Raised Bed Gardening, Organic Style – Any Size, Any Where.

Posted by on Jun 2, 2014 in Frugal For Everyone | 59 comments

raised bed gardening

2′ x4 ‘ Raised Bed Planter

Instead of going to the fridge to grab the tired salad fixings you bought a few days ago, wouldn’t it be great if you could step outside your kitchen door and pick fresh, organic ingredients instead?  Anyone, with just a small amount of space available, can do exactly that with a raised-bed planter. A unit like the one shown (available from Amazon) could even be placed on a balcony.

In the planter shown, with the correct nutrient rich soil and proper drainage, its possible to plant 2 Bell Peppers, 6 Lettuce, 4 Cherry (Patio) Tomatoes, 2 Basil, 1 Chives, 1 Curled and 1 Italian Parsley, 12 Spinach and 1 large Marigold (or 4 small) – the marigolds are to keep the bugs away and to look pretty.

When I was working, the garden was my husband’s responsibility and he had an amazing one – at least a quarter of an acre in size complete with teepees, trellises, etc. However, a few years after I had retired, I decided I wanted to do a bit of gardening, but there was no way I wanted all that work. I just wanted something easy and fun – hence the raised beds.

My first raised bed  measured 4’x4′ by 10 inches deep, which was enough to keep us in lettuce, green onions and cherry tomatoes all summer long. If I knew then what I know now, I could have produced much more, but I was still spacing for row-crop gardening.

I did, however, find raised bed gardening to be such a nice, enjoyable way to spend time that I’ve been expanding every year since. I now have gardens for strawberries, salads, herbs, lavender and a whatever garden (this year, spinach, kale, beets and leeks). A potato garden is already being planned for next year.

I’ve often thought that all nursing/retirement homes should have these raised beds available. It would be very therapeutic  for their residents and give them purpose, exercise, and fresh air, plus some nice organic produce and flowers to enjoy.


While not everyone feels its necessary to build a raised frame to hold the beds and that its simpler to just place the boxes on the ground, I find the raised frame provides a lot of benefits. First of all, the frame can be built to the height best suited to the gardener, which means no bending. This makes gardening easy, especially when you get older or have limited mobility. Second, you will never have mice, mole or rabbit problems. Third, weeds blow into the ground level beds a lot faster than into the raised frame beds.  Finally, I think it gives the gardener greater control over the watering and feeding.


Building the frame is the first step and this can be as simple or elaborate as desired. In my country backyard where convenience is the important factor, and since I’m constantly changing and expanding my gardens, the quick frame method of upended concrete blocks works best. A row of upended blocks is also placed underneath the centre of the large boxes, from side to side, for increased support and to avoid sagging. If I lived in suburbia, I might – or not – have a more elaborate framework of wood or even bricks.

raised bed gardeningTHE BOX:

Although the boxes can be made any size they should be no wider than 4 feet. Its important to be able to reach the centre without leaning on and compacting the soil. Our boxes are various depths, depending on use. Strawberries are shallow-rooted so don’t need a lot of depth.

raised bed gardening

Strawberry Box – 4’x4′ by 8″ deep.

The lavender bed -10″ deep – shown below, is really the lavender nursery. Some of the plants will soon grow too large for the box and will have to be transplanted to a permanent location.  This box is 10″ deep, as lavender plants need more depth. I want to expand the lavender so am planning a 4′ x 12′ by 14″ deep box for lavender plants for next year. In a box that size they’ll live happily for quite some time.

raised bed gardening

Lavender nursery – 4’x4′ by 10″ deep.

The salad and herb gardens, since they contain many different plants, including fair-sized root vegetables, are both 4’x8′ by one foot deep.

We started with untreated pine, 2″ wide, 8 feet long, cut to length and whatever depth we wanted – 8, 10 or 12″. We nailed them together, using spiral nails, rather than screw-nails which tend to loosen.

1″ plywood was used for the bottom, cut to size, with 1/2″ holes drilled ten inches apart in all directions, to allow for proper drainage. This sheet was then nailed to the pine frame.

Next, you find a strong son to help you put the concrete blocks in place and to help set the box on top of the blocks.


In order to have organic produce, you need to start with good quality organic soil, which is something you actually build yourself. This part can be a bit costly, but as it is a one-time cost, its well worth it. And, since the boxes can be made any size, its easy too start with a small one, then slowly expand as the budget permits.

To build the soil:

  1. First, a good layer of manure and/or compost is dumped into the box;
  2. A heavy layer of peat moss is added, and with a rake or similar tool, this is mixed with the manure/compost;
  3. A layer of vermiculite is added and the raking repeated, until everything is well mixed;
  4. A heavy layer of top soil is added;
  5. The soil is watered thoroughly.

The garden is now ready for planting. Give it a try – you’ll be so happy you did when you pop that first home-grown, freshly picked, cherry tomato into your mouth – I guarantee that will prompt a “wow, that tastes amazing”.

Talk to you again next week,



  1. Hi lenie, a very comprehensive summary of raised bed gardening. I used to do a little of this when I lived year round in the city . Now I keep a large vegetable and herb garden at my summer place but I think you have motivated me to create a raised bed herb garden when I go back to Toronto !

    • Hi Paul – don’t you agree that the home grown stuff tastes so much better. I tend to get a little impatient waiting for things to ripen but one thing I won’t do is pick tomatoes before they’re ripe on the vine. I hope you do try the raised bed garden – even a little one. I think you will certainly enjoy it.

  2. I am so impressed, Lenie. I could never do that – I only have a green thumb for indoor plants. When we lived on Cape Cod and had an acre of land, my husband had a beautiful garden. Now, living in California, we have much less land and are experiencing a drought, so we don’t garden anymore. However, we do buy all of our vegetables from the Farmer’s market. We live 5 miles from rich farmland – Camarillo – the strawberry capital of the world. Enjoy your vegetables!

    • Hi Laurie – lucky you to be living close to the Farmer’s market. So do I and I will soon be visiting it and writing another post about my visit there. Course, where you live you can probably buy fresh food all year long. I will enjoy the vegies – love popping those tomatoes.

  3. Your garden is beautiful, and I love the idea of building boxes and growing your own food without having to break your back.

    • Hi Michele – gardening this way is so easy and you actually look forward to spending time in your garden. Much nicer than bending over to pull the weeds in the regular garden.

  4. We started doing this a few weeks ago and even though the seeds have only just begun to sprout we are excited about the prospect of fresh herbs and salad fixings. Our little garden is comprised of small flower boxes but it’s a start; baby steps.

    • Good for you Tim. I like baby steps, they often avoid costly mistakes. I would love to be kept informed about your gardening venture. Don’t you find it interesting and fun?

  5. Good suggestion for growing your own vegetables and herbes if you have a garden, Lenie. Will not do it on my balcony:-)

    • Hi Catarina – You could always grow just a tomato in a large planter – it may motivate you to try more. Either way, thanks for commenting.

  6. I’ve always loved the idea of raised beds – no bending – but have never built one for myself. I love eating vegetables fresh from my garden, but after many years of gardening, I am about to give it up as we prepare to downsize. It will veggies from the farmer’s market now.

    • Hi Donna – before you give up gardening completely, why not keep a small raised bed – or even a couple of large patio planters, just for a few vegies and favourite herbs. Farmer’s markets are great and I love them but home grown is still best.

  7. Lenie- We just found out about organic soil of which I didn’t even know existed. I live in a wooded section so I do not get a lot of sunlight. I purchased two moveable carts. Well my tomatoes are taking off like gain busters because of the soil. We had heirloom tomatoes last year, we dried the seeds and planted them year. I love going out everyday to see how much they have grown.

    • Arleen, I’m with you – I’m an early riser and I go out every morning to cheer on my plants and to remove a leaf here or add a little soil to another one and yes, to see how they’ve grown. Its a favourite part of my day. I have tried heirloom tomatoes but found they didn’t do very well. I should try another type and see what happens. Thanks for sharing your story.

  8. I totally love this post Leni. I too am ready for raised beds, and def. don’t want to take on the whole garden. So your tips on how to make and care for them are great. Have bookmarked for reference. Can I borrow your strong son? 🙂 Thank you so much.

    • Hi a.K. So glad you liked this post – raised bed gardening is such a neat way to go – no bending, no weeding, just good eating. Can’t ask for more than that. As for the son, I’d love to loan him to you but sorry, he’s busy. LOL

  9. Hi Lenie,

    I used to have a 20 square foot garden in the corner of my property and planted many things. Even had the netting over the strawberries to keep the birds away.

    Where we live now, in a strata (condominium group)we simply do not have the room for raised bed gardening. Luckily, we live moments away from an organic greenhouse where we obtain delicious fruit and veggies.

    Kind Regards,

    • Hi Bill – Isn’t is nice how things work out. Now that you can no longer have a garden you still have access to organic fruits and vegies. Thanks for commenting.

  10. Raised bed gardening is such a great idea! No more knee or back pains !, I like the idea of having fresh and organic vegetables .

    • Hi Mina – What I like about the raised beds is you can place them where you need them. Mine are placed close to my back door so going out to grab some lettuce stuff is a cinch.

  11. I have two 6×3 raised garden beds, but they’re just on the ground. I really like your idea of putting them up on concrete blocks. I also added a separate herb pot this year as well. It really is amazing how much food can be grown in a relatively small amount of space.

    • Hi Jeri – I love my raised beds and putting them on concrete blocks makes it so easy. As long as the food gets enough nutrients from the soil they’ll be happy.

  12. Hello Lenie,

    This is my first visit to your blog. I used to do gardening when I was small but unfortunately due to studies and because of my nature of work, I couldn’t continue the same. All your techniques that you mentioned here encourage me to start gardening again. Thank you for this post.

    – Bhanu

    • Hi Bhanu – welcome to my site. I hope you do get back into gardening again. Even a small herb garden can provide a great deal of pleasure.

  13. I love to garden and so this really appeals to me Lenie. I have seriously considered building a few raised beds for an herb garden, but I have had little time this year to do much in the garden. I hope to be able to get out there soon. It is such good therapy. 🙂

    • Susan, you’re absolutely right about the therapy part. It is so calming to just walk around the raised beds and check on the plants and check everything’s fine. I do that first thing in the morning – after my coffee, of course – and its just the perfect way to start the day.

  14. A well written ‘how to’ for a refreshingly practical gardening idea Lenie. Great points about its suitability in space challenged environments and particularly its qualitative and therapeutic value in nursing homes. Hopefully some of those facilities have the opportunity to read this!

    • Hi Derrick – I hope some nursing home administrators read this. I have often thought this type of no-effort gardening would be so good for residents. Thanks for your comments.

  15. Lenie you are so awesome! I have never gardener before. However I love the aftermath of how beautiful the landscape looks. I am a caretaker and this would be a good idea for the residents to plant in a garden. Good job! 🙂

    • Hi Crystal – how neat that you are a caregiver – I hope that you carry this idea through and maybe find out from your residents what they think of it. Like an earlier comment, not all will be interested but I’m sure quite a few will, even if its just to grow flowers. Think how good they would feel to have flowers they grew themselves brightening their room.

  16. I agree that nursing/retirement homes should have these raised beds available. Available, not required. Some wouldn’t want to do the work but many residents would love them. I love, love home grown tomatoes as well as any other veggies from the garden.

    • Hi Beth – I totally agree with the available – not required – part. With the increased interest in gardening over the past number of years I do think that many people would really miss it once they move into a residence. I also think they would really enjoy the ‘fruits of their labour’ or just to pretty up their room with flowers they grew.

  17. I would love to be able to do this! I do miss my garden, but I don’t live in a place that I can utilize this raised form 🙁 But I agree, the fresher the better tasting. I remember some days on the farm when I would pick a tomato, spit on it (as if that really cleaned it), and eat it! Heaven!

    • Hi jacquie – You are more sanitary (?) than I am – when the tomatoes are ripe I just pick’em and pop’em. Like you said Heaven. Too bad you can’t do this – its just so relaxing.

  18. This is such a great tutorial. I like the idea of raised beds, to save your back! I think my kids would really get a kick out of raising their own vegetables. Maybe I’ll put it on my list for next summer’s activities.

    • Meredith, you’re right on. Kids love these raised beds and the nice thing is they can be made to the best height for them. There are so many fast growing vegies now that they wouldn’t have to wait to long before they can pick their own, which is always a huge event.

  19. I have thought about doing a smaller version to fit on my balcony. Once I move I want to make this a priority. I really want to grow my own veggies but I don’t want a large garden. I want something that is easy for me to maintain. Now I can reference back to this post and make it happen.

    • Hi Niekka – you’ll find a raised garden is just so much easier, less time consuming and more fun that a regular garden. I go out in the mornings and just love walking around, making sure everything is fine. Great start to a day.

  20. Hi Lenie,

    This is such a quick and easy idea to make happen! Though I don’t have the space, our apartment owner might let this happen on the roof! I think everyone should get their hands dirty and have a garden. It’s healthier and gets you really in touch with what’s going on your plate.

    • Hi Carl – wouldn’t it be great if you could put one on the roof – even having room for a few salad ingredients along with a couple of herbs would supply you with some tasty eating. Good Luck.

  21. I love the first bed pictured! We wanted to do some raised beds this year but we are moving so it’s not going to happen. Hopefully next year we can get into some gardening.

    • Hi Krystle – I love that planter too. I hope you can arrange something because with a planter that size you could be eating fresh salads all summer.

  22. I love raised flower beds and container gardening. We’re not getting any younger, and my back and knees can’t take kneeling on the ground to do ground level gardening.

    • Hi Doreen – I totally agree – why make life difficult? There are so many advantages to raised beds – not having to get down on hands and knees is a biggie – I also find once I’m down its getting harder to get up all the time. Enjoy your gardens.

  23. Wouldn’t I love to have a garden and grow my own herbs and vegetables! Sadly, I don’t think it’ll ever happen. Not just because I have two black thumbs, but also because I live in a highrise building. There are garden boxes on the roof, but also a huge lineup for them. Oh, well, come harvest time, I do quite well with my neighbour’s overflow veggies. In the meantime, it’s nice to rest my eyes on something green and growing when I go upstairs during the summer!

    • Hi Krystyna – aren’t those rooftop gardens wonderful. It sounds to me like you have the best of both worlds – gardens to look at and fresh herbs and vegies to east – not a bad deal if you ask me.

  24. I agree that gardening is therapeutic. I started last year with two 4 x 4 raised gardens and this year I more than doubled the space. If I keep adding space in the garden at this rate I won’t have any other yard space left! Even my neighbors will be well fed though. 🙂

    • Hi Lisa – One good thing about filling the garden with raised beds – well, actually two good things – fresh food and no lawn to cut. I do the same thing – I started planning two new beds for next year but am up to three now. Lenie

  25. Hi Lenie
    There is no alternate of fresh natural products. But most of the people are habitual of using natural products lying in fridge. They wrongly assume growing vegetables at home is any gigantic task. Those living in a home without courtyard take it as flight of fancy.
    We need to promote tutorial like this for not only awareness of people but also to motivate them least rely on market for their need of natural food products.

    • I fully agree that we need to get more people growing their own foods as much as space permits. Even having access to fresh organic salad ingredients just for the summer would be a step in the right direction. Thanks for your comment.

  26. I have been saying for years that I wanted to start a garden but with my dog, the rabbits, and chipmunks I just didn’t feel it would be worth doing it. just today I stayed to rethink that after send s picture of some one with a can of collard greens that had a big grasshopper head in it. great information.


    • Hi Jay – The nice thing about the raised beds is that you won’t have those animal problems. I know we have rabbits and chipmunks around here and they’ve never bothered. And yes, you do know what you’re getting. Finding a grasshopper head would rather freak you out.

  27. Lenie, it’s nice that you enjoy gardening so much! I can only grow weeds. Believe me, I’ve tried to grow flowers one year when I lived in a house with my ex and we had a big bay window. I spent time planting everything perfectly, and even put up a trellis but all I was able to grow was weeds!

    Of course, we had a frost after I planted my seeds. I think that had a lot to do with it.

    Anyway, now I don’t bother trying to grow anything. 🙁

    I’m nothing like my grandfather, who could grow WHATEVER he planted.

    • Hi Lorraine – the frost would have done it for sure. I know we never used to put out tomatoes until the middle of June because we always got a frost the first part of June and no matter how you protect them, they always seem to be affected.

  28. Hi Lenni; thanks for sharing this. as a very tall guy i love the point about the raised beds being easier because you can make them the right hight to match the gardener. My family has ben in the carnival business for years, and I find it funny that no one has ever figured out a way to raise and lower the concessions machines to match the hight of their user. Have you seen what bending constantly to spin cotton candy or dip corn dogs does to a back? well maybe you can imagine it? 😀 I agree with you on rest homes. they should have gardens and pets to care for. I think I read an article a few years ago about a nursing home that was using sweetheart sheep to keep the grass mowed and to give the seniors something to look at. now you need a box for grapes blackberries or something else you can make wine from. grin good luck my friend, max

    • Hi Max – Thanks for your comments – I love your stories and you always seem to have so many to tell. I’ve never heard about sweetheart sheep but that’s a great idea – cut down on the work and give pleasure at the same time. I actually do have a recipe for grapejuice wine – may share that some time.

  29. Leni – I’m a city dweller and don’t have a garden. When I was a child my father loved to garden. But that was his territory. In New York, the actress/singer Bette Midler started the New York Restoration Project which promotes gardening in public spaces. Many are tiny community gardens where the local residents pitch in to plant gardens and beautify the space. It’s a wonderful program.

  30. This is such a lovely post Lenie. Your writing makes me think of visits to my grandparents in the countryside. My grandmother is extremely dedicated to her growing her garden and producing a high-quality stock of fruits and vegetables. She always has delicious treats waiting for me to snack on, and you really can’t beat the flavor and freshness. My grandmother is always looking for new ways to enhance her garden, so I’ll definitely bring up your bed plant tip next time I see her. Thanks for sharing!

  31. Hi Lenie, good ideas as usual! this perfectly suits for those who haven’t enough space to manage a traditional garden 🙂