Gardening,  How to/ Basics

How Pork Chops Lead to a Garden or, How to Build Raised Garden Beds

A couple of nights ago I had the worst tomato of my life. It looked pretty, but it was completely devoid of any flavor. Sorta like blondes. Ok, I take that back. Some of my closest friends are blondes. But you know what I mean…this is LA after all.
Anyway, we’ve had bad luck in the last couple of years growing tomatoes. They grow big and strong, set some fruit, and then start to die from the bottom up, quickly, before the tomatoes can grow and ripen. It looks likes some sort of “blight” and it’s very frustrating. We can’t pinpoint the cause. At first we thought it was the soil, but it happened even when I planted the tomatoes in big pots of fresh soil on my patio. My theory is that it’s the damp, foggy, “June gloom” we get on summer mornings. But I am a glutton for punishment and keep trying.

The last two years our vegetable garden has laid fallow and in that time has become a giant cat box and buffet for termites. Thus, it was time to replace the old raised beds and I decided I wanted something taller and easier to use. In addition, last year I’d read an LA Times article about “No Dig Planting” and had saved it. I thought it was a good opportunity to try a new growing method.

Cut to the crappy tomato (see the last post about Pork Chops) . It was just the incentive we needed to get up on a Saturday and build our new garden. We used the old garden as a template, but changed some of the dimensions. The purpose of this was twofold; widen the pathways and cut down on lumber waste and the amount of cuts we’d need to make. For example, by making the smaller beds 4′ x 5′ we could just buy 8′ and 10′ boards and cut them in half.
A couple of notes about the lumber. I investigated using a composite product like Trex which is used for decking. This is good because it does not rot and our previous beds had rotted and been eaten by termites. However, it’s expensive and it would take a lot because it only comes in 5″ widths. So we settled on untreated pine in a 10″ width, allowing us to have 20″ tall beds. My understanding is that you don’t necessarily want to use pressure treated wood either because the chemicals can leach into the soil. You could use untreated cedar, but it was about 3x as expensive as the pine and only available at a speciality lumber store.
Here’s the process:
First, carry all the wood down the stairs. Yes, that’s me, and yes, I carried it all down by myself.
Yeah, up and down those stairs (below).

Stack up the wood only to have your wonderful husband tell you that you’ve done it all wrong.

The old garden beds.
The wood for our project:
1″x10″x12′-2 each
1″X10″x10′-4 each
1″x10″x8′-12 each
4″x4″x8′-3 each
2.5″ red deck screws-2# (why do they sell screws by the lb? And why doesn’t the box say how many screws are in it?)
You will also need a saw, a saw horse, an electric drill, an electric screwdriver, a level, a carpenter’s square, a pencil and a tape measure.

David, cutting the 4x4s

Once the wood was cut, we pre-drilled the holes (above) and then screwed together the 5′ sides to the 4x4s (cut at 20″) with red deck screws (below).

After we got two of the long sides together, we screwed the 4′ boards to them.

Above, the first two boxes are built and are 4’x5′.

The final result; 110 square feet of vegetable garden space.
The larger bed was a little more complicated, but not by much. We just did it one section at a time. The short sides are also 4′, as are the middle, interior sides. The pathways are 32′ wide, long sides are 80″ and the back wall is 128″.

Come soon, Filling the Beds and then Planting!


  • Bill Harshaw

    Your past tomato problem sounds like “early blight”—first the lower leaves get spots, then the lower branches shrivel and die back to the main stem, and then the next lower branches do the same. We have it in VA, UC-Davis says it’s not that common in CA.

  • Bill Harshaw

    Google “early blight” for help. Here’s UC Davis:

    “Early blight is not common in California; it occurs in coastal areas and mainly affects tomatoes exposed to rain. Damage can occur if conditions remain cool and humid for several days after a rain. The early blight fungus survives in the soil on residue of infected tomatoes, potatoes, and nightshade weeds. The fungus is spread by spores that are carried by the wind or splashed in water. Germination of spores and infection require free moisture. Disease development stops in dry, hot weather. ”

    In the east it’s common. See this UMaine

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