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Building An Elevated Waist High / No Dig Garden Bed

Tuesday 3rd of August 2010
The beauty of an elevated waist high garden bed is that it's a no dig garden, it's extremely friendly to the aged and disabled by being positioned at optimal height, and in an area which is accessible, not forgetting our young gardeners within the family.
It is always quite disheartening to spend time planting your garden beds, sowing, and then going away on a holiday or work excursion, only to come back come back and find your the beds full of weeds, and straggly little plants valiantly trying to survive. Elevated garden beds  are great for drainage, your back, & stop weeds from growing.

Timers, tubing and sprays or drippers for watering your garden are also very easy to set up with an elevated garden bed. They can be set for 2 minutes up 240 minutes, and can be programmed to come on at increments such as 6, 12, 24, 48 hours, and every 3rd, 4th, 5th, 7th day etc.  These timers can be purchased from most local hardware and gardening supply stores for around $24, and are a godsend.  It means you can go away and know that uour vegetables are being watered consistently and safely.


Elevated gardens need one and a half sides of corrugated iron, some star posts, tie wire, and some angle iron for the corners.  Most can be sourced from the Tip.  Plan your bed/s to be no more than 800mm wide.  This will allow you to plant your seeds from one side.  Any wider and you'll need to go around to the other side to do it. 


The climate change will affect us all, and one way of minimizing our outlays is to grow our own vegetables.  But let’s be serious: unless it is easy, we won’t do it.  Yes, we’ll have plans in the beginning, but stuff happens!

If you know you have to do a lot of bending over, weeding, raking, planting, all the time, and have problems with time/water, or your back, then the whole exercise is going to be put in the ‘too hard basket’. 

To avoid this, plan an ELEVATED GARDEN BED, waist high.  Yes, it will take a weekend to make, but it is for life!  Particularly if you make it using corrugated iron and star poles.  There is no bending over, to either plant or weed.  Picking is a dream.  [Think about getting a worm farm as well and putting the castings on your veggie bed.]

When your ‘coffin’ has been filled, wire small black polypipe around the inside of the garden bed, as close to the earth as possible.  With a sharp implement, punch holes, every 30cm or so, for microsprays.  One end of the black polypipe needs to be bent back and wired, [as a dead end;] the other end needs a hose attachment insert, so that you can go out in the evening and turn on the tap or use timers and set them for 1/2hr per bed.  [Always pick veg in the evening, not in the morning.]

Back to building the elevated bed: To get up to waist high, you will need 1 sheet of corrugated iron + half a sheet, but don’t waste time cutting it with an angle grinder, just overlap it to get the correct height.

You can see from the photos how to do it.

When you get the trailer load of soil, you will need to add vermiculite, blood & bone, manure, a little wood ash and compost to it.

You will also need to add these ingredients each time you intend sowing a new crop. 

Our first one of wood is terrific, but some of the wood is degrading. It is also expensive to make and much more time consuming than the iron.   

Having given you these plans, the very best thing to do is to build 3 more, all the same size.  In this way, you will have a 4 year crop rotation, and one shade cloth ‘house’ that can be moved to a new bed when you plant your brassicas [cauli, cabbage & broccoli – that like being eaten by the white butterfly, usually before you get a chance of eating it!]  The shade cloth is also very good for keeping these plants cool, which will stop them from bolting. 

If any of these terms or instructions are confusing, please feel free to email me with your questions.

With an elevated garden bed, there are no more aching backs, no more weeds – or, if any dare raise their heads, they are quickly nipped in the bud!- and one of the nicest things is to go out to your garden, just before dinner, and say “Now, which vegetables will I cook for dinner tonight!”  Pure magic!



Steps For Building Your Elevated Garden Bed

The following steps will guide you through the essentials of building your own elevated garden. The great thing about these garden beds is that you can construct them using a large proportion re-cycled materials. The way you construct your garden bed can also be a product of your imagination, as you may decide to vary the matierials and items you use, as well as how you decorate them, to add your own personal touch.


If you've constructed your own elevated garden bed, do feel free to send me through a photo and details to share as well. It's always great to see others using their elevated garden beds, and decorated them to suit their own situation!

Step 1

Measure the area available that you can use to construct your elevated garden bed(s). Make sure you leave enough room to adequately move around the outside of your garden beds when calculating the size and placement of your bed(s).


Step 2

a) Source some recycled corrugated iron, cliplock or trimdeck to use for your garden bed(s). 

b) Source builder's rubble, a trailer load would be about right for a bed 400 cm x 80 cm in size. 

c) Source also the best quality 'top soil' you can find.  You'll still need to add to it - more on that later. 


Of the 3 types of iron noted, Cliplock is the strongest. To get your 90cm height however, you will need to double your measurements. Trimdeck and  corrugated iron are 80cm high, and if you wish to go to 90cm, then you'll need to double it as well, otherwise you can simply keep the bed at 80cm in height. 


Step 3

Tools: If you are using corrugated iron, then you will need to use tin snips to cut the corrugated iron ends. An adequate pair of wire cutters capable of cutting the gauge of tie wire you are using is also recommended, although tin snips may also function just as well as wire cutters if you find yourself without wire cutters. A pair of gloves can also be useful when handling the iron to avoid being pricked or cut by any sharp or rusty edges.


Star posts (pickets) will be required to brace your garden bed. The height of the posts should be selected to match your garden bed height, making sure you also factor in ample height to use them for mounting any meshing, as well as ample depth into the soil to provide enough strength for your soil type.


For extra safety, just depending on the position and height of your posts, you may also wish to obtain some plastic end caps for your star posts in order to avoid any accidental bumps or scratchs from the tops of the posts.


A star post driver will be required to safely drive your posts into the ground. Other methods may be used to drive your posts into the ground such as large mallet, though a post driver is by far the safest and easiest method to install your posts, your body will thank you at the end of they day.


If you don't have a post driver, try enquiring at your local building equipment supplier or hardware store about any businesses which may hire this equipment. Quite often you will find a business in most moderate sized urban centres which hire equipment for building, which often incudes the smaller things such as wheel barrows and post drivers, along with the larger powered and neumatic tools we associate with building and construction.


12mm polypipe is recommended to lay around the entire top area, as well as sprays to put into them, and a hose fitting to connect the pipe circuit(s) to your tap / water supply.


Moderate Gauge Tie Wire will be required to tie the iron sheets together, and thinner wire to tie the polypipe [12mm] for the watering system. If you have some experience in the field of construction, then you may also wish to utilise some other forms of brackets or braces to use in place of wire, should you be more comfortable joining your iron and attaching piping this way.


Angle iron is strongly recommended for the 4 end edges if you wish to create a firm structure for your garden bed, though it is not essential.


Step 4

Drive your posts into the ground along the edge lines of your garden bed area you have measured out. Keep in mind that posts are going to be best placed at the joins of your iron as well, and that your posts should also be placed in position well enough that they can hold the weight of the garden bed with only three sides attached (for Step 5).


Put cliplock or equivalent on the inside of the posts and tie you sheets to the posts. If using corrugated iron and you wish to achieve a height of 90cm for your garden bed, then tie the top sheets on first at the correct height.


You can aid yourself in the placement of sheets by measuring the correct high from the ground for each post and then running at string around from post to post tied off at the height you have marked on each post. This will provide you with a quick means of visually confirming your sheets are at the correct height when attached them, without needing to try and juffle a measuring tape.


Step 5

Once you have firmly attached three sides (the two longest lengths and one shorter end) to your garden bed, use the remaining open end to add some builder's rubble into the bottom of the new bed. Other material such as old phone books, old bricks, concrete, etc can also be used. 


Fill the bed with your rubble or material of choice until you have reached about 3/4 of the height of your bed. Be careful that you don't over fill your bed though, so you won't be able to attach your remaing fourth side.


Step 6

Wire on the last end to your garden bed and heave the remaining rubble over the edges to fill up the remaining space next to the end of the garden bed you have just attached.


Step 7 

For the remaining height of your garden bed (generally 30cm) use your 'top soil' to fill over the rubble or material that you just placed into the garden bed

A whole garden bed of 400cm x 80cm normally takes one person about two days to complete. 


You may wish to paint your garden bed as well, to help it blend in with your yard or alternatively to make it stand out artistically or for the kids, though this is not essential.


You can also buy oval elevated garden beds or flat packed ones, though these are generally much more expensive for anything that will be decent, and do not have the benefits to our environment through the recycling of materials.

Video Tour

The follow video provides a short walk through of an example elevated garden bed, complete with painted sides, hung wire meshing for dividing and supporting climbing plants, polypipe water sprays, and wooden corner posts to help protect it from accidental collions by vehicles and to add an earthy feel.

Example Of A Simple Elevated Garden Bed In An Urban Area

Measuring and confirming the desired height of the garden bed
Measuring and confirming the desired height of the garden bed
Edge marked out and next star post together with post driver ready to be driven in
Edge marked out and next star post together with post driver ready to be driven in
Drilling additional holes into sheet iron to firmly attach to star posts
Drilling additional holes into sheet iron to firmly attach to star posts
Double lengths of iron hung together on posts to reach desired height
Double lengths of iron hung together on posts to reach desired height

Three sides now attached ready to commence placing fill into bed
Three sides now attached ready to commence placing fill into bed
Rubble and fill placed into bed ready to attach final fourth side
Rubble and fill placed into bed ready to attach final fourth side
Garden bed with all four sides attached and top soil filled
Garden bed with all four sides attached and top soil filled
Rows of seeds marked out in new garden bed
Rows of seeds marked out in new garden bed

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