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There are several advantages to using raised beds when gardening. They provide excellent drainage, warm soil earlier in the spring, prevent soil compaction, maximize yields in a minimum amount of space, and for gardeners with limited mobility, they can be built to any height. Perhaps best of all, raised beds also keep your garden looking neat and tidy.
Length & Width: A convenient size is 4 x 4-foot box, because lumber is readily available in 4-foot lengths. This also allows you easy access to the center of your beds from either side. Set the beds end to end to create larger gardens (4 x 8-foot or 4 x 12-foot, etc.) or arrange them in interesting patterns. If you are planting vegetables, building 3 to 4 raised beds of this size will allow for adequate crop rotation. If the bed will be positioned against a wall or fence (accessible only by three sides), limit the width to 2-3 feet so you can easily reach the plants growing in back.
Depth: Most plants need at least a 6-12 inch root zone, so your boxes should be at least 12 inches deep to allow plenty of room for roots. Using 12-inch wide lumber to construct the boxes makes this easy.
Construct your beds on a firm, flat surface (e.g. driveway, patio, or garage floor). Set the boards up on their sides and nail the ends together to create a box. Use 4 to 5 nails on each board in an off-set pattern to help prevent the wood from splitting. If you're doing this project alone, it's helpful to brace one board against a wall to hold it steady while you pound in the nails.
Optional: If you line the bottom of a raised bed with chicken wire, you can easily control gophers and other marauding rodents. Cut a piece of chicken wire/hardware cloth so it's a few inches larger than the inside dimensions of your box. Lay the wire inside of the box. Bend the excess wire up the inside walls and use a staple gun to attach it securely it to the box.
Use a sharp spade to loosen up the top few inches of soil at the bottom of the box. This will help ensure good drainage. Fill the beds with equal parts of compost, topsoil, and well-rotted manure. Water well. Allow a few days to a week for settling to occur and add extra soil if necessary.