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How I built my dream, hügelkultur raised garden beds

How I built my dream, hügelkultur raised garden beds

This is where you can save a significant amount of money, water and all around make your beds into worm-factories, water saving, vegetable pumping super stars!

I filled the entire bottom of each beds with vegetable debris. I dumped everything I could find, from autumn leaves to sticks and branches and passing by shredded paper and cardboard. You can use anything that will decompose into the soil. 



Cover with high quality compost, either your own or purchased. Plant fabulous seeds and seedling and enjoy!

Healthy seedlings waiting to be transplanted into my amazing new Hügelkultur raised beds

Hello there my fellow gardening friends!

I am not often posting things related to building, DIYing or other construction-linked subject because it is simply not my strong suit and I know you can find much better, well-informed, complete information out there.

I am, however, making an exception for my newly built raised beds! We had a large (well, large for us) scale hardscaping project done on a particularly annoying slope right at the back of our house this on early March. My original idea was to build a series of vegetable beds along the walls and in the terrace separating the walls, right in ground as this is my preferred method. I had to change my plans after the work was done because of the extensive amount of drainage stones lurking only a few inches below the thin layer of newly applied topsoil. 

Since it would be impractical to build in ground beds over such a thin layer of topsoil, I planned on building a series of raised beds. This will make the best of the wonderful micro-climate created by the walls and will make an easier job of caring for my most delicate crops. I am also hoping the heat generating by the wall will help me overwinter some crops throughout the coldest part of the season where my in-ground beds are frozen solid. 

My first decision was easy to make: I was going to build the raised beds myself instead of buying something premade, because the ideal size for my terrace wasn't standard in premade and because I had already spent a whole lot of my budget on the terrace itself.

The second decision was equally easy to make: I was going to use untreated wood as my material, of the kind easily found in big-bucks improvement centers. I had no desire to add unwanted chemicals to my vegetable beds, knowing this is where my family gets most of its nourishment. I also would have been forever second-doubting myself should I have opted for treated wood. 

So, armed with my two hands and my power drill, I went in search of the perfect way to make my dreams come true. 

 First came the plan

 After measuring my terrace, pondering the ideal size of my walkways - which needed to be wide enough to allow for a wheelbarrow to easily maneuver back an forth (at least 2 feet) I settled on a length of 5 feet and a depth of 3 feet. This makes each bed easy to manage and wastes as little as possible of my precious growing space. The layout I chose gave me a series of raised beds along the wall as well as an additional, 2 feet bed along the edge of the terrace where I planned on growing crops with shallow root systems, such as lettuces and annual flowers. I'm also partial to making space for flowers in the garden and I believe in the power of beauty in my growing space. 

Nicely spaced raised beds and in ground bed

TIP: when you design your own dream raised beds, take your time. Walk and move around your space, with a wheelbarrow, like you will when comes the time to spread mulch and compost. Measure and re-measure your space. Use a measuring tape and marks the limits of your beds to visualize that the final layout will look like. It doesn't have to be fancy: I used stones and sticks for mine. This way, you'll have a clear layout and a good plan before you begin. 

 Always keep in mind that you don't need to follow my instructions: maybe your own space calls for 4 feet by 4 feet beds, or you want to have the nice, long version of 4 feet by 8 feet. Whatever you do, take a nice, long look at your growing space and allow yourself enough time to plan, think and re-plan and then re-think some more. Once those beds are cut, built and filled with nice compost, they are there to stay.  

My father once told me to measure not twice but 4 times, then cut once. Same goes with garden planning: measure twice and plant once! Well, not really plant once, but who likes to dig out and drag around a poorly designed raised bed.

Not all wood is created equal 

I have learned in my years of homesteading and various semi-successful attempts at building animal shelters and other things that wood is expensive. Wood also rots when left in contact with moisture and the elements. 

Both those things will happen in a raised garden bed. 

Since wood is expensive and I know it will rot, I was left with a dilemma. The thinner wood pieces are cheaper, but they risk warping and rotting much faster, while the thicker planks are costly but will hold more weight and for longer periods of time. 

Armed with my layout, I had to decide exactly how I was going to build those beds. Untreated wood was already my material of choice, but that still left me with a lot of decisions to make.

Cedar is the top choice since it won't rot for decades and looks even better as it weathers down, but cedar is expensive. I couldn't justify the expense of using cedar for all those beds, so I was left with the standard Douglas Fir lumber, which is readily available in all the big-buck stores in my area. It still left me with the thickness of the wood and the height of the planks, but I was getting close. It was easy to chose a thickness of 2 inches, since I wanted those beds to last me as long as possible. 

After much deliberation, I opted for the 2X10 planks made of the standard Douglas Fir, in nominal lengths of 8 feet. This way, I figured, I could cut each piece only once and use a total of 4 pieces to make my dream beds as deep as I needed them. I would not normally need a 20 inch deep bed, but since those beds were to be set on the middle level of a two wall terrace system, it mean that they were more or less going to be set over a thin layer of topsoil sitting above drainage rocks and drainage rocks make for poor vegetable growing. If you're reading this while debating the depth of your future beds, consider that unless you have a very specific reason to want a height of more than 10 inches, say because you have trouble bending down, have pets that regularly trample your beloved plants or want to set them above concrete, rocks or other non-growing media, then a single "layer" of the planks will be more than enough, saving you half the costs! 

Lastly and because my father is the one who taught me how to build things that last, I decided to use a 4X4 posts on each corner to make the entire beds even more solid. If you don't use the double depth, don't bother with this step, but if you do, you might consider it. There is also another reason I wanted to have posts at each corner, which are taller than the height of the beds by about 4 inches: I can use those posts to build some extra-solid cold frame for the Fall, Winter and Spring time. Blog post and detailed instruction to follow... 


Now comes the material list, cutting list and miscellaneous items you will need if you intend to reproduce my raised beds. 

Material list for a single double height 5X3 feet raised bed

(4) 2X10 planks @ 8 feet long (if not building the double height, buy only 2 planks)

(1) 4X4 Post @ 8 feet long

3" Self-tapping exterior deck screws 

Cut list:

(4) 2X10 planks @ 3 feet

(4) 2X10 planks @ 5 feet

(4) 4X4 Post @ 2 feet


Step 1

Cut all 2X10 planks to size. Use only one cut per plank! 

Boards all cut and ready to assemble for my double depth raised beds

 Tip: I cheated on the cutting! I asked the employee at the Home Depot to cut each piece of 8 feet to my specifications. It saved me a couple of hours of work, since I'm painfully slow with the circular saw and my little table saw can't handle the 10 inch planks. When I left the store, all I had to do was to assemble the pre-cut pieces into my new, fabulous, extra deep raised garden beds!

Step 2

Build the first layer by screwing the boards together. It doesn't really matter if you place the short side of the bed inside or outside the long side, as long as you're consistent all throughout the work. 

First layer built of my double height raised bed

Step 3

Screw the corner post to the first layer of the bed. For this, I used a clamp to secure in place, then screwed one side, then the other. This way I made sure the corner posts where straight! 

Screw the second level of the raised beds, using the corner posts as anchors. 


Step 4

This is where you can save a significant amount of money, fertilizer and water and all around make your beds into worm-factories, water saving, vegetable pumping super stars!

I filled the entire bottom of each beds with vegetable debris. I dumped everything I could find, from autumn leaves to sticks and branches and passing by shredded paper and cardboard. The simple yet effective principle behind the Hügelkultur method is that organic materials are buried in the ground directly under the soil intended for cultivation of vegetables, flowers or other crops (doesn't really work for field cultivation such as grains, but this is another subject). Those materials will decompose over time, leaving a long lasting source of nutrients as they do. The logs and branches will also turn into a sponge-like consistency over time, absorbing water and delivering it right where your plants need it most: at the roots. This will end up saving you both time and money in the short and long run, in terms of fertilizer and water. All around, Hügelkultur is a great, sustainable way to build a raised bed and once I have used successfully over the years. 

hugelkultur raised bed, filled halfway with vegetable debris. Notice the layer of leaves at the bottom

Cover with high quality compost, either your own or purchased. Plant fabulous seeds and seedling and enjoy!


Step 5

Plant and enjoy!

 Healthy seedling waiting to be transplanted in my amazing Hügelkultur raised beds


Are you planning on building some raised beds? Did this article help you? Leave a comment below!

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