companion planting that I found helpful. This year, I’m testing out planting tomatoes and basil together. Apparently the basil really improves the taste of the tomatoes. We shall see! At the end of the day, I see gardening as one big experiment. It might take us years to figure out what works and what doesn’t, but that’s half the fun!

Here’s what our finished beds look like:

IMG_5971Growing your own food is so much fun and incredibly rewarding, I highly recommend giving it a try!

– C

3 thoughts on “Idiot’s Guide to Building a Garden

  1. Pingback: Garden Madness | at home Jones

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