Building Our Raised Bed Kitchen Garden

Projects

There’s nothing like telling a New England winter to move on by starting your garden build in the middle of March, am I right? Cold and snow be damned!

Staking it out

With the nearly final plans in hand, we measured and staked out the proposed garden edges and bed placement. This allowed us to get a realistic feel for the space and make minor adjustments before the beds became semi-permanent fixtures.

Pardon the blurriness – this photo was taken through our wavy glass window upstairs!

It was important to us that we could comfortably walk between the beds, push a wheelbarrow through the pathways, rake and fit a garden table with chairs.

Sourcing and ordering materials

After doing some research and price comparison, we chose to build the beds with rough sawn Eastern Hemlock. Here’s why:

  • It’s a native species and readily available.
  • It’s a fraction of the cost of Cedar.
  • It’s estimated to last up to 7 years in the ground.
  • Rough sawn board dimensions are true to size and thicker boards are more likely to hold up longer over time.

From a local lumber yard, we ordered 2” x 6” boards, for the bed sides and interior bracing, and 1” x 4” boards for the corner and seat trim.

On Facebook Marketplace, I found some old bricks from a deconstructed fireplace someone was getting rid of for free. We’d use these to edge the garden and contain the pea gravel. I also scored a beautiful painted iron garden table with four matching chairs that would sit in the center of the garden.

We had pea gravel (also called playground stone) delivered from a local landscaping company and loam and compost delivered from a local garden center.

Matt was in charge of planning and ordering irrigation supplies which he purchased from Drip Depot. Not only do we love the products, but they ship with tootsie pops (and there’s really no better surprise!)

Prepping the garden base

To clear what was left of the very sad grass patch, we rented a tiller and loosened the soil. We removed about three inches of material in order to account for the three inches of pea gravel we were going to add back in. If our grass had been in better condition, a sod cutter would have been less messy, but Home Depot didn’t have one available at the time and the tiller ended up working better in our situation.

With a clean slate, we rolled out landscape fabric and placed our reclaimed bricks along the outer edge. We didn’t worry too much about perfect placement for the bricks. The imperfections are what would add to the lived in look over time. More importantly, we made sure the bricks laid flat so they weren’t a tripping hazard.

Constructing the raised beds

If our landscape had been completely level we could have fully assembled the beds, dropped them in place and moved on. However, we were working on a slight grade and figuring out the best way to install them as we went along, so we built the beds in phases.

First, we screwed together the individual layers of the beds. Each bed consisted of three 2” x 6” x 8’ or 10’ boxes stacked on top of one another.

With the base of the garden prepared, we set the bottom layer of each bed in place. To level the beds, we dug out additional soil on one side of each bed and raised the opposite end of the bed by screwing it into corner stakes pounded into the ground. This meant shifting some of the landscape fabric out of the way and then placing it back over the channels we dug out. It was tedious, but worth it! Where we raised the beds, Matt scribed pieces of wood to close up small gaps where soil could spill through. These pieces were screwed into the corner stakes.

Next, we hand filled pea gravel under the entire bottom layer of the beds. This is important to maximize drainage and, hopefully, extend the life of the beds longer where they’re in contact with the ground. We did this by hand because we didn’t want to mess with the tedious leveling we had already spent time on. If our landscape had been level to begin with, we would have flooded the entire space with gravel and then placed the beds right on top.

With the bed bases in place, we stacked the next two layers on each, braced all of the layers together and added a horizontal brace across the middle to ensure the beds didn’t bow out from the weight of the soil over time. We also added trim around each of the corners and along the top edge of the beds to act as a seat. This really made the beds look complete.

Before filling with soil I added hardware cloth, to prevent rodents from digging up underneath the beds, and sealed the interiors with an eco wood treatment. This sealer wasn’t required, but after all of this work we wanted to extend the life of the wood as long as we possibly could.

The semi-transparent stain does darken the wood quite a bit. We recommend staining the outside as well to avoid leaks through the layer seams. Ours looked a bit like running mascara on the outside after the first rain – oops!

The finishing touches

We flooded all of the pathways around the beds with pea gravel and filled each bed with 8-10 loads of a loam and compost mix. This was probably the most labor intensive step, but also the most satisfying!

Last, but not least, we assembled a drip irrigation system in each bed and tested for leaks to ensure it was working properly. It was kind of like putting Legos together!

We finished just in time to begin planting over Memorial Day weekend and have been enjoying every moment since in this magical space we built from the ground up.

Be sure to follow along on Instagram to see how our plants grow (or don’t!) and how we transform the surrounding yard into a dreamy outdoor escape!

1 Comment

  1. Mark Petroski

    A lot of work well done! Looking forward to phase 2!

    Reply

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