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Aka ~ Raised Beds

If you rummage far enough down through the strata of socks, shorts and shirts in the bureau drawers or check out the boxes of forgotten clothes in the spare room, you are likely to find an article back in fashion.

This cyclical phenomenon also applies to the trends in horticulture.

Container growing for instance has become popular in the previous few years because of its simplistic management and superior product achieved with less growing-related stress on the plants, or the plantee.

The beneficent method of containing your plants, whether ornamental, vegetable or even fruit bearing varieties that include dwarf-stock apples, apricot, cherry, plum, pear, and blueberries, strawberries and kiwi is historical.

The first recorded use of containers in which plants were grown, began fifteen thousand years ago by the old world Neolithics. Clay pots have been found with soil clinging to the inside of pot chards, indicating their horticultural use.

We recognize the most famous of containerized planting as the Hanging Gardens Babylon. Reports of the successful method using rock and timbers to form into precipitous walls to contain and support varieties of plant life, soon encouraged the locals to form specialized garden guilds and issue fact based information complete with stunning graphics and suitable texts upon stone tablets. The carrier companies that distributed the message had to very quickly conform to union demands, and all personnel were issued with handsomely ornamented kidney belts, which incidentally are still being used by the staff working in the large box stores.

Not to be outdone by the Babylonians, two more historic containment enterprises were begun to isolate soil, trees, shrubs and perennial flowers: one in 214 B.C. during the Hwang-ti Dynasty, The Great Wall of China was begun and then in the year 117 AD, Hadrian found time on weekends to piece together a modest prozect.

The interest in contained phytos continued and benefits us today. Included in the manifest of Captain James Cook, were lists of temperate, sub-tropical and tropical plants species that were to be gathered as cuttings, seed and potted specimens from Australia, rubber trees from India, spice plants from the Canary Islands. During a lay over in Hawaii, Captain Cook was treated to a high tea refreshment and was so impressed, he had his ships bring back to Plymouth, cases of Dole pineapple juice and potted pineapples, with the hope of establishing a cash crop in Britain. That did not happen, and explains the tardy introduction of Pina Colada into the 18 c public houses.

Container Gardening today means many things: whether you are containing individual plants in earthen-ware pots, visually pleasing flowering plants combined into bushel baskets, aquatics contained in ponds/pools or even no-drainage pots, container gardening can also refer to raised beds for mixed vegetables or strawberry crops.


The raised bed being described and pictured is as easy to build as you will find. Lumber used is called 'rough cut' and purchased through some lumber companies or selected and purchased directly from the *mill. Because the bed or beds will be an integral part of your yard, placement is important, as well as the visual impact. Beds located in full sun will provide you with best growing results.

The bed sizes are 'od' or outside dimensions. One bed is 16' X 4' wide and 18" deep. The other bed is 22' X 4' X 18" deep. Rough-cut lumber, as the name indicates, is not planed or dressed as dimensional lumber would be. Very often, rough-cut will be over-length and will be the full thickness and other words... a 1" X 6" X 16' board will be just that. I choose to work with rough-cut for out door projects because it lends itself to the rustic look, is more durable and costs less than dressed lumber.

Lets go through the stages of placement and construction:

Decide where the bed(s) will be. Level ground is easier to work with, but if your land slopes, that is better, as drainage will be natural and move to the lower end. Aiming your beds north/south or east/west is up to you. Ours is north/south. That placement allows you to grow taller material towards the north end, and plant or seed to the south with consecutively lower growth plants. Every plant will have benefit of the full sun. We had an existing cement sidewalk, so placed a bed on both sides. I used Round-Up on established lawn to kill the grass. Do not use poly film as a barrier between the soil and your growing mix, as drainage will be nil. There should be an ambience between the base and your planting media.

Measure all your lumber and cut to length. Use a square for accurate fitting. Use a penetrating oil base stain of your color choice. Roll or brush, and make sure the ends are painted. Hint: rolling is takes less time and coats all the rough finish.

You can see by this stage, the layout. Work on a solid base for each side. With your square, make sure the rectangles of the sides are square before attaching them to the vertical cleats. You will find that if using rough-cut, allowances will have to be made for differing widths or saw cuts; not quite water tight when laying the boards side by side to match up with the edges. (We're not building a piano or music box) A gap or space left between the edges can easily be an inch or so. Your planting mix won't run out between the cracks or knot holes, and the spaces will give better air circulation for plant roots. I use 2" Robertson head deck screws. Easy to put in with an electric drill and bit, and easy to take apart is necessary.

You can see by these photos, the sides standing up-right with batons holding them in place while you fit the ends.

Hint: Square the sides into place by measuring diagonally from corner to corner. Each measurement should be the same. Now it is square. The end vertical cleats are also the supports that the pre-cut ends will fit against. You can either screw in place, or let the planting mix hold them in place by its own weight.

How are we doing?

The best thing about contained growing is your choice of media you use to grow the plants.

Hint: For a pest free, weed free mix, use a soilless mix. Our raised beds are lumber-mill sawdust, obtained from the same place you buy rough-cut.

To adequately fill a raised bed measuring 14' long X 4' wide X 18 " deep, is a half-ton pickup truck slightly heaped with sawdust from the lumber mill.

Hint: A grain shovel will be your best friend in filling the truck and emptying the sawdust into your 'bin'. Don't buy the plastic shovels, the metal ones are far better and will last far longer.

When the sawdust in place, spread a bale of peat moss on top and mix with the sawdust to a depth of your garden fork. Broadcast a 25lb bag of dolomite-limestone to the total surface, and dig it in to the same depth as the peat moss. Limestone will aid in maintaining a neutral Ph while the sawdust slowly releases acid during the first two seasons of growing.

To utilize your raised beds for a more productive season, the addition of poly-hoops to the bed will be the framework for garden cloth or clear poly.

Using these two products have the ability, when conditions dictate, of increasing and controlling your seedlings or transplants. Interested?

Now for the how to:

Pick up some half inch re-bar and cut, or have cut into thirty-six inch lengths. Pound the stakes into the ground, on the inside face of your container sides, leaving 12 inches exposed above the top edge and with 36 inch spacing. A roll of 3/4" black poly pipe is cheap and cut into eight foot lengths. Slide each end over the re-bar to the top of your soilless mix. Join, to support the hoops, by anchoring one end of construction grade 'string line' to one end in the centre of the bed, then loop each hoop with the string to maintain the vertical and spaced measure of the hoop, and anchor the string to the end. That's it!

Later, I'll show you the best and quite unique method of fastening the shade cloth or poly to the sides for easy on/off control of sun or shade.

The preceding has been instruction in the construction, along with the incentive to produce your own plant favorites. There will be information to come, about the actual procedures and feeding of your plants to prove containerizing is the way to go!

*Hint: There are two fine lumber mills in Lamont County.

  1. Elk Island Wood Products phone: 1 (780) 895-2593


  2. Hrycyk's Lumber Sales phone: 1 (780) 896-3784 or 1 (780) 896-3829


 For the 22' bed:

 Sides: 6 pcs. 1" X 6" X 16'

 6 pcs. 1" X 6" X 6'

 Ends: 6 pcs. 1" X 6" X 4

 Cleats 8 pcs. 1" X 6'"X 18"

 For the 16' bed:

 Sides: 6 pcs. 1" X 6" X 16'

 Ends: 6 pcs. 1" X 6" X 4

 Cleats 8 pcs. 1" X 6'"X 18"

1 pound 2" Robertson deck screws
1 gallon penetrating deck stain



All images contained herein are the © property of Stan Thompson, What's Up Stan and/or Great Gardens & Gargoyles