The spot had never been gardened before and was covered in weedy grass. My hard-working husband tilled and raked and tilled and raked until the area was clear. We tried to work the soil a bit, but it became clear rather quickly that it would take a good deal of effort to make the soil (heavy clay) even moderately decent.
If we wanted to garden any time soon, we would need another option. We tossed around a few ideas and finally decided our best bet was to build raised beds and fill them with healthy dirt.
Why Concrete Blocks?
We’ve done raised beds with wooden frames before (and they worked just fine), but wood can age out, and we were looking to build something that would last a very long while.
So we chose concrete blocks. They can break if they’re dropped hard or bumped into with heavy equipment, but all things considered, they’re very sturdy and most of them will probably outlast us. 🙂
Because they’re roughly 8″x8″x16″ blocks, they can be moved around to create beds wherever and however you wish (no special tools needed). It’s certainly hard work. The blocks are a bit heavy, and you have to move the dirt as well, but the blocks make it possible to create or recreate the garden you want.
If you live in an area where you get serious freezes during the winter, you will likely experience some frost heave. (The soil pushes up during freezing conditions.) What that means practically is that you will have to adjust a few bricks come spring. Grab a hand shovel, roll the out-of-line brick over, and add or remove soil to get it back in place.
No More Sore Knees
Another plus is that concrete block beds can be built to a greater height for easier gardening. We are in our 60s, and we want to garden for the rest of our lives. Having a taller edge we can sit on is a plus.
Right now our garden beds are one block high, but in the future, we plan to add another level or two with top pavers to sit on as we work the beds.
We also found out the first spring that the concrete blocks act as a heat sink and our garden area thawed out much more quickly. Once the sun hit the blocks, the snow melted in a hurry. That’s a real plus in Washington state where we have such a short growing season. Each year we are able to do garden prep fairly early and then dance with the weather for planting time.
Melt that snow!
Healthy Soil, Better Drainage
I mentioned the original clay soil. Having a raised bed meant we could choose the quality of our soil and the height of the bed meant the soil would drain well and not get waterlogged.
(I’m a Neatnik)
I love that the concrete blocks give me a clean edge to weed whack around. I don’t have to keep fighting to keep my garden in and the weeds out. (My sweetie bought me a lightweight weed wacker that runs on a battery. I’m in neatnik heaven.)
We wanted beds where we could easily reach the middle to weed and care for the garden plants. Ours are mostly 32″ across as an inside measurement. That’s an easy reach from either side.
We also wanted as much garden area as possible. I was spending time on Pinterest looking for ideas and came across several variations of the “U” or “W” garden. For the same number of blocks, you can have a bit more gardening space.
Turn 4 for more!
You do have to walk around the bed instead of having easy access from all sides. We positioned the long edge of the bed a couple of feet away from our garden fence line, so we can work the back if we need to, but most of the working side is easy to get to.
The setup for concrete block raised beds is similar to any other kind of raised beds. Just clear the surface of the soil and make it relatively level.
We figured out our design on paper and then ran string around corner stakes to get a feel for the placement. The blocks are fairly heavy, so it helps to only have to move them once and then wiggle them around to get them to line up against the string.
This was our garden bed when we were arranging and leveling the blocks.
In the picture, they’re all pretty even along the outside edge, but they need more leveling along the top. We ran an additional string where the top edge should be and worked with the soil to get them level across the top. I’ll be honest, it does take quite a bit of finagling to get everything in place.
When you’re happy with the shape of your block frame, fill it with soil, and you are good to go. You can cover the ground with cardboard or weed block fabric before you put in the dirt as an additional weed barrier. Also, consider working some compost in with the soil. If you are raising rabbits, add in rabbit poo. It’s one of the best fertilizers around.
Our future plans include building an irrigation system into our beds. I’d love to be able to go outside and turn a dial to water the garden. 🙂
SETTING SANE HOMESTEAD GOALS
‘Cause we want to do it all!