Anyone here use cement blocks for raised beds?

AdamM321(MA z5/6)April 26, 2004

Hi,

I am trying to construct a raised vegetable bed with cement blocks. I layed them out butted against each other and leveled them, filled this 12x4 area with dirt. Now I am seeing that the blocks are unstable to work around though. When using a pitchfork in the bed, I have to be careful not to knock into them or it knocks them out of kilter. Standing or sitting on them seems unstable. I don't want to keep resetting them either.

I haven't filled the holes with anything yet as I have been told I can plant the holes with plants, but I can't see how you can access what is in the bed and work in it if you have plants all around the edge.

Someone suggested rebar the corners for more stability and I plan on it, but I still don't see how that will stabilize all the blocks the way I want them.

What am I doing wrong?

Adam

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Steve_Dale

Try 4" landscape blocks. Set the 1st corse in the ground about 3" and then stack them 2 corses higher. You will need to use round corners, but I find this method to be very staple.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2004 at 1:48PM
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micropropagator(zone5 S Indiana)

I find it cheaper to use no walls for my beds. I use beds 4 x 25 feet which gives me 100 sq ft per bed. I have about 100 beds and use 16 inch paths between the beds. Often I throw pulled weeds, tree wastes, lawn wastes into the paths to avoid walking in the mud. One problem with using walls on plant beds is injuring my hands on the walls unless I slow down.

Often I sort of level the beds into the paths when I am planting cover crops such as clover, buckwheat, or small grains so that I have more organic matter growing. The cover crops keep down the weeds and mean I do not have to work the soil until May or July because the weeds are smothered out.

Acually I did have one wall of concrete blocks 8 x 8 x 16, but profuse gifts of tree wastes and dirt filled the path and the low, wet adjacent bed. Now I am walking on the concrete blocks, using them as a path. It has worked very well as a walkway.

I have driven a white pipe into the ground on the center line of each 4-foot bed and I let the width of the beds be less than 4 feet when I need a wide path for some crop or to run a cart thru the path. My beds vary from 8 inches high to a few inches deep when a crop will be growing in hot, dry winds.

a few times I filled the pathways with bricks or concrete blocks. I got well-drained beds, a dry pathway, and a place to store blocks and bricks.

Harold Eddleman

    Bookmark   May 16, 2004 at 12:21AM
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let_it_rain(VIC Aust)

Soil will always move throughout the seasonal changes. And as you know, gets very heavy when wet. Try using a course material inside the wall first, like a scourier type material. you could use a crush rock but be sure to use the large type, i think you can get up to 15mm or there abouts, wash it through to remove the dirt so you dont get a sludge build up. This will allow the water to drain and doesnt tend to move like your soil does. I hope this is of some help to you. Good Luck....

Paul Williams

    Bookmark   June 4, 2004 at 5:57AM
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Jennifer Kosco

i used concrete blocks for my strawberry bed. i put the bed in the corner of my yard against the fence. that is the only place i used the concrete blocks. i plan on putting plants in the holes. for the border that faces me, i used big ole rocks that i had dug out of my yard. i try to recylce as much as possible. (that is a nice way of saying i am soooo cheap, heh) that is the other reason i used the concrete block. they were left over from my sidewalk project, sitting there not being used. so, what they hey, why not use them? :)
jennifer 'momkoz'

    Bookmark   June 23, 2004 at 9:12AM
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sunupworker(z54MI)

Adam-did you take a dig a inch down - tracing the shape of the concrete block so that they would stay in place? Also maybe dig a few inches down-then put some sand-level that
then put block set in. I think this would keep them in place. Because just soil might sink after awhile.

good luck.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2004 at 10:12AM
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azzelda(6)

I think the suggestion to sink the blocks partially into the ground is the way to go. I did this when I put cement edging around my veggie beds. I used the long, 6" high ones from HD and simply dug a little trench then filled the gaps in with soil after I had the blocks the way I wanted them. They stick up several inches so the bed is slightly raised. This type of block has tongue-and groove on the ends and that holds them in place. It looks nice and stays put. I bet the trench idea would help with your cinderblocks. Good luck!

    Bookmark   July 13, 2004 at 11:30PM
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Missouri_Greenwitch

Hi, Adam--I have used concrete blocks for several years, and have found them effective. One of my favorite features is that if I decide to reconfigure my garden, I just start moving around the blocks. I have not been successful at growing anthing but kale/arugula in the holes. Don't know why. Subsequently, I have turned many of them otheir sides to discourage weeeds. Bright Blessings! gw

    Bookmark   July 20, 2004 at 8:59PM
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lonowl(9CAli)

Adam, I like the idea of using the holes to plant in too. Do your blocks need to be moveable, or can they be permanent? I usually hang out over in the Hypertufa forum, so the first thing that comes to my mind is to cover the outside with Hypertufa to kinda hold them together. Actually I was thinking of doing something similar myself, either with bricks, blocks, or just the Hypertufa.

Sorry, Hypertufa is a cementatious mix that differs from regular concrete in that it has no rocks in it, only sand and peat moss. The peat moss or other organic component(s), makes it lighter, more porous, and more like real stone looks. We use it to make all sorts of pots, planters, troughs, fountains, sculptures etc...there is someone else who it taking on an all-'tufa raised bed project, so you might want to check out that thread. Keep in mind that just like gardening this is an addictive hobby...but none of us mind.

Lonowl

    Bookmark   September 24, 2004 at 2:28PM
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AdamM321(MA z5/6)

Hi Lonowl,

Well, I have one season under my belt with the new cement block bed. The jury is still out. I did have some problems growing somethings in that bed that I normally don't have a problem with. I am going to take a soil test before next season. I also saw a major difference in the amount I had to water that bed.

As for planting in the holes, I didn't have luck with the strawberries and had to pull them all out. About the only thing I would try now would be portulaca or some other heat lover. I think the small space and the cement material add up to a too hot root ball.

Good luck with yours, I am sure you can make them permanent. Just make sure you like growing in them before you do. I would give them a season of being loose before doing that. I think I might go back to wood for the next two beds.

Adam

    Bookmark   September 26, 2004 at 3:55AM
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swanz(z5NH)

Someone at the gallery posted this cement block picture.

Swanz

Here is a link that might be useful: Bostonian's cement block bed

    Bookmark   September 29, 2004 at 7:40PM
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mid_tn_mama(6)

Micropropogator:

You said:

"Often I sort of level the beds into the paths when I am planting cover crops such as clover, buckwheat, or small grains so that I have more organic matter growing. The cover crops keep down the weeds and mean I do not have to work the soil until May or July because the weeds are smothered out. "

Are you saying you plant the cover crop in the rows and between the rows both?

Do you leave the cover crop intact and just plant into it? I've seen where farms do that with tomatoes. I think they cut the cover crop and leave it there--that way they add nourishment to the soil and don't have to weed.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2004 at 10:40AM
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dixielib(z6/7 Ga)

Adam, I have had a cement block raised bed for many years. I reinforced every other block with rebar and they have been stable. I found 4 feet wide beds were too hard for me to reach into, so made a narrow path down the middle of the bed to get to both sides of my plants. After that I had good luck planting sunflowers in every other hole on the north side of the bed. I have also had good luck with marigolds in the holes. Tried beets but they didn't do well. Onions did well in the holes, also. Marigolds and onions were no problem to reach over, and the sunflowers were easy to reach around.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2004 at 5:07PM
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Bostonian(z6 MA)

Adam, I planted chives in each corner of the 2 beds and alpine strawberries all along the right side side holes of the left bed. The soil/compost wasn't the best thing to fill the holes with (shrinkage).

I used potting soil to fill the holes on the left side of the left bed and planted semps, sedums and thyme.

Marigolds did fine in the holes. Next spring I'll fill the holes in the right bed left side with potting soil and plant more alpine strawberries. I haven't planted anything in the blocks dissecting the left bed because I like to walk on them.

Kathy

    Bookmark   November 12, 2004 at 7:34AM
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Bostonian(z6 MA)

never answered your original ?, I slightly dug a trench and repacked the soil in next to the blocks, they've been really stable

    Bookmark   November 13, 2004 at 3:26PM
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oldherb(z8 Oregon)

I have a couple of things that will help with some of the issues surrounding the cement aka cinder blocks for raised beds that I needed to apply to my first bed and they seem to be working out very well.

First thing is...we have moles and moles find structures like contained raised beds a delight to frolic in, usually doing in favorite plants or running right along the edges where its impossible to catch them...dirty little buggers.
THE FIX: After I had dug the bed debth I wanted I installed 1/4" hardware cloth as a barrier. Hardware cloth is a wire mesh sold by the foot at hardware stores or in roles at Home Depot and Lowes). The moles can't come up into the bed with this barrier (Learned this lesson with my first large raised bed garden some years ago after we neglected this step). The hole I dug for the bed became known as "the grave"...about 8' x 4'...the neighbor kids thought it was pretty cool.

I made sure the floor of the hole was level using a screed stick (a straight board or brood handle work for this.) Next I layed brick around the bottom edge of the bed followed by the cinder blocks on top.

Finally I lined the sides with landscape fabric to keep the water and soil from seeping out the cracks. I filled the bed, cut off the extra fabric and filled the pockets with soil and planted them with a variety of thymes I use in the kitchen. They have been doing very well.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2006 at 8:39PM
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AdamM321(MA z5/6)

Hi oldherb,

thanks for bringing up this old thread and for your suggestions. I am putting in more beds and am happy to have the info about the moles and how to keep them out.

This is a photo of my bed last month but I will try to take a more current photo. I have some sedums and hens and chicks in some of the holes and I am very pleased with it right now.

:-)

    Bookmark   May 18, 2006 at 11:10PM
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girlndocs(8 WA)

Did you make those great obelisks? What do you plan to grow on them?

Kristin

    Bookmark   May 25, 2006 at 6:22PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Hello again...

I just noticed that there were a few other posts that I didn't take the time to respond to last time as I was hurrying..sorry. :-(

Bostonian...I LOVE your two garden beds too! Ours are very similar in size. You used two blocks wide and I used three and yours are a lot longer than mine. I love the way your beds fit the space and your alpine strawberries look so healthy! I tried strawberries...not alpine...and they didn't seem to like the heat and I was always watering them and they were in my way trying to get into the bed. I see it is working great for you. I don't know what the difference is. I also liked the idea of sedums/semperviens/thyme and those are the exact same things I planted in my holes. I have hens and chicks along both sides in selected holes and two sedum vera jamesons in two holes at both ends with thymes in each corner block. I filled some blocks with pea gravel, so I can step on them and get into the bed without worrying about stepping on something. I didn't get a chance yet to take close ups of the holes that are planted but I am still planning on it. Thanks for sharing how you got them so stable and for sharing your photos. They were inspirational!

Old herb, thanks also for sharing all your construction tips. I loved the idea of using a board as a screed to level the area. I hadn't thought of that.

DixieLib...thanks too for the rebar suggestion. I did use rebar thanks to all the suggestions and it makes a big difference. And thanks for sharing all your experiments with the holes. You saved me from having to try them all myself. [g]

Kristin,
No,I didn't make them. I bought them at Christmas Tree Shops and I have some peas planted at the base that are slowly coming up. I will take another photo soon and give an update on how it looks.

:-)

    Bookmark   May 26, 2006 at 7:37PM
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suburbanfarmgirl(9 (Riverside County-Elsinore))

I wonder if I can make something like those obelisks out of grape vines? Once they dry out wouldn't they hold their shape? Maybe a wood screw to hold them in the meanwhile... any thoughts?

    Bookmark   July 24, 2010 at 8:13PM
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plaidbird

suburbanfarmgirl,

Hey.. I was just looking at the instructions for those obelisks last night !

I'm going to link to the whole page of weekend projects at Sunset Magazine, rather than just the obelisks since there's bonus inspiration .

Here is a link that might be useful: scroll down to the naturl garden tipi, easy, peasy.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2010 at 8:55PM
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bjfleming712_comncast_net

I filled the holes in the cinder blocks with dirt. It is very stable. I then planted herbs and marigolds in the holes.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2011 at 2:57PM
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yamchin_cox_net

are 6" wide (vs 8" wide) cinder blocks stable enough for raised beds?

    Bookmark   June 16, 2011 at 7:05PM
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oliveoyl3

We didn't stack & worked just fine all along gravel driveway since last spring. Plants overwintered here in western WA fine. Gathered over time (free off Craigslist) to complete 50' or more finished this spring.

Planted in a pattern of herbs & sedums/rock garden plants.

5 chives
2 tall ornamental oregano
2 creeping thyme
3 sedums & rock garden plants (Arabis, Armeria, rock soapwort, creeping phlox)

I watered them last summer, but won't this year except for the spring planted section. Have some empty spots to fill with rock garden plants yet as I have time this summer/fall.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2011 at 3:22PM
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smichel(8)

Here are a couple of pictures of the start of my raised vegetable garden bed using cinder blocks. I have since planted cucumbers, squash, pole beans, tomatoes, peppers, herbs (in some of the empty holes around the perimerter) as well as marigolds.

Here is a link that might be useful: Cinder block vegetable garden

    Bookmark   April 15, 2012 at 10:14PM
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bosaapje

Oh my goodness Smichel! I LOVE your cinder block garden!

    Bookmark   April 20, 2012 at 12:09AM
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smichel(8)

I finally have some more recent pictures to post about my cinder block garden .. Here's the story:
My new "house" had a blank slate for a yard :-(

But there's an old saying "bloom where you're planted" and after living here for almost a year - it was time to start "blooming".

Texas A&M University has a GREAT school-wide community service project called "The Big Event". Every year, local people can sign up to have students come to help with projects around your home. I signed up and on a Saturday in March, 6 students came and helped me build a raised vegetable garden bed made of cinder blocks.

My brother and sis-in-law graciously helped with loading and unloading the blocks and
my son helped cart some of the dirt to the backyard to make my other flower beds.
Now I just have to get some veggies planted in there!

.... Almost a month later, I finally have some real growth in the garden. Kentucky Wonder pole beans have grabbed onto the jute hanging on my make-do trellis and the cucumbers are looking for a place to climb. I'll work on a trellis or tepee for them next.
I think I'm overwatering the tomatoes .. they look a bit sickly.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2012 at 9:36PM
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jolj(7b/8a)

The only thing greater then Jon garden is Jon himself.

Here is a link that might be useful: Jon's garden

    Bookmark   May 29, 2012 at 7:13PM
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