How to build a raised garden bed to grow your own food this summer! Check out my step-by-step tutorial showing you how to build a frugal raised garden bed to save money on food + eat healthier! It’s super easy to build, and simple enough for any living situation – whether you rent or own your home!
Written by Mr. Crumbs.
Mrs. Crumbs has been on a garden kick.
Earlier this year she started a small potted garden, modeling her step-mother and good friend who successfully garden every year. Roughly four weeks into the gardening season, when all of the plants started sprouting in her egg crate planter, she quickly realized we didn’t have enough pots (large and small) to house all of her budding veggies.
She tried to find second-hand pots affordably, but they were either too small or too expensive. Naturally, she came to me and kindly requested that we build a raised garden bed to help grow the additional produce. Grow a garden, harvest, save on the grocery bill, right?
Tasked with building a 4’x8′ raised bed, I marched into the hardware store and headed straight to the lumber section. However, my optimism was crushed when I read this: 8 Foot Cedar Plank – $25.
We would need 3 of those for the bed. Plus hardware. And the near 10% tax. Suddenly, this fun little project was creeping towards $100. Online kits ranged from $80 to $100 too.
I thought we’re supposed to be SAVING money here…
Once I got back home, I noticed a large dumpster near our home at the time. It was one of those temporary ones – you know, the kind used for construction sites. This temporary dumpster was filled with scrap lumber!
Inside the dumpster were planks well over 8 feet long and 8 inches high. Just perfect for a raised garden.
I dove in and found three wonderful 8′ planks. Although riddled with nails, they were free and would do the trick. I shared my new plan with Mrs. Crumbs, talking about the remaining supplied we’d need and the approximate cost.
When we tallied the total cost to be approximately $15, she was thrilled!
What you’ll need to build a raised garden bed
- Lumber, preferably free. Look in dumpsters, discard piles at construction sites, trash piles on the side of the road, old pallets or online.
- Freecycle and your local city’s Facebook group.
- Don’t pay for the wood if at all possible.
- Corner Brackets. You need a total of eight, two for each corner. Your local hardware store should have some similar to these on Amazon. I recommend the 3″ bracket, but you can use a 4″ bracket if they’re cheaper.
- Paint or Stain, optional. This would be to protect the wood, but it’s entirely optional. Check the “oops” colors of paint at your local hardware store for cheap paint. We picked up one quart for just 50¢ to supplement the random leftover paint in our garage.
- Paint Brushes. A must-have if you’re going to paint.
Step 1: Measure the wood
Step 2: Cut the wood to the desired length
Borrowing a saw, we trimmed the ends and cut one of the planks in half. If you have jagged edges or edges with angles, aim to cut those off.
Step 3: Pull any stray nails, cut off large stray pieces and sand extremely rough edges
Remember that this will be on the ground, level with the kids and animals, so eliminate the obvious dangers. Designate someone to hold a pail for discarded nails so none get left behind in the yard.
Step 4: Mock assemble the wood
Just a precaution to make sure the pieces are cut to correct size. Fix any obvious errors.
Step 5: Paint or stain the wood
If you’re short on paint, only one side and edge need really to be painted – a perfect assignment for the kids.
And garden-crazy wives!
Step 6: Prepare the ground
While the kids and other helpers are busy, adults can level the ground and pull large weeds.
Step 7: Assemble the bed using the corner brackets
Having another adult available to hold the wood steady is helpful.
Step 8: Lay your new raised garden bed down on the prepped ground
The bed should sit level. Add/remove dirty or sand as necessary.
Step 9: Fill with dirt and plants!
Tips for Building your Raised Garden Bed
- Your biggest expense will be lumber, which is why I suggest digging around to find some for free before paying for it.
- Additionally, you likely could get by with using only four brackets, instead of eight.
- The paint brushes are the no-name brand, basic brush just like these.
- Before you buy ANYTHING, scour your garage and closets for supplies.
- Old shelves and mix/matched “not quite the same” hardware will work just as well, and you just might be able to build a raised garden bed for free!
More Frugal Gardening Posts
- 5 Ways to Reuse Plastic for Gardening
- Starting a Frugal Urban Garden
- 7 Ways to Water Your Garden for Free
- 50 Ways to Fertilize Your Garden for Free
Are the brackets necessary or add some great benefit over just hammering in a few large nails in their place to steady the frame? I have lots of those, for free! They go with the screws that fell out of my head. LOL.
I guess you don’t HAVE to use them KC, but we felt they were helpful given the condition of the wood (i.e. slightly warped and not quite straight). This was also our first garden bed, so we erred on the side of caution rather than not. 🙂
I wish I had used corner brackets. After many years my raised beds are falling apart at the corners. I thought about using a come-a-long strap to pull it together but would have to remove the dirt to allow the wood to move back in place. Using reclaimed wood also doesn’t allow for many years of use. Painting the outside is pretty but the inside gets alot of moisture and can start to rot. Just be aware that the bed won’t last forever. I have even placed 4×4 wood in the corners to screw the outsides to. It still rots.
Good article, except misleading. You didn’t inude the dirt in the breakdown and that is key. I made 2 raised beds using cinder blocks. They are about 1.20 and I bought 36 of them. About the same cost per bed as you mentioned, but mine are bigger. It was very diffict to find free dirt so I ordered it to be delivered. Was cheaper than home depot bags as we needed a lot. Still the dirt alone is about 5-7 a bag and I needed about 7-10 bags. Even smaller beds would be minimum $30 for dirt. If lucky enough to fk d dirt, great, but I’d include it just in case for people that can’t find it. I searched for abluya month before giving up lol. Anyway, hanks for the info. I may try this one as I want to build 2 more beds 🙂
Hi Theresa – we don’t include dirt because for many people, they already have it. Plus there are many ways to get dirt for free, and we would have too, except that living in a townhouse, there’s no direct access to the backyard. 🙂
Be careful with cinder blocks and old tires (I know you didn’t mention the tires) because there are serious chemical leaching issues with both that will contaminate your produce.
Bonus points for the lettuce Cindy! I’ve got two more square feet to go and my garden is done. More on square foot gardening coming soon!!
After much research I decided to go with raised rows instead of raised beds. Cheaper, easier and can be either permanent or temporary. We haven’t lived in this house long enough to know for sure how much light various parts of the yard get so, if my chosen plot doesn’t work out I will just move it next season.
Raised rows? I don’t think I’ve heard of that Kathy. Can I ask you to explain a bit? 🙂
A local fence company has a bin of free wood to haul — much of it already painted/stained. Warning: not all stains/paints are good in a garden. Keep an eye out this time of year for topsoil sales at 99c per 2′ x 4′ bag. Or ask at local construction sites. If you have agriculture in your area, ask horse farms or beef farms if manure is available. Many towns have wood chips available from trimming trees.
Great tips Cynthia – thanks so much for sharing! (Now I need to pay attention to dirt sales, lol!)
Another great idea for a Renters Garden, is using fence planks. They range between $1-2 each, for the inexpensive ones, which is great if you can’t find anything for free. You can sometimes find old ones for free when a neighbor is redoing their fence. They are a little thin, which is why I wouldn’t suggest it for a long-term Garden (Anything over 5 years), but they definitely work in a pinch!
Do you mean using fence planks for a raised bed? If so, that’s a great idea Gloria!!
Do you think you could double the boards for a sturdier option? I’m looking at cedar planks for less than $3 each and freaking out at how awesome this idea is.
To make it taller? Or thicker? In either case, sure you can! Taller beds would give you the option of adding better soil/sand/compost to the mix, and the plants feeding on that more than what’s available on the ground. $3 per plank isn’t a bad deal. You could do a single 8×4 bed for $9, or a double for just $18!
Thank you for all of your great ideas. I am growing my first garden this year and my garden bed was built by some friends of mine (yes, I bought the material but hey…!). I hope to build the next bed myself.
One comment: When working with tools it is important to always wear shoes; too many painful accidents can happen and having shoes on can prevent greater dangers.
I did the same thing, all my plants that I started in the house grew like crazy and totally outgrew every planter, jar and container I could find while my hasbana was away. When he got home the first project was definitely the raised garden beds,! We put in 3 8’x4′ beds and the plants are in and looking good. ☺
I am going to be trying my hand at canning and pickleing, wish me luck!!
Good luck Marie! I haven’t pickled before, but I’d love to try!
Yes, supplies can add up. We’ve reused shish-ka-bob sticks for the tomatoes, used bare minimum seeds and I’ve been keeping the small containers that the tomato seedlings came in. I’m also keeping the small containers that our food comes it for next year’s seeds. I don’t plan to lose too much dirt this year, so hopefully that won’t be to big of an issue next year!
My concern would be whether or not the old wood was pressure treated. I have read that after 2003 wood that has been pressure treated is safer to use but if the old scraps someone finds are from before that date I would be concerned about the chemicals that were used on the wood. I think it could be a safety issue using pressure treated scraps of wood.
I just read an article on the topic (http://www.finegardening.com/does-pressure-treated-wood-belong-your-garden) and while one article doesn’t make it 100%, it seems that most of the danger happens within the first season or two of treatment (our wood is over 20 years old), the soil closest to the wood is affected, and there’s a very small chance that any chemicals would make it to the food itself. A great point Alicia! Thank you for mentioning it!
Even present methods of pressure treating wood aren’t that great. The safety warnings include wearing gloves and face masks while working with the wood. I wouldn’t want pressure treated wood anywhere near my food supply.
You don’t have to use pressure treated wood Susan, but if you’re doing it on the cheap, you use what you have.
From where did you get your dirt? That would be a big expense for me to have to buy all of it. I am looking to build another bed but have been waiting for free lumber 🙂 The last one I built I used wood from my garage left from previous owners. I have to look some more to see if there is enough to do that again.
We got our dirt from Home Depot, but there are PLENTY of ways to get it for free. Check it out here: https://dontwastethecrumbs.com/2014/04/creating-growing-frugal-urban-garden/. We would have done that, but we don’t have direct access to the back yard, so hauling dirt would mean going through the house… which is no bueno. We also had a gift card. 🙂