How to Build a Raised Garden Bed--A Foodie's Guide to Growing Your Own Delicious Vegetables!

How to Build a Raised Garden Bed
We may be in the middle of stay-at-home-quarantine with questions about when we'll be able to go to our favorite restaurants again, but the quarantine may just be the perfect inspiration to build your own raised garden bed because there is really nothing better than fresh homegrown vegetables!

Last summer we replaced a backyard playground with three 4' x 12' raised bed gardens and had more fresh vegetables, herbs, and homemade salsa than we knew what to do with. With a little prep and planning a raised-bed garden can be a nice diversion that yields great food for several summers. 



Building a Raised Garden Bed
If you are going to invest your time and energy into creating a backyard garden, building a solid raised bed is the way to go. If space is tight, containers are a great option, but you are more limited in what you can plant and need to be more careful with water and nutrients. You can also just pick a patch of ground and plant, but even though there may be more work upfront, building raised beds has its advantages. In addition to the aesthetics, they keep the soil and nutrients in place and are easier to care for.

5 Important Steps to Building Your Own Raised Bed Garden:

PICK THE RIGHT RAISED BEDS:

There are lots of options. If you are handy, you can build containers from lumber at your home improvement store. Sites like Epic Gardening have free plans you can use.

To save time, I selected a DIY kit that seemed easy to put together, looked nice, and fit our space. There are lots of vendors who sell these, but we ordered ours from Walmart because the price was less and I felt that I could more easily return them if I didn't like them. The kind I bought was natural wood, but I painted them white to match our house.

GET GOOD SOIL:

Starting with a good soil mix will yield much greater results. There are lots of different options for soil. If you have a small space, I recommend going to a home improvement store and getting recommendations for bags of soil to build your garden. However, if you have a larger space, it's easier, more cost-effective to have soil delivered. Soil companies can help you chose the right mix and most have online calculators to let you know how much you need. I got about a half a dump truck load and have been happy with it.





START WITH THE RIGHT PLANTS: 
There are lots of options for what to plant, but a secret to getting the most out of your garden is to buy the biggest, healthiest looking plants you can find. The summers in the Chicago area are pretty short, so its best to pay a bit more and get the bigger plants that will start producing sooner. I get most of mine from Home Depot, a local garden shop, and Costco.

PLAN FOR WATERING:
I started out with good soaker hoses that I wrapped around the base of the plants. This was easy to maintain and worked fine. At some point, I want to invest in a drip irrigation system, but for now, the hoses will work.


TOOLS YOU'LL NEED: There are so many great options for tools and I love going to Home Depot to look at them, but the basics to start with are: hoe, shovel, clippers and a rake. I also bought a small tiller to mix the dirt at the beginning and end of the season.

What to Plant?
THE GARDEN "MUST-HAVES"
Even with three 4' x 12' gardens, we had to be selective about what to plant. The best choice is to plant what you like to eat. For us, there were certain vegetables that tasted so much better being plucked fresh from a plant and were also easy to grow. These are our favorites!
Tomatoes: We planted several varieties and had fresh tomatoes all summer long. With a little water and fertilizer, they are easy to care for. Tomatoes are definitely the best bet in raised bed gardens.

Asparagus: We planted 2-year-old Asparagus plants in a corner of our yard. Asparagus is pretty low maintenance and after a year or two, your asparagus patch will give you fresh asparagus every day for over 20 years. If you like fresh asparagus, it's really one of the best things to plant.

Herbs: We use a lot of basil (especially with the tomatoes to make bruschetta.) We also enjoyed having chives all summer.

Green Beans: The green beans were super fresh. This was the one plant that the rabbits seemed to enjoy the most, but overall was a hit.

Cucumbers: These also grew well and there really is nothing better than fresh from the vine cucumbers. We planted a couple varieties, but the straight 8's were the best.

Squash: Easy to grow, but you don't need many plants to give you more than enough.

Okra: Easy to grow and produced more than we needed.

Peppers: Bell peppers and Jalapeno are easy to grow and a few plants will be more than enough.


PLANTS THAT WERE NOT "SPACE-WORTHY:" 
There were some things we planted that seemed like a "great idea" but didn't really turn out that great. My gauge of whether or not something was "space-worthy" is whether or not it grows well and whether or not the taste from the garden is better than what you can buy at a grocery store.

Lettuce: The lettuce produced well, but the overall taste was about the same as the grocery store so we will be using the space for something else in the future.

Onions: These took up quite a bit of space and by the end of the summer didn't really do that great. Plus, onions are something that you can easily get at the grocery store.

Edamame: We love Japanese soy-beans, but so do the rabbits. It was very difficult to keep them away.

Herbs: We grew a lot of different types of herbs, that were OK, but we didn't really use most of them. And certain herbs like cilantro didn't produce at the right time for me to use to make salsa. 

Brussel Sprouts: The idea of sounded great, but the plants took quite a bit of space and didn't grow well. 

Carrots: I think I planted the carrots too late, and they didn't produce well. 


Pictures from Summer 2019
Planting a raised-bed garden is a great summer project. It's a hobby that yields the best food throughout the summer and into the fall. Whether you start with a small container garden or go all-in with raised bed gardens, a little planning and pre-work will bring tasty and healthy food to your table. Here are some of our pics from 2019.