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Planning and budgeting for a new raised bed garden

snowy landscape scene

Even though it is snowing again today, I am dreaming of gardening season and I am working on a budget for a new raised bed garden that will be 8’ x 4’ x 12”. I have always grown vegetables in a traditional in-ground garden, which only requires some tools for preparing the soil, soil amendments, and a suitable location (full sun with good soil). However, I want the advantages of a raised bed:

  1. earlier soil warming; 
  2. more focused usage of growing space (through succession planting and square foot gardening techniques);
  3. less body bending to plant, maintain, and harvest; and
  4. getting to plant cole crops sooner (with my in-ground garden, I have to wait until late May for the ground to be unfrozen and dry enough to run the the tractor tiller).
Raised bed made from grapevines and a plastic liner.

A lot of inspiration can be found on the internet for building materials, but think about materials that you may already have on hand or something you can find freely or cheaply. More information on raised beds can be found on the University of Maryland Extension website. 

Some things to keep in mind:

  1. Natural materials (stones, logs, untreated lumber, cement blocks, sawmill slabs, bricks, etc.) are safe, affordable, and often can be scavenged/repurposed if you aren’t afraid to ask or do some physical labor. 
  2. What is your skill set? Maybe you can work out a trade with someone who can help you build the raised bed. 
  3. Any time you can buy items in bulk, you will save money.

After doing some research, I plan to purchase new pine lumber from a local box store (easy to find and within my budget). Pine or softwood lumber should last anywhere from 3-5 years. Using commonly available sizes/dimensions, I will be spending approximately $80 (if it lasts 3 years, that’s $27 a year). Cedar boards would cost double the money but they could last closer to 15 years (cedar was out of stock in a lot of locations I checked).

Most stores that sell lumber will cut the lumber for no extra fee. It is sometimes cheaper to buy a longer board and have it cut into smaller pieces for transport. Be sure to plan ahead.

The most expensive part of creating this garden will be the topsoil, since I don’t have any extra in my landscape to use. The soil is an investment and will be a resource that I can use for many years to come to produce nutritious fruits and vegetables.   

I used a free cubic feet calculator to figure out an estimate of how much soil I will have to purchase for my 8’ x 4’ x 12” garden. See the calculations below. 

Soil is expensive and hard to transport and handle. I am prepared to do this step over the course of several days or have some people help me. Bagged topsoil usually isn’t the best quality and can add a lot of expense, but the source can be traced if any issue should arise, and also gives anyone with access to any vehicle type/transportation the ability to create a garden. Bulk topsoil and compost is usually sold by the ton or cubic yard, so the free calculators are helpful for figuring out amounts needed. Soil testing is recommended for raised bed gardens. 

            Soil Type         Price
Bagged Topsoil (43 bags of 0.75 cu foot)$110 
2/3 bagged topsoil, 1/3 bagged compost (45 bags)$145 
Bulk topsoil/compost$65   

The bottom line is that the raised bed could cost up to $225 depending on which option I use for soil. Using bagged soil/compost mixed ($145 + $80 lumber) is going to cost the most $225. If I use the bulk topsoil/compost option and use my own farm truck to haul it, it’s only $145. I’ve also budgeted an additional $40 for a 7ft deer fence and landscape fabric. For my family of 4, I am willing to count this raised bed garden as a worthwhile investment of time and money.

Have you used any interesting materials to create a raised bed garden? Do you have questions about a material that you can use to create a garden this season?  Ask your gardening questions here or share your story in the comments.

By Ashley Bodkins, Senior Agent Associate and Master Gardener Coordinator, Garrett County, Maryland, edited by Christa Carignan, Coordinator, Home & Garden Information Center, University of Maryland Extension. See more posts by Ashley and Christa.

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