Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Hardware upgrade required

I sometimes refer to the plants in my garden as "software" and the structural items as "hardware". My raised beds therefore count as hardware.

I have been very conscious lately that some of my raised beds are much in need of replacement. They are made of wood, and wood being a natural product they don't last for ever. Recently I lifted out the invoice relating to the last time I replaced some of them. I found that it was dated February 2010 (which pre-dates the time when I started blogging, and therefore recording such things!) At that time I replaced 4 of my 6 main raised beds, so two of them must be even older - probably by at least a couple of years. It is hardly surprising therefore that the older ones are on their last gasp:

My garden suffers from a lack of direct sunlight, and conditions are therefore often darker, damper and cooler than I would like, which accelerates the rotting of the wood and - as you can see in many of today's photos - the growth of mosses and fungi.

The design of my raised beds is really the simplest it could possibly be, just a rectangle of wood held together by angle-brackets. The dimensions are 2.4 metres x 1 metre. The wood is "Tanalised carcassing", planks of treated softwood (Scandinavian Pine, I believe) 19mm thick and 150mm wide.

This is not good quality timber, but it's good value for money. The timber for 4 raised beds cost me about £80 (in 2010). If it has lasted 5 years, I think I've had my money's worth, even if the timber is now falling apart:

I suppose I could have put in some pegs half-way along to keep the beds more rigid (I did with the first ones I made, years ago, but the pegs rotted very quickly and I concluded they were not worth the additional effort and expense). A couple of the boards are now very bowed:

Well, I think I have made my point. Sometime soon those beds need to be replaced. These days I am not as physically able as I was, so this is a big task for me. I think I will probably do it in two phases, one this year and one next year. I have already started looking round at what is available in terms of the timber. Lots of places sell it (B and Q, Wickes, Jewson, Travis Perkins etc), but the prices vary a lot - and some places charge a lot for delivery too. Some people have suggested that I use second-hand scaffolding-boards this time. They are strong and cheap, but may be worn at the edges, and of course finding them may be tricky... Anyone know of a business that wants to get rid of some?

What I would really like of course is some more like this:

That is my "Woodblocx" bed, kindly given to me free by Woodblocx as a review item. It is very sturdy and I expect it to last a fair while, though you can see that it has already turned quite green! This is the bed in which my Carrots and Parsnips were grown this past year, and very good they have been too. I attribute the success of these crops at least partly to the good depth of soil provided by this design of bed. The only disadvantage is the cost. I think this sort of bed retails at about £300. I might be able to justify buying one, but SIX, no way!


  1. I was going to ask if it would be more economical to use uPVC such as Link a Bord as it would last longer than wood, but you answered my question when I got to the price you paid for four raised beds.

  2. Mark we used & when I say we Mike actually built them for me! Decking boards which were extremely reasonable. I can't remember if they were pre treated or not but they are still looking strong & healthy. They are quite possible 5 years old. Hope that helps. Also Mike knows a couple of people with scaffolding business & they very rarely get rid of planks it seems.

  3. I remember my dilemma about what to use for the sides of my raised beds when I was putting them in. Everything that lasts is so expensive. I ended up with cedar as I didn't want to replace it often. I figured the additional cost might be the same as the additional time I get out of them. Though the longest-cheapest would probably be concrete blocks. I decided against them because they get so hot in the summer plus I'm not in love with the look.

  4. Mao I recommend salvaging free pallets? I have used pallet wood for years in the garden . You can get quite creative and puzzle them together. Check out pinterest for ideas. Great way to use up wood that otherwise becomes rubbish. I get mine from a storage unit place. But often see then around everywhere.

  5. Scaffold boards are apparently advertised in the small ads of local newspapers (and probably online) and are much used on allotments to make beds (although not by me). Metal stays (from builders merchants I believe) make better pegs than wooden ones (which rot very quickly) for supporting the sides.
    I have used pallet wood to make small flower beds in my garden, it's cheap (often free) but it is quite a task to dissemble them, it's fairly flimsy, rough wood of assorted sizes, and they tend to rot quickly even when treated with preservative.
    Preserved wood is always a tricky issue, because of some of the chemicals used, and it is often recommended that for food growing the inner surfaces of the wood are lined with polythene (which is not without its' own chemicals as it degrades). Obviously everyone can make their own choice on that one!

  6. That last bed sure is a beauty! But your are right, the cost is very steep.

    For me, the cheapest option, which still gives me reasonably thick sides (thicker = longer lasting) is using untreated pine boards that are 6" wide x 2" thick. The way boards are measured in North America is very strange, however, as the stated thickness and width is not what the actual measurements are - a 2" thick board is closer to 1.5" thick and the 6" width is actually more like 5.25" (the lengths, however, are precise).

    The cost isn't bad at about at $5 for an 8' plank. Since I make my beds 2 boards high (for a height of about 11"), that's only $30 for an 8' x 4' bed (about £16). Ideally, I would love to make the beds out of cedar - it would last a lot longer. But it is also 3x as expensive, so I decided to go the cheaper route.

    So far my oldest beds are going on 4 years (built in the fall of 2011) and they are still going strong. If I can get another 2 or 3 years from them, I'll be more than happy.

  7. Hi Mark, Yours look like my original ones which were 1 inch wide x 6 inch deep and 12 ft long in old money.
    When I replaced them in about 2009 I went for something a bit more substantial and which would cope with more depth of soil.
    Still a standard length of 3.6 metres (just under 12 ft) but 5 cm wide (2 inches) and 25 cm deep (10 inches) . I got the timber merchant to cut some of the boards into 3 equal 1.2 metre ( 4 ft) sections to form the ends, and some others into a 1 to 2 proportion for some smaller 1.2 x 2.4 beds which fitted in with my garden plan and meant I made use of every bit of wood.Being that much heavier they are virtually self supporting once fixed together.I just used nails but you'd probably need two angle brackets for each corner.I did also hammer some short 2" by 2" wooden pegs inside the corners after I'd fixed the planks to each other to help counter frost heave etc.
    I'd checked out Travis Perkins but they didn't cut planks to size and were pricey, whereas the local firm of timber merchants half a mile from them was very helpful and clearly used to gardeners wanting materials for raised beds and machine sawed any that needed cutting for free.
    If you click on the "Garden" top tab on my blog and scroll through the posts you'll see them in all their glory.Top and bottom tiers each with three beds.They took a bit of filling with extra soil and I used them all for vegetable growing before I got the allotment in 2012.
    For a time the older planks were used as edging boards over at the plot but now are mainly walking/measuring boards!
    I think that most of us growers in the UK use tanalised timber and we're all fairly well preserved.

    1. I like that last statement best! (well preserved). Thanks for your detailed response.

    2. As a point of interest, I assisted a UK school project that had previously bought railway sleepers to make raised beds. However under the vegetable growing scheme they were now participating in, they were not permitted to use them for edible plants. Ultimately they chose to obtain new, untreated sleepers for these beds. Similarly, in last year's Beechgrove Garden series, the gardener Chris Beardshaw made a point of lining all the beds made of preserved wood in the garden he designed for a family to grow food.

  8. Six Woodblocx beds would look superb. Maybe you could gradually build up to it.

  9. I'd say you got your money out of them Mark. While cedar appealled to me i went with untreated pine which I suppose i will get 5 years out of. Will watch with interest what you do next.


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