100 Day Challenge #87: Build your own veggie beds
I know this tip is a bit harder than most of the ones we share and y'all are probably thinking, "there's no way I'm going to build my own veggie beds!" I get it, building your own beds isn't easy, but I can't tell you how rewarding it is, and I'm not exaggerating when I say it's probably my favorite thing I did all summer!
Let's get the heavy stuff out of the way
Toby and I have been wanting to build beds since we moved into our house, and nine months later we're finally there! The two main reasons it took us so long are the typical culprits: time and money.
It took us a lot of time to finish this project. Between the two of us, it took us three whole weekends to purchase, prep, construct, and finish our beds. That's a big time commitment, not to mention many physically exhausting days. We're lucky we have the experience and stamina to be able to do this, but it's by no means a small project. Having said that, we opted for two large beds (10' long x 4' wide and 12' long x 4' wide), which is a lot of material and work. But even a smaller bed requires digging, trenching, constructing, and filling, so you need to make sure you're honest with yourself and determine if that's realistic for you and your family to complete.
Money was the second hurdle. For full transparency, when all was said and done we spent over $1,000 on building our veggie beds. Not cheap. That also is taking into account that we owned all the tools we needed and already had most of the irrigation material from building the beds at my mom's house. The largest cost was the lumber; we spent over $800 on the cedar planks and posts. I'll talk more about the lumber in a bit, but you want to make sure it's good quality, and especially because it was in our front yard, we didn't want to go the cheap route on this. You can always build your beds out of materials like straw bales, cinder blocks, or other material you might have laying around or can get cheaply. But aesthetics were important to us this time, so we went with smooth, cedar planks. My friend and I were chatting about our beds the other day and jokingly she said, "Mar, you don't like to spend money on clothes but you'll drop over $1,000 on veggie beds." Guilty... what can I say, home-grown veggies make us happy!
Step 1: Take your time planning
Before we even got started buying wood and digging holes, we drew, redrew, and drew our plan again. Sketching everything out really helped us think through how we were going to build the beds and what they were going to look like. After we sketched everything out and felt good about our dimensions and plans, we went outside and outlined the beds with stakes so we could see exactly how big they were going to be.
The picture on the left was one of the first sketches we made when we started brainstorming. It's actually drawn on a restaurant napkin; we spent the afternoon relaxing and chatting about our project when we traveled to Mexico in July. The other two sketches were the final ones we made when calculating how much wood to purchase. As you can see, these don't have to be perfect; just start sketching and get your ideas down on paper. It really helps!
Step 2: Buy and prep
Once we had an action plan, we were ready to buy our material and start prepping everything. I'll let the video below do most of the talking but here are a few highlights.
Wooden planks: we went with cedar planks (2" x 6" x 12') because they're good quality wood and will weather nicely in the elements. Don't get pre-treated wood, because all the chemicals will leach into the soil where your veggies are growing!
Wooden posts: because our beds were quite long, we couldn't' just have support posts at the corners. You'll see from the sketches above, we have support posts at each corner and in the middle of the long beds. These were 4" x 4" x 8' untreated cedar.
Screws: you might already know this, but Toby explained that screws are way better than nails. Especially with all the weight from the soil pushing on the walls of the beds and the expansion and contraction from changes in temperature and moisture, don't cut corners with nails! We purchased 3" outdoor decking screws.
Cut wood to length: we purchased 12' planks and 8' posts, so we had to cut everything to length before we started building. This is when your sketches really come in handy!
Dig ditches and trenches: we dug all the holes and trenches before we started building the beds. Because we had great plans and measurements, we knew where all the post holes were going. We tried making each post hole 1' deep; a few were a bit shallower because we hit bedrock, so we adjusted the length of those posts accordingly.
Step 3: Build the frames
Once you have all the wood cut and the holes dug, you can start building the beds. There are many ways you can tackle this, but we found it easiest to build the ends first. We assembled all the 4' wide bed ends in the back yard and then lowered these pre-built sections into our ditches. Once those were in the ground and leveled, we started adding the cedar planks to form the sides.
Tip: add the planks from top to bottom, otherwise there's a chance the top of your bed won't be flush if you're off by an inch or two.
The hardest thing about this part is making sure everything is level. If you look carefully at the pictures, you'll notice our yard is on a slight incline, so we had to be extra diligent to make sure our beds were level. When we finished building the first bed we even had to add an extra board at the bottom of the lower end because we had a small gap due to the incline in our yard.
Give yourself a pat on the back because you're about halfway done!
At this point, a little encouragement is definitely in order! It feels like you've done so much work and you want to believe you're almost there. But, I hate to break it to you: building the bed frames is only about half the battle. You got this! Seeing those frames built and looking beautiful is definitely a well earned energy boost!
Step 4: Install the pipe for drip irrigation
Even though you might be very tempted to dump soil in and get those veggies planted, installing drip irrigation is definitely the smart, long-term decision. Veggies need a good amount of water to grow and thrive, and we didn't want to worry about manually watering every evening.
We're lucky that we have a spigot in the front yard in the middle of our flower bed, so we had easy access to a water source. Yes, we did have to trench underneath concrete and through our front yard, but I'm looking at the bright side! I would recommend going to a store that specializes in irrigation or landscaping for this step. Lowes is great, but you want to be able to talk through your specific plan and situation with someone who is very knowledgeable about irrigation to get the setup that's right for you.
We didn't finish building out all the drip until we had soil in the beds, but before you dump a bunch of soil in there you want to get the unperforated pipe in. So, we trenched from our spigot to the beds and between both beds as well. We clamped the pipes to the sides of the beds and left them there until we got soil in and were ready to finish building out our irrigation system.
Tip: tape the ends of your pipes before you start threading them underneath the beds and through trenches. You want to make sure they don't get clogged with dirt.
Step 5: Fill the beds with soil
If your beds are as big as ours, it's not very practical to buy bags and bags worth of compost and vegetable soil from a home improvement store. Since we had access to a pickup truck, we got a load of compost from my mom's huge compost heap at her house, and then we topped it off with a load of vegetable soil we purchased from Living Earth (a mulch, compost, and soil provider here in Dallas). The great thing about getting compost from my mom's is that it was free; the downside is that we had to shovel it in the truck and then shovel it out of the truck. The people at Living Earth just filled the truck up for us, so we saved many sweat hours with our second soil load! Even with two truckfulls of soil, we were still a bit short, so we topped the beds off with a few bags of vegetable soil from Lowes.
Note: you can see our irrigation pipes sticking out in this picture.
Step 6: Finish building your drip irrigation system and plant those veggies!
Ideally you want to build your irrigation system first and then plant your veggies, but we ran out of time and had some transplants in the car, so we planted those before we had a chance to build the drip. Either way, you're almost done!
Drip irrigation: my mom and I will be writing more about the benefits of drip irrigation in another post, but this really is the most efficient way to keep your plants hydrated. The water goes straight to the soil and roots where it's needed, and you don't waste any the way you do with sprinkler systems. We spaced our irrigation rows a little less than a foot apart and connected a timer to the spigot, so we could control the frequency and duration of the water flow.
Veggies and herbs: we always tell ourselves we're going to stick to a few veggie types, but we can't help ourselves. This time was no different, and we're planting eighteen different herbs and veggies including lettuce, arugula, kale, chives, mint, carrots, parsley, oregano, and more! Maybe we got a little carried away, but we wanted them all! Like bed building, planning your veggie placement is key. Here's a sketch of what we have in our beds.
Some of the plants we already had, others we transplanted from my mom's veggie garden or bought transplants at North Haven Gardens, and the rest we planted from seed. We're a few weeks past the optimal planting time for fall plants, but we're hopeful for the best!
That's all folks! Be proud of your work and enjoy the most delicious veggies you'll ever eat.
It was an exhausting, physically demanding, and expensive project, but I can't tell you how happy Toby and I are with our new front yard addition! We can't wait to host a party where we serve all the fresh food from our garden, and enjoy the most nutritious and delicious organic veggies we can get.
I can't end this blog without a HUGE THANKS TO TOBY! He was definitely the main driver behind the building process; I was the sous-builder if you will, and these beds wouldn't have gotten done without him.
This was a big undertaking, but it's one that we know is going to greatly add to the quality of our lives for years to come. We can't wait for our first harvest!
If this blog didn't completely scare you away from the task of building your own veggie beds and you want to give it a try, please reach out. I'd love to chat through any plans you have and share additional tips and words of wisdom to get you started!