Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Best Materials for Raised Beds

I'm a huge fan of vegetable gardening - or any gardening for that matter - in raised beds. There are many reasons raised beds are great for gardens like being able to garden nearly anywhere (even on rocky ground), controlling the soil, or planting more plants in a smaller space but what actually makes a good raised bed? The best raised beds give you all the advantages I just mentioned and can be made of many different kinds of materials.

The Best Raised Bed Materials

In my mind the best raised bed materials are those that will last for a long time, are low on care or maintenance, and provide a healthy environment for plants and the people who eat them.

Natural Rocks: Natural rock raised beds definitely give you form and function - especially if you like the rustic/natural look (I'm a fan).
  • Advantages: Solid, no maintenance, can be made into multiple shapes and forms.
  • Disadvantages: Can be heavy to move around, may need mortared together to gain bed height..

Bricks: reclaimed bricks make excellent raised bed materials
  • Advantages: Solid, no maintenance, can be made into multiple shapes and forms.
  • Disadvantages: Can be expensive in large quantities, if small may need mortared together to gain bed height.
Concrete Blocks: concrete blocks made for construction are very economical.
  • Advantages: Solid, no maintenance, fairly inexpensive
  • Disadvantages: Very heavy to move around, may not look as nice as other options.

Cedar or Redwood: Durable wood materials that naturally resist rot.
  • Advantages: Resist rot and will last several years. Easy to assemble.
  • Disadvantages: Can be expensive, will eventually need replaced

Pots: Believe it or not pots are great raised beds for vegetable gardening.
  • Advantages: You control the soil, can move the pots into the best locations or indoors if there is danger of frost.
  • Disadvantages: Dry out fast and need frequent watering, need to find the right vegetables for the pots (determinant, dwarf, or bush type plants)

Good Raised Bed Materials

Good raised beds offer the function of a raised bed vegetable garden but may require some maintenance or repairs over time. They can be very functional yet attractive at the same time.

Untreated wood: Untreated beds will last only a couple years but are inexpensive and easy to put together.
  • Advantages: Inexpensive and easy to assemble into basic shapes.
  • Disadvantages: Will need replaced within 2-3 years, could attract termites - don't put too close to your home.
Mounded Beds: Mounding is a good way to do a raised bed garden without sides for retaining soil. 
  • Advantages: Inexpensive, easy to build.
  • Disadvantages: Lack of barriers for soil retention may cause erosion of the bed over time.
Poured Concrete
  • Advantages: Will last a long time, very solid, looks good and can be stained/painted
  • Disadvantages: It takes a lot of labor and time to set up. Can't be moved easily - fairly permanent.

Poor and Bad Raised Bed Materials


Pressure Treated Lumber: Older pressure treated lumber should be avoided.  The treating process used to use arsenic but that is no longer the case. New pressure treated lumber is probably fine although I won't use it for edibles (I'm paranoid). Today's pressure treated lumber contains copper which probably won't leach into your soil in significant enough quantities to cause any harm.
  • Advantages: Resists rot and will last several years.
  • Disadvantages: Depending on the type pressure treated wood its toxicity may be in question.
Old Tires

  • Advantages: Easy to come by and easy to assemble
  • Disadvantages: Will eventually degrade and release toxic chemical into the soil - not good for vegetables! May not be very aesthetically pleasing - I'm not a fan.

    If you are building a new raised bed this year you may want to look at this post: Designing a Raised Bed Vegetable Garden 11 Things to Think About.

    I'm very partial to using stone and bricks as raised bed even though most of mine are built from cheap, readily available untreated pine. What materials do you like best for your raised beds?

    9 comments :

    1. One of best gardening friends (Geri) told me the best advice she ever received when she moved here was to build raised beds. Such a simple answer to a difficult soil situation as many gardeners have in Tennessee.

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    2. I'm switching out PTL for Cinder blocks. Planting the voids with flowers or maybe something to make a "shrub" border.

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    3. I have begun recycling beer and wine bottles(neck end buried).

      ReplyDelete
    4. I've been using cedar. It's a little pricey but easy to work with, resists rot, and doesn't contain treatment chemicals. Also it looks cool when it fades to grey!

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    5. Ive been weighing my options...both in price and materials. Aside from the recycling get creative option. Concrete is actually the cheapest material. Although probably the most difficult option, if your handy or experienced in building, its actually rather easy. Ive put together a design to build reusable molds in different shapes to pour w/ concrete. They can be carried around and interlocked to make the beds. Straight pieces, curves. Ive yet to try it w/ raised bed forms, but have used recycled glass gravel in addition to the gravel in mixing the concrete- during cure time brush and rise of the surface to show the glass and gravel. All the wooden beds Ive made over the years were nice and worked well, but even cedar and redwood rot and attract termites- and neither are cheap especially replacing every so many years. If I decide to do a more permanent straight one piece concrete raised beds, it will actually be easier.

      ReplyDelete
    6. I'm starting my first garden ever! I'm so excited to build raised beds in my small space. Your post was very informative! I think I'll try the concrete blocks. I know it will be a lot of work but I'm sure it will be worth it (and I'll get a bonus workout).
      Thank you!

      ReplyDelete
    7. For the past three years, I've used links of guttering to contain my raised beds. I either put bricks every couple of feet in them to hold them in place until they are filled with dirt or I've used concrete in them. At any rate, edging with weedeaters doesn't damage them, they remain white (or the color you choose) for a long period of time and do not rot. I have one now that I've added another round of gutters to (two gutters high). At the ends I either shape the gutter on the end to fit the side gutter or I put a square post painted white.

      ReplyDelete
      Replies
      1. When you say "guttering" what do you mean? Is there another term for the same thing? Your solution sounds interesting and I would like to check it out.
        -Verna

        Delete
    8. Don't forget corrugated iron (at least that's what we call it in Australia. It needs to have a little wood to frame it and make it less dangerous (cuts and such) but it quite cheap (even free) and effective.

      ReplyDelete

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