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Cedar Raised Bed for Vegetable Garden

ceder raised bed for vegetable garden

Wanted more than a 1x4 bed...

My wife and I just randomly bought some clearance vegetables from Lowe's one day and planted them straight into the backyard with a pine border. Fast forward a month, and I'm bit by the gardening bug. I'm not even a big vegetable fan... but damn, I want to grow them!

We actually have, what seems to be, some really good soil in the backyard. I'm sure I could do fine planting straight into the ground (which I'm still doing, essentially), but I love the idea of a raised bed because:

  • Expanding upward allows for even more awesome soil without excavating the backyard.
  • Accessories: I haven't done any yet, but I plan on added pest protection and automated watering. The raised bed allows for these to be neatly installed.
  • It looks awesome.

Left: Old bed. Right: New bed.

Goals I set out to achieve:

  • Longevity: I'm hoping the use of cedar will allow this bed to last more than a couple seasons.
  • Till as deep as I can in the area of the bed.
  • Bury the side walls a few inches deep to prevent the surrounding lawn from spreading to the inside.
  • Fill and top it off with a combination of my soil, extra top soil, compost / manure / fertilizer.
  • Transplant the grass that is being removed to another section of the yard that needs it.

Construction of the Raised Bed

My inspiration comes from this article and this blog post. Here are the ways that my plans differ:

  • Used cedar because it is a naturally rot resistant wood.
  • Extended the columns / posts past the top of the walls so I can use them for accessories I add later.
  • Did not include PVC tubes on the inside. When/if I do that, I will install them on the outside of the walls. (I'll probably use something that looks better than PVC)
  • Did not attach hardware mess to the bottom of the bed. My bed isn't that deep, so the root systems will extend well beyond the bed's depth. However, if I increased my bed depth and wanted hardware mesh, I would attach it to the completed bed before installing it into the ground.

View the image below for a quick overview of how I planned on building the bed. By using these measurements I was left with no scraps.

Plans for the Ceder Raised Bed

Plans for the Cedar Raised Bed

Making the Columns

First thing to do is to make the columns. I would have loved to use a 4x4 cedar post for this, but other than a pre-built mail post, the local home improvement stores do not have cedar posts. The only cedar they carry appears to be designed for siding, so they are never thicker than 1 inch. My compromise (I still wanted all cedar) was to "make my own post" by fastening four 1x4 segments together.

Cut the 1x4s into sixteen 18 inch pieces

Cut the 1x4s into sixteen 18 inch pieces

NOTE: My plans call for 18" lengths... well that doesn't quite work. The material removed by the with of the saw blade, after so many cuts, is great enough to make your last few segments shorter than 18". I'm OK with that... the bottom of one of my post was a little uneven, but I made sure to make that the buried part.

Use screws that go through at least three of the boards. Fasten the boards together from both sides (sandwich them together). I already had some screws which were a little too long; after screwing them in, I cut off the protruding tip with a cut-off disc.

Form columns / posts from by fastening 4 1x4x18 pieces together

Form columns / posts from by fastening 4 1x4x18 pieces together

Making the Walls

The walls are pretty easy. Just measure out 8' on the 1"x8"x12', and cut it. What is left over will be the side wall(s). This plan calls for a bed that is about as wide as one can manage. Any wider, and you wont be able to work the soil without getting into the bed. If you cannot be very physical, maybe make the side walls shorter, like 3' in length or less, to help with managing the garden.

1x8x12s cut once to produce 8' and 4' boards.

1x8x12s cut once to produce 8' and 4' boards.

Assembling the Raised Bed Frame

The wall boards are really thin, and you'll be using screws near the edges of these boards, so they are prone to splitting. Find a drill bit whose width is just a bit smaller than the threaded portion of the screws you're using. Then, mark that bit (I used electrical tape) showing the width of a board. This visual aid will help you drill through the top board, but not touch the column underneath. Using this method will prevent splitting.

Fasten the columns to the side boards according to the plans. I'm sure you know this, but you when you are measuring the overlap distance, it is not 1 inch... "1 inch" thick boards are more like 5/8" thick.

Fasten the columns to the short walls

Fasten the columns to the short walls

With the short walls having columns, you can stand them up and place the long walls against them, shaping up the bed. Use some clamps to get everything square, and fasten it all together.

Stand up the sides and fasten the long walls

Stand up the sides and fasten the long walls

Construction of the bed is complete

Construction of the bed frame is complete

Preparing the Yard and Soil for the Raised Bed Frame

I have some decent grass in the area that I planned on putting the bed. I also have areas of the yard that do not have decent grass. Challenge accepted -- Operation transplant grass. I first placed the constructed bed exactly where I wanted it (making sure it was square, too). I then used a shovel to cut a perimeter.

Cut the perimeter around the placed raised bed

Cut the perimeter around the placed raised bed frame. Be careful, don't knock that bed out of alignment!

I then cut out manageable squares of sod and moved them over to a section of the yard that I tilled earlier. I tried to balance out the concept of not removing too much soil from my bed location, but keeping enough soil on the grass / sod so I don't kill it.

Transplanting my grass to another section of the yard

Transplanting my grass to another section of the yard

I wanted the constructed bed to sit about 2 inches lower than the grass line, so I removed all the soil to that level (placed it in a wheel barrel). I used a post hole digger to make cavities in which the posts will sit. These post holes will be the key for leveling the frame. Once the frame is placed, attach a level to a side, and add/remove dirt from the post holes to level the frame. Keep compaction in mind; if you need to raise a side, add more dirt than the level needs, and then push the post down to the level.

Post holes dug

Ground is prepared for the raised bed to be placed. The plants in the picture are from my old bed (its being upgraded!)

Filling It In

Before adding anything to the bed, I tilled the hell out of the soil already there. While I was tilling, I threw in some compost/fertilizer. Then I added back all the soil that I removed earlier, and mixed in some store bought top soil and compost/manure.

Removed soil replaced with added compost

The removed soil was replaced, with some compost.

That filled the majority of the volume of the frame, but not as high as I wanted. So I added some more top soil and manure, and mixed.

Mixing the top layer

Mixing the top layer: Original soil, acquired top soil, compost / manure

The final product looked so rich. It was insanely fluffy too... it was tempting to just dive in and swim around in it. What is wrong with me?

Completed soil

Soil adding and mixing completed

I haven't worked that hard in the yard in a long time...

Damn that was a lot of work. Assembling the raised bed frame was the easy part! I'd say the worse was transplanting all that grass -- I was doing that at 1pm in 87 F, southern weather. Hauling sixteen 50 lbs bags of soil and compost/manure wasn't bad, but tilling and mixing it was! I had a blast though; I love building things, and this ended up looking pretty cool. Before nightfall, I got my plants back into the bed... I hope they'll be happy.

ceder raised bed for vegetable garden

The completed raised bed for my vegetable garden. (transplanted my current plants)

Now to figure out what else to plant!

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Comments (17) Trackbacks (1)
  1. I like what you did with the columns — looks much better than the 4×4 posts! Do you know what all you’re going to plant? Looks like you have some tomatoes and peppers started?

  2. Damn, good call! I’m such a noob, I still need to keep signs near them telling me what they are 🙂 Since this is my first season, I’m thinking about throwing in as many different things as I can — see what I like, what I don’t like. Planning that out as I type ;).

  3. Sweet camo pants! 🙂

  4. Dear DBK, please stop being good at everything.

  5. You might want to reconsider on the auto waterer I found that (especially with one bed) at some point you have something you are trying to water more and something you water less. The autowater also does not take into account rain/dry period where they may need more or less. Something like that should take 5min max to run out look over real quick and water.

  6. They are sweet! Nothing better than some BDU pants for working outside.

  7. I found this page via reddit.

    I’m a certified master gardener, and a permaculture instructor. I also run a really massive gardening site. I feel I have to tell you this because you probably are not going to believe what I have to say.

    Cedar contains gobs of allelopathic agents. Sorta like naturally occurring herbicides. That’s why it lasts so long. Bottom line is that your growies are gonna hate it. You can keep your structure, but you’re gonna wanna put some plastic between the wood and the soil.

  8. That makes perfect sense; thanks for the heads up! I might be able to shift the soil around and get the sheeting installed without removing too much.

  9. I’m surprised to hear about that (cedar’s affect on plants), but see other references to it as well. Apparently, once it’s aged it’s not a problem. Anyway, would coating the interior of the bed with that stuff that you “paint” on a tree after pruning a limb (tar like stuff) work as a protectant? That seems like it’d be easier to use than plastic sheets. Thanks for any info….

    (OP: your bed looks great – best of luck!)

  10. Hey Paul, thanks for the tip, I’m building a similar bed this weekend and wouldn’t have known to put plastic in between the cedar and the plants. Will definitely do this!

  11. As a follow-up to my own post… I was advised to NOT use that “tar like stuff” because it may have some petroleum-based substances in it, which you obviously don’t want leeching into your soil… And after talking to a few people who have used cedar beds without noticing any negative impact on their plants, I’m going to skip the plastic. Just a personal decision – YMMV.

    Best of luck…

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    Cedar does not kill plants and plastic off-gasses. Don’t use plastic and don’t plant seeds, only established plants in cedar beds.

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  17. I came here looking for an answer to my question of using cedar in a garden Bed. The good news is that I got my answer (N0). I have two beds. One with pressure treated and the other with cedar. I just planted tomatoes two weeks ago and the ones in the pressure treated beds are already twice as big. I’m going to stuff some plastic over the cedar pronto. BTW… the Government outlawed pressure treated wood made with arcenic about 10 years ago so the stuff you buy today doesn’t have it in it.

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