It’s harder than you think: Build a Vegetable Garden

Pinterest is the worst thing to ever happen to do-it-yourselfers. Beautiful pictures of amazing results by people who don’t document the annoying parts of the process. This inspires over-ambition and all sorts of extra hours of headaches.

Then you go online and try to find help and there are two varieties:
1. Detail lacking guidelines that don’t provide enough steps
2. This Old House that builds everything with so much effort and professionalism that the end results could survive the apocalypse but would take an average person an eternity to build

This series of how-to’s is going to be type #3. Real explanations of the annoyances that come with not being Bob Villa in the hopes that you won’t screw it up as much as I did.

Vegetable Garden

Jen and I decided to build a fenced-in raised bed garden. After much deliberation we wanted to go for a pinterest style complicated horseshoe shaped garden to allow no arm-reach beyond three feet for weeding and vegetable picking. (side note, it turns out 3 feet is kinda useless for veggie gardens. Almost all seed packages recommend 24 inch spacing, a 48″ bed width would have been smarter)

First: The finish product

Online recommendations for raised bed gardens:

1. Mark out your area
2. Buy cedar planks
3. Screw everything together
4. Done!

The more advanced sites suggest fence posts secured in concrete and really tall (8ft) fence varieties to prevent jumping deer. Forget that junk. We did four foot fences – no concrete. Totally good enough for a small garden.

Overall how’d the project go for us? Eh.

First I made some sketches and planned out materials. I used graph paper and planned aggressively. Jen and I found a spot in the yard. We laid it out with sticks, measured twice, and then turned the soil around the outline.


Annoyance Level: Low. we had some rocks, but so far so easy. Just make sure you use a spade style shovel. Once we got under the sod it was easy. We also didn’t level anything (*Remember this for later*). If you had to level your yard this part would stink

Next we bought some supplies. My calculations were pretty awesome. The problem occurred when we went to buy the wood. I had wanted to stack two 1×6 cedar planks to make a one foot tall raised bed.

When Sander and I arrived at the lumber yard I learned that they had 1×12 boards. PERFECT! except they weren’t cedar they were pine. No big deal right? Wrong. Cedar doesn’t rot. Pine does.

This was dumb.

In order to compensate for the 1×12 boards I tried to re-do my math on the spot and calculated wrong. So we bought one too few 10foot boards.

This was also dumb.


Annoyance Level: High.
What I should have done is called the lumber yard in advance and asked them if they had what I was looking for. That way I could do the math while not under pressure and I could double check my numbers. We were able to make due with the boards we had by better utilizing scrap, so I didn’t have to go back to the lumber yard. But it required an extra seam in the garden wall which I didn’t like. The pine error will be extra extra annoying when I have to replace all the pine boards in a couple years because of rot.

I got pressure treated 4×4’s for the corner posts. Pressure treated stuff shouldn’t really be used for vegetable gardens because they are loaded with all sorts of nasty chemicals. We got around this by wrapping each leg in plastic. The Jury is out on whether this was a good move or not. I’m hoping I never have to replace the fence posts.

The holes: I wanted to go down 24 inches with a hole post digger and quickly gave up and settled for 17inches. Why 17? Because that’s about where I started hitting an absurd number of huge rocks. 17 inches was good. 12 inches probably would have been okay.

4Setting up the Frame

Annoyance Level: Medium. The digging was definitely not as bad as I’d expected. But probably only because I relaxed my installation specifications. I definitely didn’t do the concrete. I just dropped the 4×4’s in the hole. I’m totally okay with this.

The measuring is SO important here. When you dig your holes, don’t measure to the edge of your construction – measure center to center. After I dug my holes and stuck the boards in I realized I had to lined them too narrowly by about an inch each. I did this with a trowel and it was stupid.

Also, remember how I didn’t level the yard? It turns out the north-side is about a half inch off from the south side. I measured the heights of my corner posts off the ground – I should have used a transit or a line level. I was lucky that the tilt didn’t create a visual problem, but it definitely resulted in some weird-sauce board alignment issues.



Annoyance Level: High

THIS IS IMPORTANT: When you have a framework that’s locked down, don’t be an idiot by cutting all the connecting pieces in advance. I trusted my measurements as law. But when I secured the corner posts in the ground I found that the dimensions drifted… Just slightly enough to be really annoying.

I used nails to put everything together. I would recommend nails for connection up to a solid fence post, but for every other connection I should have used short screws. The problem was that since my boards weren’t perfectly sized – nailing some pieces together would pop other joints. It was frustrating.

Because we wanted the chicken wire behind the boards, we had to put the mesh in place as we built the structure. We used a staple gun and it was definitely the right choice. Super easy.

We also ran a separate piece of chicken wire into the ground 6 inches to prevent burrowing animals. This wasn’t as annoying as expected.


So easy! For this we measured the door opening and laid out some strapping on the floor of our basement using little 1″ spacers to make everything aligned really nicely. I used a pencil attached to a string that was secured with some duct tape a few feet away to draw a nice radius along the top. I used a bandsaw to cut each board and then we nailed everything together.


We used a cheap spring loaded gate latch that I bought at Lowes. I worked ok. I had to adjust it in order to make the joints work.

Annoyance level: Low. The only thing I would have changed is the use of screws instead of nails and I would have had the door sit tighter in the frame. I left about an inch on each side. A half an inch on each side would have been fine and would have made the connection latch work a bit better. I bought the latch AFTER we built the gate. This is the wrong order.

Once the construction was complete, we layered the bottom of the garden with newspaper and cardboard (apparently this is useful; I don’t know why). Then we put down a layer of compost. Finally, we mixed leaf mulch with top soil to fill the first of the box. We planted some veggies and eventually, decided to put some gravel down on the inside path. We used some landscape fabric to prevent weeds.


BOOM. Done.


Total price? About $350.
These better be the most delicious vegetables ever.

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