Raised Beds, how if not treated wood

Natilie70(z8 E Tx)January 24, 2010

Would like to make some of my garden into raised beds - for my back. Working with organic gardening, so it is said that we should not use treated wood. Well, bricks also leach bad things into the garden. Can't think of anything else to use. Suggestions ?? Thanks

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sharbear50(6a Bella Vista)

I just used regular lumber, painted it with "low VOC" primer.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2010 at 2:24PM
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Untreated wood will last several seasons.

I used old waterbed frames and they are still holding the dirt OK after 5 years.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2010 at 4:40PM
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It would depend on the type of wood used - some is just naturally more rot resistant and can be used for many years before it starts to rot. And since the CCA-treated wood is now off the market, non-toxic treated alternatives are available: C-A (Copper Azole, sold under the trade name Natural Select; sometimes formulated as CBA, copper boron azole) and ACQ (Alkaline Copper Quartenary, sold under the trade names Preserve or NatureWood.) Or you can use recycled wood-plastic timber products that will last forever (or nearly so) without rotting.

I'm not sure what kind of info you are finding about bricks leaching "bad things" but I think it overstates the case to a large degree - even the migration of toxic substances from CCA-trated wood into the soil is pretty minimal and it's difficult to consider any masonry material creating problems - standard 8"x8"x16" concrete builders blocks or self-locking wall blocks are often used. Or you can go upscale and use natural dry-stack stone.

Here is a link that might be useful: recommendations for raised beds.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2010 at 9:18PM
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Since it took some 30 years to find out that the CCA Pressure Treated wood was leaching Arsenic and another 20 years to get it banned some caution in using any pressure treated wood is not a bad thing. Whether masonary products actually leach undesireable substances depends on many things, starting with how they were made and what they are meant to be used for. Bricks for chimneys are softer and less desireable than paving bricks for any outside use where ground contact will be made. Like any concrete product concrete blocks can leach Calcium, although if some recycled products are used in manufacture there might be something else. Masonary products are less of a potential problem than pressure treated wood but there are wood products that could be used and, if available, woods such as Locust, Redwood, and some Cedars are rot resistant.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2010 at 7:13AM
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gardenlen(s/e qld aust)

if you can get what we call railway sleeper(tie) timber that is about 4" to 6" thick and ahrdwood they will also for a very long time, look at our presentations we have use roof metla as edges that does very well and if bought from a demolition yard lots cheaper. using house bricks needs some expertise ot they won't stand for lang with soil movement. besser block (cement blocks) are also good but heavy work and like bricks needs a level site. sheets of corrugated roofing can be used get them cut to 1/2 width and use galvanised star pickets to hold them in place, 6' star pickets will then give you somewhere to run a trellis between, not excessively pretty but very functional

how about bales of hay or straw and then when they rot away no edges at all, yes that works it is for us. depends if you are going for appearance or vestatility. the less work you can do the better realy.


Here is a link that might be useful: lens garden page

    Bookmark   January 25, 2010 at 1:49PM
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Dan Staley

I don't know what 'bad things' would leach into soil from bricks, unless one considers lime or clay bad. But as len says, you'd need a lot of them to hold the weight. Concrete chunks would work, as would CMU blocks, cedar, engineered block like Allan Block-Pavestone, etc. Sandbags. Hubcaps/rims. Rocks. Gabions. Logs.


    Bookmark   January 25, 2010 at 6:48PM
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Natilie70(z8 E Tx)

Thanks for all the info and input. Guess there are actually lots of things I could use if I just get out and look around (recycle stores and big box stores) hmmmm. things to think about, especially now before I get more things put in for this year. Had gotten discouraged the last couple of years with the moles, voles and gophers eating more than I get.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2010 at 9:54PM
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Some people consider the creosote that leaches from railroad ties as bad as the Arsenic from the CCA-PT wood.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2010 at 6:49AM
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Dan Staley

Last time I did some dumpster diving by new residential construction, I picked up four very nice 3"x3" x 8' metal posts that may be an archway into somewhere or a trellis, whatever I get family approval for. I built my coldframes from dumpster diving in new residential construction. You'd be amazed at what gets thrown away. Commercial new construction will get you CMU blocks. Line the bottom of your boxes with hardware cloth or chicken wire and make it tight and you'll be a happy camper - make it deep enough if you decide to do parsnips or big carrots so you'll have enough room. You can get chicken wire scrap from any new construction that does stucco.


    Bookmark   January 26, 2010 at 10:35AM
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I have considered using clay to form the sides of a raised bed. Get the stickiest, most dense clay, and form walls about 6" wide and then compact it. It might be worthwhile to lay a board on the top in the rainy season.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2010 at 1:10PM
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I would not recommend using Western red cedar in the garden. While it is undoubtedly the best rot-resistant wood available, the vast majority is derived from industrial clearcutting of primary forests in British Columbia. While 2nd and 3rd growth redwood is not as rot resistant as the old growth S. sempervirens or Thuja plicata products, it's much more sustainable.

Just my opinion, but I don't think it's a fair trade off to contribute to further fragmenting the largest temperate rainforest left on Earth for an extra few years of wood use. There's plenty of plantation wood available and I use boiled linseed oil to increase its longevity.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2010 at 4:11PM
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I just use pine and soak the heck out of it with linseed oil.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2010 at 10:10PM
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I have several wide pine boards from replaced stairs. They are treated with some kind of finish.
I am planning to paint them and use for raised beds.
Does anybody see issues with this? What paint will be better to use?

    Bookmark   January 27, 2010 at 4:32PM
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My experience with using the SPF lumber and linseed oil is that there is not enough additional time added to the life of the ground contact wood to warrent the expense of using the linseed oil. When I have used linseed oil on wooden siding, window muttens, wood that is painted but does not have constant contact with the ground the oil does help extend the life of that wood, but maybe, with luck, the oil will add one year to the life of ground contact wood, in my experience.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2010 at 7:18AM
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wantonamara Z8 CenTex

I am new to this forum. I have been just lurking mostly. I was lucky that I heard of a Cedar deck being torn out and replace by plastic wood. I put the untreated side towards the dirt. The wood was free. I hope it lasts. I used free left over galvanized conduit for stakes to pin the sides to keep the boards from bowing out.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2010 at 11:52AM
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I simply mound the soil into raised beds, after it has been dug deeply all around, then put lots of available organic material in between to walk on. I pile it thick enough to hold the beds for the season.
Next year, I will rotate the beds, so that the center, of the new raised beds, is over the pevious, well rotted walkways.

    Bookmark   February 7, 2010 at 11:31AM
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paulns(NS zone 6a)

This is a recipe for treating wood, given to me by a local sailor/fisherman. I've used it on pallet-bin composters, raised bed beams, trellises, fences etc. It doesn't work well on fresh-cut or milled lumber - needs to soak in.

2 parts turpentine
8 parts linseed oil
1 part pine tar
a bit of Japan Dryer (optional - speeds drying - may contain undersirable chemicals)

Add pine tar to linseed oil and stir to dissolve - heating the oil gently helps, but preferably not on the kitchen stove. I use a malt or coffee can on a propane burner in the workshop
Remove from heat, add turpentine and mix

    Bookmark   February 9, 2010 at 11:32AM
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I used haybales last year for my raised beds. This year i wil mound up the hay onto the beds to use as mulch.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2010 at 4:11PM
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anney(Georgia 8)

A generous local hay farmer gave me about 25 bales of hay that I have "seasoning" under the snow in the garden. The truck where he was storing the hay had leaked so he couldn't sell the hay for stock feed. I'll use most of it for a deep mulch in my tomato beds in hopes of foiling the funguses that appear on tomatoes without fail.

But we do use cinderblock for 40 feet of our raised beds, and I'm very satisfied with it. I have another 48 feet of beds for beans, squash, and cukes that have no sides at all, just the soil raised higher in the plant beds.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2010 at 6:56PM
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anney(Georgia 8)

In my garden planning files, I save links to various sites that I think have good information that I might need some day. Below are some ideas for raised bed frames, from tires to plastic mesh to corrugated sheet metal. These folks build SERIOUS raised beds! Some of them would take elbow grease and help from another person, but maybe someone will get some ideas.

Here is a link that might be useful: Alternate Raised Bed Materials

    Bookmark   February 14, 2010 at 8:54AM
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I'd like to add a slight modification to my idea of using blocks of clay to form a raised bed; dust the blocks with bone meal, or possibly, gypsum. I've noticed that applying bone meal to clay makes the clay turn very hard when dried.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2010 at 3:15PM
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I have used Cuprinol wood preservative on my wood raised beds. I believe it contains copper.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2010 at 2:22PM
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We have a sandbox in the back with pressure treated wood. It is 5-6 years old. Would it be safe to turn into a garden now if we remove the sand and place soil?

    Bookmark   March 16, 2010 at 1:26PM
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david52 Zone 6

I'm redoing my vegetable garden this year into raised beds, and will use maplebirch's method. Four foot wide bed, four foot wide path, till out the path 8" deep and mound that up on the beds.

I'll use 6' or 2 x 4' wide weed barrier to lay down on the paths and up the sides of the beds, stapling it all down. I imagine I'll have to re-edge them every year, but thats nothing to worry about. I built 3 of the things two summers ago, and they're still there.

I'll also put t-posts and cattle panels right down the middle of all the beds, which, in my dreams, will be 40' long, and I'll have 10 of them. Tomatoes and vining fruit will happily climb the trellis, leaving, on each side, room for something else.

The snow just melted, and we'll see if dreams really do come true.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2010 at 10:45PM
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kathyp(z9 CA)

I just used rough redwood - no treatment required. It has held up well, 6th year for the beds. Straw bales work well too, for about a year. They will start to rot, but they make great mulch for the next year! Replacing the bales yearly can get expensive, depending on where you live.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2010 at 4:37PM
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1/8" steel works well. Our beds are 18" tall, welded, with angle iron capping the top edges. Quite durable, the rust looks good, the steel/soil heats up quickly in the sunshine, and the iron is good for the plants, apparently.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2010 at 6:19PM
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daveg(z9 CA)

I wish I had found this earlier. I ALREADY made raised beds from pressure treated lumber. The guy at Home Depot said it was now ok. (I know! I know!). He did say that the EPA approves it for gardening.

Should I go ahead with the garden as is? Or should I take out the beds?

    Bookmark   April 4, 2010 at 8:02PM
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I would never build a raised bed using treated wood. Even the new modern treated wood. The new modern treated lumber still comes with warnings that say do not use regular nails/screws because they will quickly dissolve. I don't want anything in my garden that will make a steel nail quickly dissolve. Treated lumber requires specially coated fasteners that can stand up to the preservatives found in treated lumber. If those some preservatives can quickly eat thru a nail, I don't want that stuff around my veggies.

So I went with untreated (all natural) lumber, not a drop of preservative on or in them. Yes they will only last 4 to 6 years, but that's ok, I'll gladly replace (and recycle) them after that time. And by recycle I mean shred them into mulch or amendment that I can use in the same beds they once were used in. I would never want to shred treated lumber and put it into my garden.

And, untreated lumber is so much cheaper than treated lumber, that even after 20 years or so the total costs would probably be the same.

I went with 2" x 6" Premium Doug Fir studs. A 10' length at my local Home Depot (in Portland, OR) cost $3.48. I think a treated stud cost about 4 times that??

In my opinion, untreated lumber is cheaper, easier, and a much healthier way to go, as compared to treated wood.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2010 at 3:01PM
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"I don't know what 'bad things' would leach into soil from bricks"

I used to think the same thing until I happened to read an informative paper which I came across. It was produced by a manufacturer of brick and it contained information regarding carcinogenic components in regard to the composition of the bricks. It wasn't long after that I realized the gourd vines I was setting bricks at the base of, which were barely growing, might be affected by the material the bricks were leaching into the soil at the base of the plants. I had previously grown gourds along this fence line with great success for several years, without brick markers. Subsequently, for a couple years years I'd used bricks to mark the vines so we wouldn't accidentally mow them down and wasn't having much success with them. At this time, I removed the bricks and used natural rocks from this area instead and the vines began to grow vigorously. I'm not a chemist. I only know what I read and what I experienced and I won't use bricks near any of my plants again.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2010 at 9:01AM
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This is the information I found, from Acme brick:

PAGE 2 REVISED 05/01/06
The following carcinogenicity classifications for crystalline silica have been established by the following agencies:
OSHA: Non-regulated
IARAC: Carcinogenic
NTP: Carcinogenic
WARNING: Brick dust contains crystalline silica, a chemical that has been determined by IARC and NTP to cause cancer.
I use untreated wood for my raised bed.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2010 at 9:23AM
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chriscollins(z6 Pgh, PA)

I use untreated wood for my own raised beds, but I'm pretty sure the cancer risk from crystalline silica is lung cancer from habitually inhaling it as a fine powder as someone working with pottery or making brick might. Contact exposure and ingestion aren't really an issue.

Here is a link that might be useful: IARC Summary

    Bookmark   April 8, 2010 at 3:03PM
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david52 Zone 6

As mentioned above, I'm redoing my garden into raised beds using woven polypropylene weed barrier in the pathways and up the sides to help stabilize them.

I'm just about done. I've tilled 8 - 10" out of the pathways and thrown it all up with a shovel and hoe, so I have a good 2' differential now, I bet it will stabilize at somewhat less. The next step is to use string and stakes to get the lines straight, get a 45º angle on the sides, clean up the clods, and pin the plastic down.

Ones I did 3 years ago are perfectly intact.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2010 at 6:07PM
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I have bamboo that grows thick in my back yard at my old house, so I'd stake out the dimensions of my raised bed and stack the bamboo vertically between the stakes and fill with dirt. I also like the way it looks. Since it grows so fast I didnt have to worry about next year! Then I moved. bummer! I made everything out of it, including my pea trellises!

Here is a link that might be useful: robs urban farm

    Bookmark   April 10, 2010 at 7:01PM
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I'm using children's wading pools this year. I have them planted with strawberries, onions, radishes, cucumbers, squash, cabbage, egg plant, spinach, lettuce and herbs.
The wading pools are inexpensive and available at wally world. We used a drill to punch holes in the bottoms filled with organic soil mixture and planted. So far everything looks really good.
I don't think the pools are deep enough for tomatoes, carrots and peppers so I planted those in raised beds made out of untreated plywood.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2010 at 1:47AM
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I am new here and certainly not an experienced organic gardener by any means, but I do know of a product called "Cedarcide" that I use for all kinds of stuff (works great for fleas and ticks!).

They have a formulation that you can treat wood with and it will start the petrification process and they say that once treated, wood will not rot or decay. I included a link to their website.

Here is a link that might be useful: cedarcide

    Bookmark   April 11, 2010 at 2:00PM
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We used some recycled pallets from a lawn store. The store sold lawn mowers and they were delivered in these crates that were essentially pine wood. I went tot he store and the manager was glad to let me have as much as I wanted. I broke them downa dn screwed/nailed them together. It took a bit but it was completely free and it's year 4 now and they are still holding up. I did paint the outside because they had some markings on them that I didn't really care for.

Just my opinion.


    Bookmark   December 28, 2010 at 12:26PM
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I have been researching ideas for raised bed border materials that are permanent, cheap and nontoxic. The best idea I have read so far is burlap or polyethylene sandbags. My question is this: would the plastic sandbags which are cheaper and presumably have a longer life, be nontoxic? I am squeamish about concrete or treated wood, and want something cheap and permanent (untreated wood, even rot-resistant varieties, deteriorate within a year or two in my Florida climate). Any info or ideas?

    Bookmark   December 30, 2010 at 6:03PM
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Chriscollins is right.
This is how wild rumors get started.
Crystalline Silica dust is only harmful if you inhale it.
It will not harm plants, it is ground Quartz,rock or Sand.
Check the OshDoc link, it said that CS is soil, that makes it Organic Material.Many good thing are bad if you ground them up & inhale them. Cow manure or cow manure compost dried & ground up will kill you, if you inhale enough of it.

Here is a link that might be useful: Crystalline silica dust

    Bookmark   August 25, 2012 at 11:01PM
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I too am trying to come up with a design that involves not bending over any more and using it as a cold frame in the Spring to get all my seedlings out of the house.
One major issue I have out here is too many little critters running about, so straw bales are out of the question anymore. :)

    Bookmark   August 27, 2012 at 7:58AM
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You could use concrete blocks in beds & would not have to bend over.
You could make a block bed 48"X48" on three sides, use 1-2 inches form to keep the heat in, with a clear top to let the sun in. The front could be plywood or concrete gate with 1 inch form as a clod frame.

Here is a link that might be useful: jon block raised beds.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2012 at 1:28PM
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Nice garden layout... :)

    Bookmark   August 29, 2012 at 9:01AM
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I'd just like to point out that it is not really necessary at all to build sides to your raised beds, in fact, they're better without. Alan Chadwick, who introduced the idea of raised beds into the US back in the 1960's, almost never built wooden sides. You can find out more about the formation of raised beds at this link:
http://alan-chadwick.org/html%20pages/techniques/garden_plants/veg_photos.html , along with photos of the process.

Here is a link that might be useful: Alan Chadwick, a Gardener of Souls

    Bookmark   October 2, 2012 at 3:29PM
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bencjedi(6 - Central Kentucky)

I had my garage doors replaced last spring and told the contractor I was keeping the old doors. I finally put them to good use today:

I may get 10" boards to nail along the sides to extend the beds. I was also thinking of banging T-posts along the middle of each side to prevent bowing. So far this setup feels very strong. I used concrete on the 4 corner posts.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2014 at 10:00PM
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I use landscape blocks as shown in this photo of one of my beds.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2014 at 12:03PM
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crystalline silica is only dangerous in respritorable sizes. Its a big issue in the mining industry where there mining cu , granite , quartz and other products that are around us everyday. The final product like the cu wiring in your house or car , or your granite countertops or the crushed granite in your yard is fine. once it rains or it get polished or what not the dust is gone. i being a miner go through classes every year and talk about silicosis whitch is whats its called when it affects the lungs from breathing the dust.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2014 at 12:05PM
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I use SmartPots. I was able to get a 500 gallon pot for $58 on Amazon before they went up in price.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2014 at 4:59PM
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"The new modern treated lumber still comes with warnings that say do not use regular nails/screws because they will quickly dissolve"

The immediate fall back to ignorance and fear in this forum is astounding. Rather than learning something, people just start screaming that the sky is falling.

The reason that PT wood corrodes standard steel nails/screws is it has large amounts of copper in it. The copper-to-steel contact causes small galvanic currents to happen, and this speeds corrosion. Its the same process as why you don't mix galvanized and stainless fittings, or aluminum and steel fittings. Two unlike metals touching each other will always set up small currents and corrode when they get wet.

That doesn't mean its dangerous. This doesn't mean its going to make you sick.

The same goes with the guy above posting that brick dust is carcinogenic, so hes not using brick. Brick dust is only carcinigenic if you breath in large quantities of it over a long time (IE, if you're a mason, or work in brickyard). It's not going to be dangerous at all in a bed.

(Silica is sand. If Bricks cause cancer in soil, so does sand)

    Bookmark   March 19, 2014 at 10:58AM
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