Super Cheap Raised Beds for Your Vegetable Garden

Inexpensive Raised Bed Ideas
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There's no doubt a lot more people are starting vegetable gardens this year. Seed suppliers are swamped. Newbie questions are everywhere gardening or homesteading is discussed online. Gardening books are flying off the (largely digital) shelves. But some of you are probably struggling with the expense involved in starting a garden.

It's true that if you plant straight into the ground, there's very little cost involved. But if you have poor soil, for some reason need to keep most of your lawn, or have trouble getting down to ground level when tending your garden, raised beds are where it's at. (Raised beds also have the advantage of warming up quicker than garden beds that are directly dug into the soil.)

But have you looked at the costs involved in buying or building raised beds? Ouch! I'm struggling with this myself this year, so I've been brainstorming cheap and effective ways to get more vegetables planted without emptying my bank account. Here are the best ideas I've run across.

Cheap Raised Bed Ideas
Berms on our old homestead.

* Berms are one of the easiest, most affordable ways to build raised beds. Just pile up good-quality soil and plant in it. I did this for years at our suburban homestead, and it worked beautifully! And no, rain and wind didn't carry all my soil away. However, if you need raised beds in the middle of your lawn, this method doesn't work very well because it's difficult to keep the edges of the grass trimmed.

* Hugelkultur became a buzz word in gardening several years back, but if you have access to free limbs, grass clipping, straw, and similar organic materials, it really can make for a productive raised bed! Again, though, it's not great when you must surround your beds with lawn. Learn more about hugelkultur here.
Lasagna garden beds.

* Lasagna gardening is similar to hugelkultur, and as long as you have copious amounts of organic matter laying around, it's free or cheap. Lasagna (or "sheet mulching") beds begins with a layer of corrugated cardboard, and maybe a few layers of newspaper. Then you add "browns," like dry leaves, shredded newspaper, or peat, followed by a layer of "greens," like vegetable or fruit scraps and grass clippings. Although autumn is the best time to start lasagna beds, you can also start them in the spring or summer. For more details, read this article.

* Generally, lumber and wood aren't cheap - even if you live in logging country, as we do! But if you have access to used wood or fallen trees, consider using them for raised beds. (This can include pallets if they aren't treated with chemicals; learn how to determine this here.) Most wood of this nature will rot within a year or two, so bear that in mind. Homesteader Mark Winchell (you can follow him on Instagram) uses logs quite successfully. He says locust is the best choice because it lasts 20 - 50 years without rotting. He's also used red maple and expects it to last 5 - 8 years.

Some of Mark Winchell's raised beds made from logs.

Tire planters, via Flickr and
* Yes, some may think it looks tacky, but if you have old tires laying around, they are worth considering as raised beds. They work best for heat-loving plants (because the black rubber will make the beds hotter than most other raised bed materials). However, tires are made with questionable chemicals. My husband tells me the limited amount of dubious chemicals found in each tire makes this a non-issue, but I'm still gun-shy. I recommend lining tires with Visqueen plastic sheeting, which isn't supposed to leach unless exposed directly to the sun.

* Grow bags are wonderful for small spaces, but they aren't always cheap to buy. (Although there are some great deals on Amazon!) Yet if you have (or can get) cheap or free potato or coffee sacks (the type made from burlap), they will work quite well. Just don't expect them to last more than one year.

* I know not everyone has old bathtubs laying around, but they make excellent raised beds! I have four bathtub beds (one was already being used as a garden bed when we bought our rural homestead, two we found in the bushes on our land, and the third I picked up free from a friend who needed to get rid of it). If you don't have tubs laying around, check out Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace for freebies.

Galvanized raised bed.
* Galvanized feed or water troughs are a trendy new thing in gardening, but unless they are poor quality, they are not very affordable. Most people with animals don't get rid of metal feed troughs until they are pretty badly rusted, but on the lookout for anyone who might give or sell cheap troughs they no longer need.

* Bricks, rocks, or cinder blocks...If you happen to have any of these laying around, or if you can get them cheap or free, these can make beautiful and sturdy raised beds that will last many years to come.

* Don't forget smaller containers such as buckets and pots. Just make sure they have holes drilled in the bottom. The biggest problem with lots of smaller planters is that you tend to end up needing more soil per plant. Also, the smaller the container, the more watering it will require, since the soil inside it will dry out more quickly.

* Get creative! Do you have an old kiddie pool laying around? How about old dresser drawers or a table you can screw sides onto? These will all work as raised beds as long as you add drainage holes!
On our homestead, we have an old culvert pipe laying around, as well as the bottom of an old water tank. I plan on using both as raised beds this year.

Affordably Filling Raised Beds

Once you have raised beds in place, your quest for a cheap garden isn't quite fulfilled. Soil can be awfully expensive, too. As already noted, lasagna gardening and hugelkultur might be an affordable route to take (though if you have to purchase ingredients, they may be just as expensive as purchased soil). One thing's for certain, if you must bring soil in for your garden, you'll want to call around and see if anyone has a good deal on truckloads of gardening soil, since it's almost certainly cheaper than buying soil in bags. Also consider:

* If your raised beds are deeper than your plants require, fill the bottoms of them with stuff you have laying around, like broken gardening pots, small plastic nursery pots, plastic water bottles, packing peanuts, bubble wrap, nut shells, or twigs.

* If you have poorer-quality soil laying around, put that in the bottom of your raised beds. For example, I put my old potting soil in the bottom of my new garden beds.

* Add homemade compost to the tops of your beds. (Learn how to compost here.)

* Add a layer of dry leaves or straw in the bottom, middle, or top of your raised beds.

* Add animal manure to the middle or top of your soil. (For tips on how to use manure, click here.)

Now tell me: What creative, cheap ways have YOU created raised beds? 

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