How to Build a Concrete Block Raised Bed Garden

In the spirit of environmental education I encourage you check out the program at commonground University.  They have classes on a variety of cool topics.  Check ‘em out!

Now on to today’s environmental post…

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So you have lousy soil or limited space, but you still want to garden? Got cinder blocks? Build a raised bed garden!

The advantages to raised bed gardening are many:

 

  • easier to weed
  • no tilling required (no soil compaction from stepping on the soil)
  • easier to work (no bending over)
  • build your own soil
  • warms earlier in the spring and stays warmer in the fall

 

 

The disadvantages are that they require extra labor and cost to construct, and they tend to require more watering. People build their raised bed gardens in a variety of ways. The super rich posh people may use red cedar or stone. Some use pressure treated lumber while others refuse. It’s largely a personal choice. The lowest cost option to build raised beds is actually free, you just pile the dirt into mounds. For flower gardens you can use railroad ties (if you like chemical shit leaching into the soil). Ranger Man uses concrete blocks.

Why concrete block raised bed gardening?

 

  • Blocks are surprisingly easy to salvage from random places: vacant lots, behind barns, and wherever else.
  • They provide a nice, wide platform that you can sit on to plant, weed and water.
  • No drilling or screwing required, just drop into place.
  • Easily adaptable to form hoop houses, screen plants, etc.
  • I think they look kinda cool.

 

 

I began construction of the first bed late last summer so it’d be ready for spring action. Take a gander:

construction.JPG

What may not be apparent in the photo is that I actually dug out dirt for the first row of concrete blocks so they’d sit in the ground. I thought this would help stabilize the bed. If I was making this bed over again I wouldn’t do that. I’m not sure it was necessary, it took more time, effort, and concrete blocks. You could also build it just one block high if you’re looking for something closer to the ground.

In the background you’ll see 4 piles of dirt. The one on the far left is aged horse shit. In the center at the far back is screened loam. The smaller, darker pile to the right of that is home made compost sweetness. And the pile in at the right, with the shovel sticking out of it, is the total CRAP I dug out.

To make soil of the Gods I mixed the aged horse manure, screened loam and compost together in the wheelbarrow (1/3 of each). Check the action:

dirt.JPG

You’ll see I had to fence the thing, because it’d be at perfect munching height for the damn deer. Know that you don’t have to cap the walls with additional blocks if you don’t want to. I just like the look (and I had some on hand). They also provide convenient sitting. I also find myself walking on it for various tasks. Some people fill the holes with soil and plant strawberries (or whatever) there. I’ve read people have mixed success with this. Call me lazy, but I prefer seating.

Here are some additional ideas you may want to consider if you’re building a concrete block raised bed:

 

  • Concrete blocks may wick some of your water. You can line the inside walls with plastic if you want to prevent this. Hold the plastic down by the resting the top under the flat, seating capstones. Cut the plastic off at the wall’s base. Never run plastic under the bottom of the bed. You need the drainage.
  • For super duper stability, you can drive rebar inside the block holes and back fill it with gravel. That was my original intent, but then the “can you say ‘overkill’” voice was ringing in my head. Besides, if blocks do move, they’re easily re-aligned. Because the soil doesn’t compact, it’s simple to shovel dirt away from the wall and fix any blocks. The soil stays fluffy.
  • If you want to get raging cool, you can insert pieces of PVC tubing into the block holes every several feet then backfill around it with sand. I did this. Then you can buy pex tubing at your local Lowe’s or Home Cheapo and bend it across the bed and into PVC tubes on each side. Then run a PVC pipe with a small diameter lengthwise down the center of the bed, attached to the pex, for stability. This will create the frame for a mini-hoop house. You can cover it with plastic in the Spring and Fall, and substitute netting when the bugs are flying. It’s raging sexy. I had actually taken a picture the set up in action, but now I can’t find it.

 

 

Here are a few pics taken about 3 weeks ago:

 

side-view.JPG

C’mon, frontal view!

 

raised-bed.JPG


Food – it’s what’s for dinner. Pictured in that action is some eggplant lovin’, pepper insanity, broccoli action, and yo momma. Already harvested from the raised bed was radishes, carrots, 2 types of lettuce, spinach, and yo momma. The plants are all much bigger now. I planted the broccoli too close together. They’re freakin’ huge. Inside the bed you’ll see strips of scrap lumber I zipped off to measure square feet. Oh yes, I coupled the raised bed with the Square Foot Gardening technique of the garden ninjas. It’s a technique that’s similar to the long used “French intensive” approach.

- Ranger Man

34 comments… add one

  • Riverwalker July 7, 2008, 1:02 am

    Nice set-up. You can also use SBC (surface bonding cement) on the concrete tiles to help hold them together.

    RW

    Reply
    • Steve from AR April 30, 2011, 5:21 am

      I tried using the surface bonding cement on a foundation wall at the back of my house. Works great!

      Reply
  • Steph July 19, 2008, 11:54 pm

    Yours are much neater than ours. LOL! We also planted in the blocks. Our soil mix was 1 part compost, 1 part sand, 1 part peat moss.

    I grew more out of the 2 concrete block beds than I have in my 40X80 ft. regular dirt gardens. You can also plant much closer in the concrete beds, and they warm up faster in the spring. Have fun!

    Just found your site today. Have enjoyed reading your posts.

    Steph

    Reply
  • Rowena Philbeck July 23, 2008, 2:07 pm

    Love your info on raised bed gardens. I am in the process of collecting my cinder blocks so I can start one. I moved into town and really miss my garden. Thanks for the tips. Rowena

    Reply
  • Tom Searcy July 25, 2008, 9:50 pm

    Thanks for taking the time to explain and demonstrate this gardening idea. It answered some questions for me without the cost and time of my own experimentation.

    Reply
  • Tony in Delaware August 15, 2008, 8:39 pm

    Thanks for the great information! I am off to Lowe’s tomorrow.

    Reply
  • Ranger Man August 17, 2008, 6:34 pm

    Kevin, no known contaminants in the concrete. I talked with staff at MOFGA (www.mofga.org) before constructing, because I had similar questions.

    If it’s on top of concrete, though – how are you going to resolve the drainage issue?

    Reply
    • MrBigW March 3, 2011, 4:07 pm

      If you cut a hole in the bottom layer of blocks, you can insert a pvc pipe with a twist on/off into this hole.. Lay the pipe flush with the ground and use the on/off to control the water flow.

      Reply
  • Kevin Chavis August 17, 2008, 5:46 pm

    We are considering gardening on top of some concrete in our neighborhood. Are there any issues with regards to heavy metals or other contaminants in the concrete? Food security is important, but long-term health costs are also necessary to consider. Thanks!

    Reply
  • Crawdad September 1, 2008, 12:08 pm

    Nice– Thanks for the hoop house idea

    Reply
  • jack palmerston August 1, 2010, 7:17 pm

    The deer problem interested me. I’m going to use this info for my bug out location in the woods. Thanks! ~ jack at rainbarrel.ca

    Reply
  • sanityjones November 14, 2010, 9:24 pm

    I too have a deer problem and have resorted to raised beds in an effort to eliminate the nuisance. Do what I finally did and make some hinged lids framed out of 2×6 with chicken wire stretched tight over the top. No more damned deer, or squirrels, or birds, or ……………………

    Reply
  • Chefbear58 December 12, 2010, 10:54 pm

    GREAT IDEA! One thing to add, I am planning on constructing a raised garden (with some help!) this spring. I worked as a landscaper for 4 years when I was younger and learned a bit about sprinkler systems. For my garden I am planning on running some 1/2″ pvc, with holes drilled every 6″, smaller diameter working to larger diameter towards the back of the garden, about 6″ under the surface of the soil. I am planning on making an improvised rain catch to water it with (primarily). The lattice of pvc under the soil, I think, would make watering a little easier and could possibly “stretch” limited supplies if need be.

    As far as having trouble with deer, my grandparents live in MD and have had trouble with deer for as long as I can remember. My grandfather says that a ping-pong ball filled with coyote or fox urine strung in trees around the garden will keep them at bay. Also, they have always had bees (they have operated a “bee farm” since before I came along), just my observation, the deer never seem to go for the veg growing within 100′ of the bee hives. I don’t know if anyone is interested in keeping a few hives but the products (i.e. wax, royal jelly, honey, ect.) may make good trade items after TSHTF.

    Reply
  • Mark SFC January 6, 2011, 7:19 pm

    We use old newspaper for weed control, etc. Helps hold moisture in during hot times and makes excellent cover for soil. At end of season we shred it up and mix into soil for compost. Great for flower beds if into that, cover with mulch for better control, etc. Excellent idea and layout. We also use rain water collected as water supply, small 12volt rv pump to push to plants by hose.

    Reply
  • Teresa January 12, 2011, 5:07 pm

    That looks fantastic!
    If possible, could you give me the measurements of the growing space and also how many blocks you used?

    I am hoping to make 6-8 of them !

    Reply
    • Ranger Man January 12, 2011, 6:53 pm

      I think the blocks are 16″ long and you can roughly count out how many I have there. For the width, I didn’t want to exceed 4′ across for ease of weeding. Also, don’t make them as high as I did in this instance. It’s overkill and you don’t need the soil that deep. Now I bury the first row of blocks and have the 2nd row sitting above the soil with the flat blocks across the top. That’s plenty high and it’s easier to maintain appropriate water levels.

      Reply
  • Alexandra January 21, 2011, 2:56 pm

    Dear RangerMan,
    Thanks so much for the details of cinder block building – I have a question about gophers…do you put aviary wire on the bottom of the bed before the fill soil to keep gophers at bay or is it a concern.
    Alex

    Reply
    • Ranger Man January 21, 2011, 5:38 pm

      That crossed my mind, but I decided not to. The bed has a layer of blocks below grade, so that offers a little burrowing protection. I had a 6′ fence surrounding the beds to keep deer out.

      Reply
  • becky February 16, 2011, 8:06 am

    I have tried a poor man’s verion of this with scrap lumber. And for the bottom of the bed I put that fabric down that you use to keep weed out of your flower bed . It did a good job of draining and keeping out the black berries.

    Reply
  • dorebar March 9, 2011, 9:42 am

    Inspirational. Thanks. Good for my daydreaming. Still stuck in a TX suburb with barely enough dirt to pee on without being noticed.

    Reply
    • Dan June 2, 2011, 1:49 pm

      Pick up a couple of Earth Boxes for your suburban gardening needs. They work well, good yields, and super easy.

      Reply
  • Andy April 10, 2011, 3:33 pm

    An easy, affordable, natural and tasty way to repel deer is to plant rosemary in your garden.

    Reply
    • kathy tingler May 9, 2011, 9:04 am

      I didn’t know about the rosemarry . I have some I wonder if I plant it n the block holes would it b ok all winter long ? I could do that with the sage and such as well .

      Reply
  • kathy tingler May 9, 2011, 9:01 am

    I just scavaged 18 blocks from my neighborhood last night . Maybe I need 2 grab a few more & make my garden longer . I dug up the dirt nside the the blocks & I have a little bit of planting soil , but not a lot od $ . I am only going 1 bock high , but I think that will work 4 me . Thanlks 4 the info !

    Reply
  • Scott Taylor May 29, 2011, 12:26 am

    I’m in the process of building a bed using concrete blocks. The dimensions will be 14ft long by 3.75ft wide. Initially I was planning on using concrete on the bottom row and mortar in the blocks. I am now wondering if this is necessary.

    Anyone have any thoughts or comments? I understand the costs involved, but otherwise, what are the pro’s and con’s. Thanks,

    Reply
    • Ranger Man May 29, 2011, 7:18 am

      Concrete on the bottom row and mortar in the blocks is definitely not necessary. Try it for a year just dry stacked and you’ll see for yourself. They don’t move much and it’s convenient having them dry stacked in case you ever want to move the bed.

      Reply
  • Gymgirl June 24, 2011, 2:09 pm

    Rangerman,
    How deep do you set your first layer of blocks? and how high does your box end up above grade, with the caps in place?

    Reply
    • Ranger Man June 24, 2011, 6:35 pm

      One block deep, but like I said, not sure I’d bury a layer again. Setting them on firm ground should do the trick.

      Reply
  • Mark July 20, 2011, 3:40 pm

    Great post – I found your site looking for cinder block raised beds. Did you have to use sand under the first layer of black to level? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Ranger Man July 20, 2011, 9:10 pm

      No, I just leveled with shovel and hoe with the dirt that was there. It doesn’t need to be perfect.

      Reply
  • Ron Hood April 29, 2012, 5:50 pm

    Ranger man. Ron Hood here. Just saw your raised concrete block garden. I am thinking about having one like yours only about half the size. What do you think a contractor would charge to complete it?

    Ron Hood
    Owasso, Oklahoma

    Reply
    • Ranger Man April 29, 2012, 7:05 pm

      The blocks are not cemented together, they’re loose fitting, just dry stacked. Don’t hire someone, easy enough to do yourself.

      Reply
  • Brodie Fairley August 26, 2014, 6:07 am

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    Reply
  • Anonymous November 9, 2014, 3:26 pm

    you are just a dream come true.at 89 i’m still gardening and is hard to bend over.so I was thinking of cement blocks and was looking for info .Thank you so much .
    Monique

    Reply

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