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Old March 11, 2018   #17
b54red's Avatar
Join Date: Sep 2009
Location: Alabama
Posts: 6,628

As someone who has used raised beds for nearly 40 years I have learned a few things. One is to make your path wide enough for a wheelbarrow so you can easily fill the beds without so much shoveling and toting. Four ft width was just a tad too wide for me and I have long arms and am about 6' tall and now that I'm 67 years old the 4 ft width is even more of a problem. I recently had to remake one of my beds and ended up just shrinking it a bit in width. I also went from 8" X 2" treated lumber to 10" X 2" and I find it a little easier to work in. If you are not as tall or have trouble reaching out I would recommend making the beds about 44 to 46 inches wide on the outside dimension which would leave you a bit more than 40 inches to work with.

To hold the beds in place the easiest thing I have found is to just drive in a two foot piece of 3/4" metal conduit straight down beside the outside of the bed and attach it with a U clamp with 1 5/8" self tapping coated screws and to put the ends together just use 3" self tapping coated screws. It only takes 3 for each corner and it makes the finished bed really neat. You also might want to use a level to give the beds at least an even start when setting them up. I didn't do this on my first attempt and regretted it though it wasn't catastrophic it did make things a bit more difficult. As I have rebuilt the beds I have attempted to make them more level and it has worked better even though it is a bit more work. It doesn't have to be perfect but it does help to have them somewhat level.

If you can do it I recommend you use as long a bed as you can get away with in your space. I have beds from 40' long to 10' long. My favorite beds to use are the longer beds. If you go with the longer beds then you can join the boards together by using a two foot piece of treated 1 X 6 and screwing it to the outside with 1 5/8" screws to hold the joining together and then drive in a piece of conduit and attach it to the joint to keep it straight. If you do make longer beds then it is best to support the sides about every 5 ft along the outside with the conduit because over time boards will warp and move and this keeps them fairly straight and stops too much shifting.

If you don't want longer beds or they won't work in your space then I recommend going with the longest possible standard size of 2"X10" treated lumber and before you buy the boards check them for straightness and try to pick out some with fewer knots.

I first started using raised beds just by mounding them up and mulching the sides but the number of problems I encountered quickly made me decide to go with bordered beds. At times of heavy rain I would have erosion affect some of the beds particularly down at the bottom of the garden. The amount of mulch needed to keep the weeds at a reasonable level was a constant struggle to maintain enough mulch to do the job. The beds were constantly sinking and needing more mounding and I was always messing up the sides trying to work the center.

It is a lot of time and effort to build and fill the beds but once you have it done the maintenance and ease of use will amaze you. It will also make it so much easier as you get older. I can't imagine doing the back breaking work I used to do before I had the raised beds now that I am much more impaired with age.

Good luck with whatever you decide and good gardening.

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