Any Great Ideas For Cheap Materials to Build a Raised Bed?

ponderinstuffFebruary 15, 2008

I want to build two raised garden beds that are approximately 10 feet long apiece. They need to be at least 12-18 inches deep. I want to grow Lavender in these raised beds.

What can I use to build the beds that I wouldn't have to go out and buy? I could probably get some railroad ties for free but I've heard they smell bad which would defeat the purpose of growing perfumed lavender. Then there's the whole creosote issue which has been debated so much that I'm confused on what the final consensus is . . .

But back to the subject, does anyone out there have any great ideas for cheap, recycled, or reclaimed materials that I could use for a raised garden bed?

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zengeos(5 Maine)

concrete blocks will probably work and they are reasonably cheap, if not particularly pretty.

You could probably put stakes in the ground every 12-18" and cut some plywood to the right height, place inside the stakes and fill the resulting tub with soil...basically, you would be building a big honking planter.

Lastly, you could do the same as above, but use 1x8 rough sawn lumber...comes long enough...12' I think, each piece, for around $6 or $7 per, so 5 or 6 of those, plus the corner and mid pieces to make a woven fence style tub/raised bed?

    Bookmark   February 15, 2008 at 9:36PM
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Can't you just mound it. Maybe make it a little higher in the middle. You would just be using the soil you had for the beds.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2008 at 9:56PM
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I made many, many raised beds, all for free. I visited a housing development being built and raided all their scrap piles over a period of time. You have to hit them when they are doing the wood part (not the dry wall or concrete part, for eg.)

    Bookmark   February 17, 2008 at 10:31PM
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Oh, and here's a picture of all the raised beds I made out of wood found at active house construction sites. The bed in the very forefront is from purchased wood. The arbor thing was all from construction-site wood, too. Last year it was covered with snow peas. Try to hit the construction sites when people are there, and ask them if you can raid the scrap pile. Once I went to one when no one was there and a neighbor called the cops and a cop told me to put the wood back, even tho she said she was sorry she had to tell me to. :)

    Bookmark   February 18, 2008 at 11:24AM
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Hello there! I'm new here and just looking around. I noticed this post and wanted to offer a possible suggestion. Do you live on property that has standing timber? If so, and if there are any trees that need to be culled (dead wood or fallen trees) then you could use the wood from the trees to make a raised bed. Just use a chainsaw to cut the logs into 1 ft. thick 'slices'. Then, you can stack the slices up like bricks. Hollow logs can even be alot of can make separate plantings along the borders in the hollow spots.
Again....I'm only suggesting using deadwood. It wouldn't be wise to cut living trees for such a purpose.
And, a word of warning....because you'd be using 'raw, decomposing' wood that would remain somewhat moist due to the direct contact with dirt, you'll need to be especially vigilant regarding termites. Termites and carpenter ants can be a big problem with a method such as this so really think about the pros and cons first.
I hope this helps!

    Bookmark   March 2, 2008 at 7:27PM
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rocks, sticks, beer cans? tires milk jugs

    Bookmark   March 5, 2008 at 12:44PM
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just me 6,

I was thinking along the same lines last year about cheap sources to build a raised bed. But I also thought long term. Do I was to get material that will break down and need replacing every few years, dealing with termites and what not? I looked into composite decking and it worked out great. It cost a few dollars more for the materials and in the long term, I will not have to replace the material at all. Plus, they will not age and are aesthetically pleasing as compared to block.

This is a case where the initial outlay will definitely outlast the cheaper alternatives and having to replace them constantly, in just a few years.

Just some food for thought.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2008 at 7:34PM
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i use cinder blocks and make sure that i place them with the holes facing up. then i fill the holes with potting soil and put in plants that drape over the sides and hide the cinder blocks.

i've seen people use cinder blocks that were painted green. they look a little weird, though.

durham NC

    Bookmark   March 23, 2008 at 10:09AM
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I use wood and cinderblocks to make my raised beds. I plant strawberries in the cinderblocks. My soil is very rocky so as I remove the rocks I throw them in the pathways on top of some weed barrier. It works pretty well, I think I get extra heat for the beds from the rocks and cinderblocks

    Bookmark   March 24, 2008 at 4:23PM
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I also use cinder blocks with the holes up and plant draping plants inside the holes. When the cascading plants fill in, you can't even see the blocks and it is really attractive. I got my blocks for around $1 each so it was really a cheap way to go.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2008 at 1:41PM
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Cheap and pretty, but very work-intensive: if you live in a rocky region such as New England, look for construction sites advertising "free fill". Load up your trunk with rocks. Build low walls. It's hard work, and will take many back-and-forth trips, but you will end up with gorgeous beds that last forever. . . eventually.

(I would say I spent my weekend doing this, but it is more accurate to say I spent a couple of exhausting mornings at it, followed by naps.)

    Bookmark   March 31, 2008 at 11:13AM
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rosebush(z7 NC)

Hi Y'all! I use old barn boards or found cinder blocks for mine, also large rocks from a nearby creek bank (and the ground seems to "grow" them here too!). Lasagna method to build up the beds and voila! :)
Freecycle is a great place to get what you need to start. Lots of people have materials they want to get rid of, and will gladly give them away.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2008 at 8:56AM
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I just built a lovely new raised bed using free used tires. I stacked them two high, interlacing them. Each tire had dirt pounded into it. The wall is strong enough to walk on.

I covered the outside tires with some old landscape fabric that I had. I will poke holes in the top layer and plant flowers in the middles. It is a lovely, and free, new garden.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2008 at 10:26AM
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novelist (and all thinking of using tires for raised beds),

That is a great and green way to build a bed!

However, I would not plant anything edible in it or near it. I would not think that whatever checmicals added to the tires that will eventually leech into the soild would be good to ingest.

If I had the room and opportunity to build something like this, it would be on the other side of the yard, away from my veggies, but that is just me.

Great idea though.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2008 at 1:08PM
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midnight_jasmine(z6, OR)

I don't use anything for my raised beds. I just them wide(4+foot) and about 20 long. They are raised about 12-14 inches and highly productive. Wood, rock, brick etc etc, gets in the way when you try to do soil work. I do have a couple raised beds from recycled deck wood(old cedar) and they work fine but the edges always need special weeding. Without obstacles, you can weed and hoe very easily. I choose my path because of economics too. If I had to fine enough material to make 12 raised beds(20 feet long) It would be a major feat. And kind of a waste of time, as I am finding out now. Keep it simple. Instead spend time and money on your precious soil.
Oh, I would not use railroad ties for anything. They leach creosote into your soil. Very bad.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2008 at 1:16PM
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Our local newspaper place sometimes gives away those wooden pallets. If you took, say four or five of those and cut them into halves or thirds and added some trim pieces -- nailed them all together - would this work. They're about 4 x 4'. Use them as the base and just add on. I think other places give them away too, just to get rid of them.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2008 at 7:51PM
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I'm sorry but I'm having a hard time picturing the tires and how they are laid out. Can you post a picture? I need to make some raised beds and have limited funds. I know where I can get all the tires I want of various sizes and this idea intrigues me.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2008 at 11:55PM
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led_zep_rules(5 WI)

I have 8 raised beds, every one of them is made from free materials except for the screws. 4 are wooden, 1 is edged in concrete bricks (freecycle) and 3 are children's plastic pools with drain holes on the sides near the bottom. I got the pools on freecycle, too. The wood, well I asked one friend for a waterbed frame she had by her burn pile. Another friend knowing that I collect all manner of junk called us to rescue some lumber used for shipping large machinery to her place of business. When my brother moves or cleans out his garage I get lots of wood from him.

Just be creative. Where I live you can't just pile up the dirt or the quack grass or creeping charlie will get into it in a flash. I also use old pallets for my compost bins. We had 200 gallons of finished compost this spring. I have also liberated lumber from construction dumpsters, but I don't think any of that made it into a raised bed.


    Bookmark   April 25, 2008 at 1:41AM
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Just a note on the prettyness of cinder blocks. They come in red too and you can get stucco paint in any color to match or highlight. There is even an adhesive type paint that you can use to help hold layers of block together. I have noticed that my cinder block beds warm up faster than other beds do. I got my blocks from jobsites, Craigslist and a neighbor who was a bricklayer and happened to be moving.


    Bookmark   April 26, 2008 at 10:04AM
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Check in the free section. I just got a bunch of redwood from someone who replaced his deck. I think his deck became gardens for 3 people.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2008 at 2:12AM
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I have 7 4x4 raised beds from garbage-picked scrap lumber. I just built a bigger bed using hay bales that were left in a city park after a race. They said I could have all I wanted, and they even helped me load them in my van on 3 separate trips. I have just finished soaking them for a week to germinate the seeds and let them die off. I'm about to fill the center planting area, fertilize the bales and make compost pockets. Hopefully by the time they rot, I'll find more free hay. I think one of the farm stores will give me their rotten bales, but I haven't asked yet.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2008 at 1:06AM
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pookiejean(z9 TX)

I went on a garden tour and saw that the owners had edged their vegetable bed with sacks of QuikCrete. The bags were stacked, offset, two bags high. The owners left the QuikCrete in the bags and eventually rain and moisture had hardened the QuikCrete into solid stone--in the shape of the bag. The paper bag eventually disintegrates and falls off. The owners had also stuck re-bar down into the bags before they had hardened to keep the bags from shifting. Really cool way to make an easy, nice--looking stone edging.

And I guess you could add decorations (tile pieces, glass, ceramic, etc.) to the top of the QuikCrete before it hardens.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2008 at 4:29PM
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I recently expanded my growing beds on the cheap by taking used pallets of about the same size/shape ($2/ea at my local hardware store) and cutting them in half to form the sides of my beds. Black landscape fabric stapled on the sides to hold in the dirt, newspaper on the bottoms to deal with the existing vegetation, and VOILA! a new growing bed.

Good luck to you, and happy gardening!

    Bookmark   May 25, 2008 at 11:56PM
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The nice thing about those cinder blocks is you can mosaic them!

    Bookmark   June 3, 2008 at 4:14PM
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Might want to try Liteblok from Cresco Concrete Products. Concrete blocks are fairly small, lightweight, interlocking, mortarless, don't leach and come in different colors.

Here is a link that might be useful: Cresco Concrete Products, LLC

    Bookmark   June 5, 2008 at 9:29AM
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pookiejean(z9 TX)

Take bags of QuikCrete and stack them into whatever form you have in mind for your bed. Two or three stacks high should give you plenty of room. Then just let rain do the rest--the bags will absorb the rain and turn into cement bag-shaped blocks and the bag paper will eventually wash away. Then you will be left with stones (in the shape of QuikCrete bags and fairly attractive) to be your new edging. I don't know of anything else that could be easier than this.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2008 at 12:31AM
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If you can cut down a dozen straight saplings you will have more than enough to make rustic log cabin style retaining walls. Stake in place or drill holes and peg them together and into the ground. They will take years to break down and become compost. When they do, just surround them with a new wall.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2008 at 1:44PM
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There are now some Liteblok kits for raised beds and retaining walls at Cresco.

Here is a link that might be useful: Raised Bed and Retaing Wall Kits

    Bookmark   July 4, 2008 at 2:59AM
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If you have a Lowes or Home Depot, they have lumber in the back that is imperfect. It is usually marked 50 to 75% off. I got my lumber 70% off the retail price and made 3 raised beds for under $10. They also had a full pallet of potting soil bags that were ripped, and slightly damaged. I think I paid $10 for 15 large bags. Then fill your raised beds lasagna style, newspaper, grass clippings, leaves, hay, etc. I'm having success growing tomatoes out of just that and just a tiny bit of soil.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2008 at 2:39PM
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There are lots of ideas in here that I would not use for veggie gardening, or perhaps even regular gardening if you do not want chemicals leeching into your soil.

Pallets (particularly ones used internationally) have some serious pesticides + bad stuff.

Railroad ties have Creosote (and who knows what else if they're old)

Old deck boards + pressure treated lumber often contain arsenic + other chemicals.

Tires (as mentioned) contain lots of chemicals.

Sorry to be such a buzz kill, but please read up on a material before you put it in your garden.

I've got the same problem- need to make a raised bed but would like it to be pretty, cheap and last. Darn the elements! :D

    Bookmark   March 5, 2010 at 2:03PM
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We use old utility poles that we get for free from the local utility company. The termite problem is bad in our area so we cannot use untreated wood. Most of the newer poles are treated in the same manner as treated wood. You will need a chainsaw to cut them up, a truck & a strong back. There are pictures on our blog. The link is on our profile.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   March 18, 2010 at 5:15PM
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dancinglemons(7B VA)

DH made 3 raised beds for me last year and spent very little money. He purchased 3 boards 2X10X16 and had the folks at Lowe*s cut them in 4 foot lengths. He screwed them together with rust resistant coated deck screws. The boards were $10 each -- just plain boards -- not treated and the box of screws was $5. They have weathered but that is OK with me. We expect they will last about 5 years or more because we used 2 inch thick boards. He will make 2 more raised beds this year but I checked and the boards are now $12 each.


    Bookmark   March 30, 2010 at 3:07AM
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