Easy Raised Garden Beds without the Cost or Commitment

If you’ve been craving home grown tomatoes or cringing at the price of store-bought herbs but haven’t had the time, money, or energy to prepare a garden plot, these easy raised beds may be just the answer.  I got the idea from San Francisco’s City Hall Victory Garden, pictured below.  They used erosion control wattles to form raised beds in their project.

The wattles are made from straw or other similar materials and can be purchased at landscape supply warehouses.   You may have seen them used on construction sites to control runoff.  They come in different sizes, from 6” to as much as 20”diameter.  I found my 12” diameter excelsior wattles at Western Landscape & Geotextile Supply in Denver for $1.42/ft.  Excelsior is a type wood shaving that is used in packing, upholstery, and taxidermy among other things.  I chose it because it’s stiffer than straw and will last longer.

I used an existing metal fence covered with chicken wire to provide the backing for my bed.  The wire fence will also support climbing vegetables.  I lined the fence side and the inside of the wattles with plastic.  In Colorado, conserving moisture is important and I wanted the wattles to last longer by not exposing the inside to the damp soil.

Once the wattles were stacked, 2 x 2 wooden stakes were pounded into the ground on either side.  We predrilled the stakes to hold the rope, but I would suggest either drilling them after they are in place or drilling them at least 4” from the top because the drilled holes made the stakes prone to splitting when pounding them into the ground.  The stakes we used were 24” long and I would use shorter stakes next time because they don’t need to be as tall as mine are.

The wattles are covered with a plastic mesh that breaks down over time in sunlight, so I covered the front of the wattles with burlap to extend their life.  Then ¼” nylon rope was threaded through the rope to secure the wattles.  The entire project took less than two hours for my husband and I, including filling the bed with soil.  The cost of my bed was:

 

  • $57 for 40' of wattles
  • $15 for 18 wooden stakes
  • $11 for plastic sheeting
  • $10 for 100 ft. of rope (I used about 20 ft.)
  • $15 for burlap

 

The total cost added up to about $100 for my 16’ long, 3’ deep, and 18” tall bed. The sides are firm and comfortable to sit on.  I expect them to last two to three years.  I like the flexibility of the wattles and if I find my commitment to the garden wanes, I won’t have the problem of what to do will hundreds of dollars of wood sided beds - the wattles will go directly to the compost pile for recycling.  If I like my garden I can see myself adding more beds and replacing the low cost wattles as needed.