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FREE Natural Raised Beds

 
gardener
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I made this free natural raised bed a few days ago, and I'm really excited to get some plants growing on it soon!

Did I mention it was completely free! I don't know about y'all, but I love free stuff. A lot of the raised beds that I see are made with wooden sides and usually cost money and take a lot more time to build.

A lot of plants grow really well in raised beds, since the soil is generally a little warmer, less compacted and better drained, so the soil doesn't get too wet. I've been put off from building traditional raised beds due to the time, money, and work required to build them. This bed was super easy, so I plan to build a lot more of them!

It only took me about 30 minutes to build, the only tool I used was a shovel, and it was mulched with Fall leaves from my property.

The dimensions of this bed are 4 feet by 6 feet. The length could be longer, but it may be best to keep the width at a maximum of 4 feet so it can be easily accessed from either side.

To build it, I just dug a trench around the outside of the bed and piled all the dirt into the middle. Some rain that falls will be absorbed into the mound, and if any runs off, it will flow into the trench surrounding it. This allows for the raised bed to have well draining soil, while at the same time, the water from the trench can be absorbed into the raised bed if it is dry.

It's best to mulch it lightly as soon as it's finished to cover the soil and prevent nutrient and moisture loss, and the mulch will start breaking down and enriching the soil with organic matter.

This natural raised bed is really simple to make smaller or larger, change it, or completely remove it, which can be much harder with a traditional raised bed, and you can use the wood for something else! There's no worrying about a wood perimeter starting to rot or look unsightly. If needed over time, you can dig more soil from the trench to add to the bed that will most likely be rich soil with lots of organic matter.

Here's a video and some pictures of the natural raised bed I built. I'm excited to start growing things on here soon. I wish you the best with your natural raised beds if you decide to build one too!

If you want to stay up to date on all the videos, hover over the picture on the top left of the video and click subscribe or you can also click this link to susbribe to my YouTube channel and see all the videos when they come out!   https://m.youtube.com/channel/UCrRCqBr9G8JObD-cxQG8s5A

Side-view-of-natural-raised-bed.jpg
Side view of natural raised bed
Side view of natural raised bed
Top-view-of-natural-raised-bed.jpg
Top view of natural raised bed
Top view of natural raised bed
 
pollinator
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I like it. It's a great way to start. I'm planning to use this method for a particular area of our yard, to sort of reshape and add levels/ slopes to facilitate the way I'd like to plant it. Hopefully I can get out there and do it soon...
 
Steve Thorn
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Sounds neat Bihai, would love to see some photos of how it turns out.  Yeah, digging this time of the year when it's cool, makes it a lot more enjoyable.
 
gardener
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Looks great!
I've done similar things, but I usually fill the trench with small logs/sticks/wood chips. Otherwise my sandy soil tends to gradually fill them back up.
Like you, I haven't built any "traditional" raised beds due to the time, expense, labor; so free and easy are always welcome qualities in my projects
 
gardener
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Nice method Steve! Have you tried adding decent size logs to the trenches? I add logs around all my growing areas and I'm always amazed with the amount of life I find under them.

I had to pull up one the other day to redo the sheet mulching to get rid of some grass and under the log there were lots of centipedes and other critters. Centipedes are great little predators! I also find they help bring in fungi and you probably could inoculate a fresh log and put it on the north side of the bed to keep it in some shade.

If you just added a log to the north side and inoculated it you could potentially get a mushroom harvest and create more habitat for beneficial critters.

Thanks for sharing Steve--I really like it and I think I might copy your method for a couple of my future projects.
 
Steve Thorn
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Kc Simmons wrote:Looks great!
I've done similar things, but I usually fill the trench with small logs/sticks/wood chips. Otherwise my sandy soil tends to gradually fill them back up.
Like you, I haven't built any "traditional" raised beds due to the time, expense, labor; so free and easy are always welcome qualities in my projects



Thanks Kc!

I bet filling the trenches with that material has been really beneficial. I agree like you said, free and easy is always appreciated!

I've been putting cut up branches, some large and some small, both in the trenches and on the beds in some other similar beds I've made recently, and the plants seem to be loving it!

I'm also planning on putting large logs in the trenches and on the beds too, along with medium and large rocks. I'm betting the logs in the trenches will break down really quickly due to getting wet and dry a lot, and the bottoms of the logs will probably stay moist for a very long time due to the organic matter and moisture in the bottom of the trenches. It will hopefully break down into super nutrient rich soil.

I'm ok if they do fill in too, since they should be easy to dig out with the soil being high in organic matter. It can then be added back to the bed for the waiting happy plants!
 
Steve Thorn
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Daron Williams wrote:Nice method Steve! Have you tried adding decent size logs to the trenches? I add logs around all my growing areas and I'm always amazed with the amount of life I find under them.

I had to pull up one the other day to redo the sheet mulching to get rid of some grass and under the log there were lots of centipedes and other critters. Centipedes are great little predators! I also find they help bring in fungi and you probably could inoculate a fresh log and put it on the north side of the bed to keep it in some shade.

If you just added a log to the north side and inoculated it you could potentially get a mushroom harvest and create more habitat for beneficial critters.

Thanks for sharing Steve--I really like it and I think I might copy your method for a couple of my future projects.



Thanks Daron!

That sounds like a neat setup with using the logs around your growing areas.

I've been using small and big cut up limbs, but I'd like to add some logs and some medium and larger size rocks to the food forest also. The other day I was noticing all of the life living under a rock I turned over, like you mentioned above with logs. It seems like there are a lot of positive benefits of having them in the food forest and other growing areas.

I'd like to do some cultivated mushrooms soon also, and had lots of wild ones growing with some squash this year, and both the squash and mushrooms were really thriving, which was encouraging. Have you grown any particularly easy to grow and low maintenance varieties?
 
gardener
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Kc Simmons wrote:Looks great!
I've done similar things, but I usually fill the trench with small logs/sticks/wood chips. Otherwise my sandy soil tends to gradually fill them back up.
Like you, I haven't built any "traditional" raised beds due to the time, expense, labor; so free and easy are always welcome qualities in my projects


Great idea, KC. We have similar probkems so sand or gravel would help but also look neat in a more traditional garden.
 
pollinator
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Clever. I love it!

I'm an urban Permaculture guy, so I feel the need to add outside organic matter on top of some of my more dubious soil. In my hidden, less contaminated, backyard, I've built some simple, mounded raised beds - kind of like these. However, In the front, I have the additional goal of convincing my neighbors that food-scaping can be an attractive and affordable alternative to traditional landscaping. So far, that's all going well, but it costs a bit more - especially in time. To help keep out-of-pocket expenses down, I bought a $40 manual "pallet buster" and learned to identify free, untreated pallets. This has been a great source of free oak planks and corner boards to build more traditional raised beds. I have lined the street with these free-ish boxes, on the compacted ground between the sidewalk and the pavement, and filled them with compost from the DPW at $30/yard and Christmas tree mulch for $10/yard. I add another layer of cheap mulch every year, as well as liquefied worm castings. Out there I'm growing sea kale, strawberries and (next year) sunchokes, but I've also rotated a mix of annuals through these beds. I try to give the neighbors a good show.

In the actual front yard, between the house and sidewalk, I have used landscape blocks to define the edges of some less boxy raised beds. This is much more expensive (at $2 per block) but gives a nice, finished effect so the neighbors can relate. For a 4x8 raised bed, you're talking something like $50 for the perimeter or $100 if you want to add more topsoil above a contaminated yard. Even at that price, they're cheaper than the garden center, pre-made raised beds, and way more durable.

Neither solution is free, but they're well suited to my (very public) front yard and have convinced several of my neighbors that they should try their luck with food plants instead of just ornamentals. That, alone, is worth the investment! ;)

 
Mandy Launchbury-Rainey
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Stunning!
 
pollinator
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We did our beds this way when we first started gardening. It worked great for us. As these were new areas and I did not understand the notion of keeping the soil covered, it was quite compacted. Hoing the edges was difficult. Thinking myself a genius, I gathered quite a large number of dandelion puffs and encouraged them to populate the sloped edges of our beds. I have always loved the cheery yellow flowers, and they did a good job of keeping the sides where I wanted them, as well as reducing weeds. Over several years, the soil improved, and my dandies don't want to live in my garden anymore. Sniff.

We presently are planting on flattish ground, in bed formations.
 
Kc Simmons
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Question about the logs/big branches in the garden: do you just leave them on the surface? I like using them for borders in the garden, but I was worried they may wick out moisture in the warmer months. Lately, I've been laying them on the surface to border the beds, then mounding wood chips over them, and wondering if that step is even needed.
IMG_20191211_145535.jpg
new garden area
new garden area
 
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I like this idea very much!  I'm wondering what you and others do to prevent gophers and other underground critters from coming in from the bottom and rabbits and other above-ground critters from coming in from the top?
 
pollinator
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"Burried raised bed"? I guess you have clay soil!

It is easy, but the soil is not moved in it, appart from the top, so it will be more compact than a real raised bed....

I do something similar, but to make paths. I dig them as you did your trenches, so it is only on 1 side, but then I add organic matter to walk on, making compost...
 
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Oh I wish I could!!! I like the idea and it has a lot of advantages. But a single gulleywasher would undo all the effort in a single afternoon. Coupled with the fact that my ground is hard pack clay and sigh, my poor back. I am envious shall we say.

I do raised bed but I have to have a 'container' to retain the soil.
 
Steve Thorn
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Lif Strand wrote:I like this idea very much!  I'm wondering what you and others do to prevent gophers and other underground critters from coming in from the bottom and rabbits and other above-ground critters from coming in from the top?



I used to have some trouble with voles and moles previously, and I even saw one plant slowly descend underground as it was being eaten.

I haven't had any problems recently though from gophers or other underground critters. I think that growing the plants really thickly has helped pretty much eliminate it. I guess the mass of tangled roots underground makes it harder for them to find and get what they want.

For rabbits, I've found the same thing, that growing the plants thickly has greatly reduced damage from them. I still get a little damage from them, but it has been so little I usually don't bother trying to keep them away. The one area I do fence off from rabbits, is my perennial nursery, with young trees and bushes, since they are growing with less thick vegetation there and more vulnerable to rabbit nibbles. I'm trying to experiment with other ideas that are free, but the fence has done its job so far and kept them out well for right now.
 
Steve Thorn
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Kc Simmons wrote:Question about the logs/big branches in the garden: do you just leave them on the surface? I like using them for borders in the garden, but I was worried they may wick out moisture in the warmer months. Lately, I've been laying them on the surface to border the beds, then mounding wood chips over them, and wondering if that step is even needed.



Yeah I'm planning to leave them on the surface of the beds and not bury them. I figure that's how it would happen in nature, so I'm going to try to copy it and just let them break down naturally on the surface, slowly turning into rich soil. I try to chop large branches into pieces that will get good soil contact when I lay them on the beds, but sometimes I just do it quickly and toss them on.

Logs I've seen on the ground in other places seem to remain wet and moist underneath even after the soil gets drier around it, so I bet a lot of the plants growing nearby will send their roots underneath it and be very happy.
 
Daron Williams
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Yeah, I just leave logs on the surface of the soil. But a lot of the time I pile up mulch around the sides just to help hold them in place. They always seem to stay nice and moist.
 
Daron Williams
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Steve Thorn wrote:Have you grown any particularly easy to grow and low maintenance varieties?



I'm trying out wine caps in my kitchen garden and a couple spots on my hugel hedgerows and in one of my food forests. But still too early to see if I'm going to get anything. I want to try oyster mushrooms too since they are supposed to grow easily in mulch but I have not had a chance yet. I'm still new to mushrooms but I tend to find a ton growing out of all the logs I place around my growing areas.
 
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A great example of the method put forth by Peter chang, a method form China, he has a book on it, saves a lot of boards or brick!!
 
paul salvaterra
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Sorry it is Peter chan
 
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https://www.amazon.com/Better-Vegetable-Gardens-Chinese-Way/dp/0882663887

This is the book i bought on this topic
 
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I really like this idea. If you lay down chicken wire, or something similar, down first, that could deter gophers and moles
 
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Many years ago while out hunting I found a tree that had blown down next to my hunting blind.  Over the next several years I enjoyed watching the plants that grew from it.  My first experience of Hugelculture!
30 years later there is a tree growing from that area that is now 15 feet tall.
Many of the plants that grew from that area were edible. I don't remember what they all were, but did enjoy watching it change over the years.
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This fall, I have been gathering leaves. I have pilled them in the confines of the foundation of the garage that has been gone for years. I am looking forward to having it be good for growing. This is the first time I have considered calling it a raised bed.
 
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I like it! I built a raised bed using cinder blocks last summer and hopefully the garlic I planted will grow. The cost of the cinder blocks adds up though so I will try this method for some other areas in my yard.
 
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Lif Strand wrote:I like this idea very much!  I'm wondering what you and others do to prevent gophers and other underground critters from coming in from the bottom and rabbits and other above-ground critters from coming in from the top?



Lif, we line the bottoms of our beds with hardware cloth. I find the holes in poultry fencing allow the gophers to get through.
 
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unfortunitly i have the worst rocky/ clay soil here and even trying to dig a hole to  plant a tree is a nightmare and most trees i planted in ground slowly died from lack of drainage. I'm jealous of your nice black loam. my free beds are made from scavenged logs cut by a arborist. saves him the  cost of disposing of them. i try to get 15in. logs. and i cut the ends at a angle with my chainsaw and connect them with a big spike. i get about 6-7 yrs. out of them, depending on type of wood. once they completely crumble i turn the rotten wood into my bed and get a new log. the arborist drops the logs right near my beds so i just roll one in place. not as pretty as yours but works very well.
 
Lif Strand
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steve bossie wrote:...my free beds are made from scavenged logs...


I love it when there are solutions that use locally available scavenged materials!  We all should be thinking the way you do.
 
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Steve,

I just now got around to watching your video.  Very nice!  Just to satisfy my own curiosity, my understanding is that it not so much a raised bed but a sunken border?  Did the soil you dug from the trench get put into the bed to raise the bed up a bit?  Also, is it your plan to help raise the bed up with the decommissioning leaves?  I am just curious as I tried—for years—to fill up my raised beds (they had roughly 12” diameter logs as raised edges) with leaf litter.

My understanding is that oak leaves are among the very best leaves to use as compost.  For years I raked my neighbor’s lawn where he had 1/2-1acre of pretty thick leaf fall from his nice long row of mature oaks.  I would rake and blow the leaves into long piles.  I then turned my blower (Worx 120 volt ac blower vac) to vacuum mode and using a hose attachment, was able to load my 4’x8’x2’ high trailer with a nice heaping load of chipped and shredded up oak leaves in addition to all the leaves I could fit in my tractor loader (tractor was pulling the trailer) and a filled up 30 gallon trash can.  I took 4-5 of these loads back to my garden beds which were about 5-6’ wide by 15’ long.  I usually loaded these leaves on about 2 beds per season.  

Basically, I loaded as many leaves as I could stack on the beds without the pile itself falling over or over spilling from its own size and weight.  On top of that, I would lay down some brush I cleaned to keep the leaves from blowing away.  Come spring, the leaves had broken down to almost nothing.  I could hardly believe how little physical bulk and material the decomposed leaves left behind.  It almost like my clay soil (which actually looks a bit like yours) ate the leaves.

From my observation, the leaves never added any appreciable bulk to the soil.  I never found that the surface layer rose to any appreciable degree.  They did however make the underlying soil much, much better.  It was softer, more friable and more easily worked.  It both absorbed rainwater better and drained better.  So I am all about adding huge quantities of leaves to the garden, they just did not fill up my bed like I thought they would.

Don’t get me wrong, I think you have a great idea there and I congratulate you on making a cheap, simple solution to a garden bed.  Keep up the great work.

I would love to see how this works out or especially if you choose to expand things.

Eric
 
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I have read that in the Middle ages, raised beds without wooden sides were a normal way to grow vegetables.  Perhaps this was the inspiration for the modern raised beds.
John S
PDX OR
 
pollinator
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Pretty cool method, Steve. I wish I could do the same but my sandbox absolutely has to have sides to it: The ground would just slide into the 'ditch' all around at the first rain. I build mine pretty much the way you do though: spade all around and plop it inside, then build my surround and sit it in the channel.
My situation is a bit special, though, because the soil crumbles too easily.
I've resorted to pack the ditches with chips, straw, pine needles...: Anything that will rot in time. Then, in 2 years, I shovel the alleys into the bed. I'm glad to report that I started having earthworms, Yeah!
It will just take me longer to get where you are at. Mine are 3'X 8': I have short arms ;-)
I used to have some 4'X 8' because the lumber size lends itself to those dimensions. Now, I use the extra foot as a movable seat between the beds: This way, I have 2 seats [one on each side] while I weed.
But you are right: an 8'X 10"X 8"  is pretty expensive. Thank goodness, they last, but still...
 
Cécile Stelzer Johnson
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John Suavecito wrote:I have read that in the Middle ages, raised beds without wooden sides were a normal way to grow vegetables.  Perhaps this was the inspiration for the modern raised beds.
John S
PDX OR



That is true: The beautiful parterres of flowers were always beds, not row crops. You actually get more planting surface if you do beds than if you do rows, even if you make your beds narrower. When you do rows, you end up having to cultivate/ weed, take care of a wider area between rows. Also, walking past a bed of wet plants, you will probably end up messing every plant along the way, inviting fungi [unless you make super-wide alleys => more weeding].
My mom & dad always had beds and they were planted intensively. Having a bed also seems to prevent little kids from stumbling into the crops by accident, so the soil right next to the plants is never compacted, just the alleys. If you can add mulch in the alleys, you will trample it every time you walk on it, concentrating the footsteps and killing the weeds: You will not need to do a big job of controlling those weeds. My best way to control the weeds in the alleys, beside putting mulch there is to graze the ground with a weed eater [thick filament] and leave it to rot in place. I can do the whole garden  25' X 50' in about an hour. at the end of the season, I do a quick once over with the hoe to cut the crowns under the soil line.
The only crops I don't yet do in beds are the squash, pumpkins etc: they sprawl so that I want them to be free to roam. I push them in zones instead. It is just easier that way. I'm considering getting bush types that I could more easily do in beds.
 
pollinator
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Cecile, I built my first hugelbeet that way!

I excavated a pit that was, in total, six feet wide, four feet deep, and eighteen feet long, piled the remains of two manitoba maples and much stored biomass, including coffee ground contributions from local businesses and the whole of my winter compost pit, sheep manure, and composted shellfish and kelp meal, and all the reserved subsoil and topsoil mixed together throughout and on top.

I then backfilled with woodchips surrounding the mound on three sides (the fourth faced a fence, so I had pallets wired together as a barrier up top, and I backfilled the space between fence and mound with woodchips) to above ground-level, covering the mound itself as mulch after having been planted. These were access paths and drainage as much as anything else, or I would have ended up with a soupy compost bog after the first torrential downpour.

What I found was startling not because it had happened, but because of the speed and quantity that it did. The wood chip backfill became a soil life bioreactor of sorts. It self-regulated its moisture levels and provided food and habitat in all different kinds of edge habitat, and promoted fungal decomposition. I noticed every type of insectivorous and opportunistic little bird swoop into our yard for a while, drawn by the uptick in wood-decomposing insects. I swear, I started seeing more red-tailed hawks in the neighbourhood after that, too.

But the most startling and noticeable change was the number and size of the worms I had in my garden. The soil started changing from right around the woodchip soil bioreactor outward to the rest of my garden. In marginal areas where I hadn't done anything with the soil yet, the soil went from hardpan to lose-your-shovel loose, I shit you not.

But I think that the core concept, just digging a "moat" around an area to become a bed comprising at least the topsoil and probably some subsoil and piling it in a mound in the centre, and then backfilling with woodchips, would be a terrific way to grow food. If these raised beds also serve as oases for soil life, seeds of health that grow outwards and ease the improvement of soil and growing conditions all-around, I should argue?

-CK
 
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I just moved to a different state and have no garden infrastructure set up, and no money to set it up with, so I had been wondering about doing something like this! I'd been thinking straw bales originally, but even that is prohibitively expensive with a semester of unpaid student teaching on my horizon. I have plenty of leaves, plenty of weeds, and a bunch of small bamboo out back that can be dried out and added.
 
steve bossie
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another tip for free raised beds is old galvanized or plastic  culverts. a friend of mine goes down to the state D.O,T  garage in town. sometimes a culvert gets damaged in a washout so they remove and replace with a new one. most of the old one is still in good condition. he brings his portable bat. powered angle grinder and cuts 24in. pieces out of the 4ft.wide culverts. so far he has 8 in 2  4 length rows. he butts them up against each other and fills in the gaps in the middle with soil as well. looks pretty good and is a great no nonsense use of a normally disposed of material. thinking about going to get a few for myself next spring. sometimes they have even bigger ones.
 
pollinator
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We have a local lumber yard that sells windows, doors, siding to contractors.  They have a free pallet pile, but I always scoop up the shipping frames they discard.  Not sure what they come surrounding, but they are a uniform size - 3ft x 4ft and they are rough oak boards.  I just lay them side by side and fill them.  When they eventually rot, I can lay a fresh one down.  
 
Steve Thorn
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Eric Hanson wrote:Steve,

I just now got around to watching your video.  Very nice!  Just to satisfy my own curiosity, my understanding is that it not so much a raised bed but a sunken border?  Did the soil you dug from the trench get put into the bed to raise the bed up a bit?



Thanks Eric!

Yeah it's actually both, a raised bed and also has a sunken border. Plants that like it drier can be planted near the top, and plants that like more moist soil can be planted closer to the edges.

The soil from digging the trench border is piled up in the middle to form the raised bed.

Also, is it your plan to help raise the bed up with the decommissioning leaves?  I am just curious as I tried—for years—to fill up my raised beds (they had roughly 12” diameter logs as raised edges) with leaf litter.



No, I just use the leaves as a mulch after creating the bed, to hold in moisture and nutrients in the soil until it's planted. The majority of the raised part of the bed is soil.

I usually just do a light layer of shredded leaves if I'm planting it soon, as I've found heavier mulching can attract too many worms, which will then attract moles or voles. With a light layer of mulch , I rarely have any problems with these critters.

My understanding is that oak leaves are among the very best leaves to use as compost.  For years I raked my neighbor’s lawn where he had 1/2-1acre of pretty thick leaf fall from his nice long row of mature oaks.  I would rake and blow the leaves into long piles.  I then turned my blower (Worx 120 volt ac blower vac) to vacuum mode and using a hose attachment, was able to load my 4’x8’x2’ high trailer with a nice heaping load of chipped and shredded up oak leaves in addition to all the leaves I could fit in my tractor loader (tractor was pulling the trailer) and a filled up 30 gallon trash can.  I took 4-5 of these loads back to my garden beds which were about 5-6’ wide by 15’ long.  I usually loaded these leaves on about 2 beds per season.



That's neat!

I like to use a diverse variety of leaves if possible, usually whatever is available on my property. I figure that different tree leaf varieties provides different nutrients, mimicking the forest floor. Most of my leaves right now are maple, sweetgum, pear, and some poplar.

They did however make the underlying soil much, much better.  It was softer, more friable and more easily worked.  It both absorbed rainwater better and drained better.



I'm with you! Yeah the benefits go on and on! They help turn my sandy soil into black gold!

I would love to see how this works out or especially if you choose to expand things.

Eric



I plan to do a more in depth video soon hopefully with a more detailed explanation of how I build the bed with some photos too, and I hope to do some updates when I get some plants growing on it!
 
Dennis Barrow
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I have built several raised garden beds out of old pallets.
I cut the boards to the length I want the bed to be high, i.e. 18 inches or so, and attached them to the main frame of the pallet.
Tried to upload a picture of the finished bed but for some reason it won't upload.
Free pallets, I had nails and screws laying around I used and some stain for the outside of the bed so it looks better for the wife.
Takes a lot of dirt to fill them, but pushing 70 I find I can't bend over as much as I used to.
 
steve bossie
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Dennis Barrow wrote:I have built several raised garden beds out of old pallets.
I cut the boards to the length I want the bed to be high, i.e. 18 inches or so, and attached them to the main frame of the pallet.
Tried to upload a picture of the finished bed but for some reason it won't upload.
Free pallets, I had nails and screws laying around I used and some stain for the outside of the bed so it looks better for the wife.
Takes a lot of dirt to fill them, but pushing 70 I find I can't bend over as much as I used to.

how long do they usually last for you? TSC near me said i can have all i want. i too have back issues.
 
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