Raised Vegetable Garden
has a number of advantages over
conventional ground plots in many circumstances, such as good drainage,
heat retention, improved yield from concentrated rich soils, and better
space usage, to name a few.
They're ideal for areas with contaminated
or very degraded soils. You can read more about the advantages here.
There are many different ways you can build one,
and you're really limited only by your imagination.
Materials can include everything from field stones and bricks to old
slabs of concrete. Shapes and heights vary wildly and can be crafted to
match whatever aesthetic design you're going for.
I recently completed a keyhole garden based on a popular model used by
the Send A
Cow charity in Africa.
A keyhole garden is a raised bed vegetable garden that looks a bit like
like a keyhole when viewed from above because of a small walkway built
The design is pretty simple: build a circle of whatever size fits your
needs and fill it with great soil.
I decided to build one that, standing at the
center of the keyhole in the recessed walkway, I can just about lean
over and touch the far rock wall. This is convenient when it comes to
caring for and harvesting my crops.
Send a cow puts a compost heap in the center (see the above shot), but
decided to just build
more planting area because I already have a compost bin 10 feet away.
Raised Vegetable Garden Step
First, figure out exactly what your needs are and what you have on
hand. I made use of free materials or things I had in storage for most
of my project, and my only cost was $6 for some high quality organic
I originally planed to use bricks scavenged from a building demolition
site, but when I started fooling around with them I found it would
require double the amount of bricks I had on hand unless I used
concrete, so I changed my plans.
I decided to just dig up the large rocks scattered around my garden and
the woods in back of the property. I live in rocky New England, so it
wasn't a problem.
You can certainly buy finished stone, employ a stone mason, or sink
endless hours and resources into this project, but I went with a
technique that would produce a sturdy design in a minimal amount of
The whole thing probably took me eight hours with some help from my
father, and I spent another hour or so adding a finished brick
"walkway" to the back a few weeks later.
You'll want to pick a spot that gets a lot of sunlight. A minimum of
six hours is best.
Realize that if you build on a hill like I did, you'll either need to
level the ground or build your walls to compensate for the slope.
I opted for the later option.
Consider how tall you want your bed to be. I decided for three or four
layers of large rocks and capped it there. You can see that send a cow
uses larger walls, which has its advantages, but their walls appear
considerably less sturdy to my layman eyes.
My wall could survive just about anything, but a taller wall with many
smaller stones and no cement will crumble with a good shove.
Garden Step Two: Measure, Clear and Level
First, mark off your center spot with a stake.
Measure a circumference around the stake based on your desired size and
mark it in the dirt.
You can mark off the dimensions easily using a
measured piece of string tied to the center
stake at one end and a second unburied stake at the other. Use the
unburied steak to trace the line.
I ended up using the length of my arm as a basis for the circumference
a few inches, but it's up to you.
At some part of the circle, measure two or three feet of the edge and
mark it off. Draw a straight line from both ends of this to the center,
or make a different design that you like. This will be your keyhole
Dig down at least a foot and take out all the roots, rocks, etc out of
this area. This takes time but helps you with getting an even surface
and lessens the chance of roots growing up into your raised bed.
Even if you don't do the above step, the land should at least be
relatively flat, even if you choose not to level it. After doing your
work, stamp it down.
Garden Step Three: Gather Your Materials
At this point I headed out into the woods
with a rake and shovel and
started prying rocks out of the earth. It was early spring and there
wasn't much vegetation, so it was pretty easy. I realize not all areas
will have the abundant rock resources Connecticut has, but I assure you
they're usually more of a curse than a resource.
You can always buy stone, scavenge brick, or use
whatever other material you think might work. Think cheap and abundant.
Garden Step Four: Make A Trench
This step could possibly be
bypassed, but I figured it would add to the structural integrity of my
I dug a shallow trench along the circumference of my circle and placed
my flatest stones in it. This provided a stable base for the rest of my
The picture to the left shows you what I actually ended up doing.
The image below is of my failed attempt to use
bricks. I realized at around that point that I lacked enough bricks to
make a really sturdy raised vegetable garden, but you can see how I was
dug a trench for my bricks and buried them partially.
Garden Step Five: Start Stacking
Now it's all about stacking. If you're dealing
with small boulders like me, it can be quite an enjoyably exhausting
It may take some time to find the right rock for
each spot, but when you've crafted a sturdy raised bed planter that's
not going anywhere, you'll be pleased with the time you took.
Garden Step Six: Put In A Floor
This is an optional step, really, but it can be important. If you have
polluted soil underneath your raised bed or something like pavement,
you'll want to seal your dirt off from it. You could use stone or wood
for a fairly permenant choice, or, like me, go with cardboard.
Cardboard should last a few years and keep weeds in the ground from
infiltrating your rich soil. When the cardboard does decay, it will
only enrich your soil further.
Note, you could apply the cardboard a bit
thicker than this photo shows.
At this point I also added an extra liner I had from a previous
project. It was completely extraneous, but I figured it may help keep
the dirt in. If you don't have one of these. It shouldn't matter at all.
Raised Vegetable Garden Step Seven: Build The Back
You can just as easily build the back out of
whatever material you used for the front, but I opted to switch to
bricks because I was building on a hill and I didn't need to build as
They were also easier to set into the ground for
the tighter quarters of the keyhole walkway. You can see that I buried
part of them in the ground.
Garden Step Eight: Shovel In The Dirt
I filled my garden with 80 pounds of organic
cow manure I bought for $6, a random 30-pound bag of organic top soil I
had lying around, some peat moss, and the rest was organic compost made
from vegetation, wood, leaves, grass, food scraps, etc. Just mix it up
and shovel it in.
It's a very rich combo, and it yields some tasty vegetables.
Garden Step Nine: Getting Fancy
If you have the time and inclination, you can
add something fancy like a stone or brick walkway in your keyhole and a
double back wall.
Garden Step Ten: Plant
Plant whatever you
please. The shot above is from early spring the year after I made the
garden. At that point I'd only planted a quarter of it with several
varieties of lettuce.
As you can see, I added wooden poles and netting because a rampaging
deer decided my vegetables were more tasty than whatever it was eating
in the forest.
I've had this garden for several years now and it always produces and
Garden: Following Up
Watch my video about this keyhole garden here.
in a lettuce-growing video here.
Read more about growing organic produce in
situations like this raised vegetable garden.
Learn about adopting a healthy raw food diet here.
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