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Reclaiming a garden

For years I had a vegetable garden in a space some distance from the house. What with one thing and another, I stopped planting. Now more time than I'd like to consider has elapsed since I used the space, and I'm looking to start up again (the last couple of years I've used a small space near the house, but it's a bit crowded and sun is limited).

So, I'm looking to reclaim the space, with some complications. By far the biggest two are:
-- it's become overgrown. Not filled with brambles and brush, but adjacent lawn has grown to cover the area; the grass has been kept mown.
-- I leave near the bay on Long Island, NY, and coastal flooding has become more of an issue than it used to be. The place I've been growing the last couple of years is above all but major (hurricane) flooding but the old garden certainly is not. That's an issue for maybe a few times a year, but it's certainly an issue. I don't know what the salt content of the existing soil is.

So my basic solution is raised beds. But not just the typical 6 inch frame filled with dirt, but something higher. I'm not anticipating flooding, but I can't dismiss the possibility.

My two considerations:
1) do I rent a tiller? Or put plastic mulch over the grass and put the beds on top? Or use a spade to skim off the grass and build on that, with or without the plastic? (I figured that if I'm building higher than usual, room for the veggie's roots are less of an issue.)

2) what the heck do I build this out of? From what I've read cinder blocks are not advisable because of fly ash content. Then I considered retaining wall blocks, but realized that they're not stone but formed concrete, and may have the same issues. Untreated timber likely won't last long.

The space I was originally going to do was 10x12. But because of the scale of the raise, I'm going to drop that to 8x10 (why that size will be clearer below).

Home Depot has 4"x4" x 8' cedar; that would mean 9 pieces to get two levels, rather lower than I'd wanted (and just 3.625 actual). That's about $171 of lumber, before tax. But I was considering the complication of access to the plants... unless I wanted to (and could) climb up onto the raised bed, two 4x10 spaces would give me better accessibility, with a walk through in between. That would mean 14 pieces of cedar, and I'm up to $266, pretax, and lower height than I'd have wanted.

Then I thought, if I used concrete blocks, they're 16 in. x 8 in. x 6 in., so for the double planter I'd need 44 per level, 88 altogether to get to a full foot of height. At $1.50 each that's $132.

If I lined the insides with heavy plastic, there won't be an ash leeching issue (I'd only have to worry about BPA and phthalates and the like. sigh).

That would bring me to a full foot in height. I'd already planned to have 4 yards of topsoil delivered (for other things around the property as well, not just for this snowballing project) so that would bring me within 2" of the top... and I have quite a bit of garden soil (from the current beds) to supplement.

OK, long post, and I could go on... but any thoughts so far?


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I would not worry about the grass as long as you don't have perennial weeds in it. Fork it to make sure it drains well and then cover it with thick cardboard or multiple sheets of black and white newspaper and cardboard over that. It will kill the grass and keep it from growing through.

Pick a spot in full sun and on high ground.

I am not into wood for raised beds
1. My carpentry skills suck. I have to use strong tie corners just to make a decent 90 degree angle
2. I live in a place where termites will eat through any wood left in contact with the ground in a few years. If they don't eat it, it
rots. Redwood and cedar last longer but are expensive to use for raised beds and they will also eventually cup, crack, and

3. It is easier to dry lay tile and cheaper too. they are less expensive than wood and they don't rot. I have used them for years and my soil pH is 6.0 so there is no appreciable leaching if you use an acidic mulch or fertilizer. I dry lay the tiles and use rebar to keep them in place. They are filled with stones and soil. Water just gushes out from between them when the bed is flooded so they drain well. It is easier to line them up to make a straight bed. I do have rudimentary skills and can set a string line and know how to use a level. The first course is the only one I have to worry about. As long as that one is straight and level the other courses go on quickly. Mine are two tiles high but they can be three.

I did make the amateur mistake of putting my first tiled garden wall next to the hollow tile back wall. Only the vanda and night blooming cereus embraced the heat of the wall, every thing else leaned away from it. Now I only use it for my potted trees and hang the orchids that tolerate the sun on the wall.

4. My vegetable garden is made with rocks. Rocks can be cheaper to get and sometimes you can get it for free, but they are not easy to move around. They are not hard to stack but the only downside is that grass and weeds grow between the rocks and can be a pain since the rocks have to be moved to get some of the more persistant weeds and grass roots out.

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Getting stuff home is always an issue (small car). I'd have to do concrete blocks over multiple trips, but at least they're easily stacked. Where I am (Long Island, NY) I'd certainly have to buy rocks and, practically speaking, I think I'd have to get them delivered, so rock will probably end up costing more than cedar.

I was checking local suppliers but none give prices on their websites. I suppose they don't want people comparison shopping.

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You're correct about concrete block, don't use them. I always imagined the empty cells would be perfect for herbs, but not worth it.

I build my beds out of plain old 2 x 8 yellow pine, it'll last 4 or 5 years before needing to be replaced, but it's cheap. If you want to increase the life, use pressure treated for the bottom course, the one that sits on the ground. The others will be touching soil too, but it'll be well drained and allow the wood to dry out some. Plus, you'd be shocked at how quickly wood can wick the water right out of your soil and dry it out.

You don't need long lengths of wood to do this. You can build 4 x 4 beds and do a lot of planting. You also don't need to stake them in place, other than maybe to support a seam. I see recommendations all the time to stake. Once the soil is in the frame it isn't going anywhere.

This is a bed I built last weekend. I wanted it 13' long, so would have had to buy 14' lumber, resulting in 1' of waste for each one. My truck has a 6' bed, which makes 14' lumber difficult to haul. So, I just bought shorter pieces and joined them. You could do the same thing with shorter pieces yet. The longer section is 8' and the shorter section is 5'. I put a piece of wood across the seam to hold it together because I built it in the driveway and carried it over. As an alternative, you could just drive a stake at the seam to attach the shorter pieces to and use 3 sections 4' long each for easier transport.

The bed is 13' x just over 2-1/2'. Three 8' cost about $7 each, and one 10' cost just under $8. the 10 was cut in half to make the two 5' sections, and one of the 8's was cut in thirds for the sides and center piece. Zero waste, and less than $30.


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I have a lot of experience building raised beds out of a variety of materials. This is a sequence on building the raised beds I currently have. Sequence should really have started with this, showing the wood before it was stained


combined photo.jpg
They are built from ordinary landscape timbers.


I stacked the timbers (alternating at the corners), then drilled holes all the way down through the stack (electric drill). Then I pounded 3' steel rebar all the way down through the holes and into the ground, with a sledge hammer. Very solid, those beds are not going anywhere! Then I sanded it, stained it dark, with polyurethane and stain (all in one), two coats inside and out. That helps protect the wood so it lasts longer, seals it in case anyone was worried about the pressure treatment stuff leaching out, and makes it look prettier. Those cheap landscape timbers are very rough. Sand and stain and polyurethane and you can make anything look like fine furniture! :)

They cost me $3.37 for one 8' length. The beds are three high, so nine 8' pieces, three of them cut in half for the short sides. So each 8x4 bed cost me $30. That's about as cheap as you can get.

I built similar ones at my last house, but with better wood -- 4"x 4" pine fence posts stacked four high, held together the same with steel rebar, and then given the sand and polyurethane/stain treatment. They were beautiful and twelve years later when we sold the house, those beds are still going strong, very solid. This is what they looked like maybe six or seven years or so after they were built


The first raised beds I built at the house before that, I did out of 2"x12" boards. Used lots of angle braces, corner braces, wood braces on the outside and still in 3-4 years, they were all falling apart. I really recommend dimensional lumber instead of flat boards.

I also built this:
circle garden quadrant.jpg
That was one quarter of what will be a 24 foot diameter circle garden with path all the way around the outside and paths crossing through the middle. It is built out of interlocking concrete block. I am now almost finished with the second quarter. The saga of its building and more pics are here: viewtopic.php?f=79&t=71168&p=403686&hil ... en#p403686

I think it will be very cool looking when it is done and it will last FOREVER (think Stonehenge! :) ) But it is by far the most expensive (probably over $600 in blocks by the time it is done) and by far the most labor intensive.

If what you want is cheap, sturdy, easy to build, the stacked landscape timbers are the way to go. The only "carpentry" skills it requires is the ability to cross stack the boards and drill a hole straight down through the stack. So you need a big, long drill bit and a sledge hammer for pounding the rebar down through the hole and into the ground.

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There's this, too. No so neat or sturdy, but cheap (free) and easy to get and set up. Filling can be as costly as you want to make it, but doing the semi-hugelkultur on the bottom reduces the volume of fill, although you will need to replenish quite a bit every year (you will need to put some work in "re-building" it every year).

I wasn't concerned about "pretty" but some folks make really beautiful projects out of them, too.

:arrow: Subject: Pallet sided high raised bed hugelkultur experiment

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Thanks for the replies.

Since my last post, I bought a bunch of 2x8 pine boards--twelve ten footers and twelve five footers (10 foot lengths cut in half at HD). I also bought some of this, ... -treatment
which, as far as I can tell, is basically iron sulfate.

I also have 2x4s (2 sixteen footers, quartered at HD for ease of transport).

Current plan: maybe raise the area a bit with some mixed sand/rock I've had sitting around for a few years outside. Cover with newspaper and cardboard, and start dumping a topsoil/compost mix (from a local farm). I figure it'll be easier to get started that way, to get at least some of the fill in place before I have to go by ramp over the bed walls.

I'm building two 5x10' beds with a walkway between them (4x10 would probably have fit better in my space and had better access, but I was thinking I'd regret going too big more than going too small).

It'll be three levels high (a total of 21.75" actual) with 2x4 at the corners. At the least I'll be putting a 2x4 bracing in the middle of each side, maybe two along the longer sides. I'm thinking 4' pieces of rebar on the outside of those longer lengths, hammered halfway into the ground. I wasn't certain if the rebar would help, though: they're so thin, would the pressure just push them outwards through the dirt?

Polyethylene sheeting along the inside, to reduce moisture loss and lessen frame rot. I was going to wrap the plastic under the frame, isolating the wood from the dirt, but should I also wrap it above the top, so that rain doesn’t get trapped between the plastic and the wood?


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