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How to build a raised bed garden

by Michelle Miles
Monarch butterfly
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We adapted the Esther Deans method as described in the Organic Garden City Trustís Canterbury Organic Directory.

Our garden is 2.5m x 4m. We have chosen a sunny spot in our paddock not too close to any competing trees and put it down directly onto the grass. The following instructions include NZ prices as at 2000-2001 - we omitted the organic fertiliser in our garden.

We used:

Untreated pine boxing 300 x 25mm (12"x 1")
16 untreated stakes 75x25x600 (3"x 1"x 2í) Cost: $50.00

10 bales of peastraw $39.50

Organic fertiliser

1Ĺ cubic metres of certified organic compost $67.50
(created a layer 12cm thick)

Total Price: $157.00


1. Mow the grass down then dig the boxing into the ground 7-8cm to prevent grass and weeds growing into the garden. We laid bricks (which we already had a pile of) around base to provide a mowing strip.

2. Lay old carpet or organic weed matting on top of the grass. 

3. Add a layer of pea-straw slices

4. Dust with organic fertiliser.

5. Add a layer of loose pea-straw

6. Sprinkle more fertiliser

7. Add a layer of rich compost 10 cm deep

8. Plant seedlings
Big, healthy organic vegetables. This is a relatively easy way to ensure impressive results, especially helpful if you are a newcomer to organic vegetable growing. This method reduces the need for weeding, and provides your vegetables with the soil conditions they need to grow well and resist pests and disease.


If you want your compost to be 100% guaranteed pure organic, make sure it is certified. Many composts are available which are said to be organic, but which would not meet certification standards. And donít trust the word of the seller unless you know they really know what they are talking about, as our experience shows the word organic rolls easily off the tongue when it comes to compost. Do a bit of research among experienced organic gardeners and find out where they get their supplies from.

We plan to build an additional garden the same size next year so we can extend our vege range and begin using crop rotation. By then we hope to be using our own home made compost.



Emails from a reader 

This is Donna in Indiana.
I have used cardboard boxes, keeping the bottom in with slashes for holes to make raised beds. I fill with the soil and compost. You can line them up tightly next to each other into an 8Xr foot bed if you want.. I use a variation of the square foot gardening method anyway, and this allows for a lot of flexibility.
The plants get a good head start with no competition with weeds. The cardboard will break down eventually. When the plants are established you can pull down the sides and let the soil mound and use the cardboard as a weed barrier for the paths.
I have also bought planting mixes, laid the bags on the ground (again puncturing the bottom in intervals) slit the tops open, and planted directly into them. The plastic acts as a weed barrier. You can layer on as you wish to the depth you want. This has worked extremely well for my flowers. The plastic does not biodegrade of course, but can be left or pulled out later.
I use bark mulch for pathways and do not care for using the timber sides for beds anymore. I put up wood beds years ago but they do eventually need replaced and if you use the cardboard to start a bed you don't have to deal with the cost or the nails. The beds eventually have a nice mounded look and are not difficult to maintain.
I have also built beds out of chicken wire and stakes. This is what lead to the cardboard path eventually. I staked out a bed, and stapled chicken wire around the bed. Sometimes I lined the bed with cardboard.
You have a great site! Keep up the good work.


For six dollars you can purchase a small kiddie pool ,
cut out the bottom leaving a 1 inch border and fill with soil and compost.
I did that when I bought low bust blueberries and need to amend the
soil to a lower pH



My husband and I found a great book called "Cinderblock Gardens" by Lynn
Gillespie .

We are currently in the process of building our raised beds out of concrete
blocks - standard 16" h two holers that are used in the USA.  EASY, Inexpensive
and great for folks like us with touchy knees & backs.



Old car or truck tyres can be used eithers with compost inside individual
tyres, or using the tyres stacked to make walls around a larger plot.


The raised bed organic garden is based on the Esther Deans method. Esther Deans lives in Sydney, Australia and her method of growing vegetables and flowers without digging has become a standard for many gardeners. Her garden attracts thousands of visitors

New Zealand Wine Society

The following advertisements are not placed by Organic Pathways and are not necessarily organic