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If you are elderly or a disability makes bending and stretching difficult, raising your garden beds can make growing fruit, vegetables and flowers a whole lot easier.
In this article we will look at materials, measurements and constructing your own raised beds.
Using safe materials and getting the height and width right are important and I will explain how to calculate the dimensions for safe and easy to use raised garden beds.
Constructing raised beds can be reasonably cheap, without sacrificing safety and practicality.
They can be made from almost anything that will hold soil and won't rot. Railway sleepers, used tyres, old wooden planks even old plastic buckets and straw bales
The height of a raised bed will be determined by what’s best for you. Think about the position you will garden from, standing, kneeling or sitting next to, or on the edge of the bed. Check that the measurements work for you before building or having the raised bed built for you.
How to work out the best height, best length and best width for you.
Working out the ideal Height: Stand, kneel or sit if working from a seated position or using a wheelchair, hold a trowel in the hand you work with and reach out with your arm slightly lower than your shoulder. Measure the most comfortable position from the lowest point of the trowel to the ground and that's the best height for your raised bed.
If working from a wheelchair or wheeled garden seat the height of you raised garden bed is calculated when seated in the wheelchair with the chair in a side on position.
The recommended width of a raised bed, which you can access from both sides, can be up to 1,000mm wide. At this width you should be able to reach all areas of the bed with ease.
If you are only going to access the bed from one side, the maximum width is around 500mm.
Working out the ideal width: hold the trowel and without stretching, reach across the imaginary raised bed and work the trowel as if planting or weeding, that's the best width for your raised bed.
If working from a wheelchair or wheeled garden seat the width is measured when seated in the wheelchair with the chair in a side on position.
The length: the length of your raised garden bed can be as long as you can safely make it and navigate. A sleeper bed formed with the sleepers laid flat, forms a useful seat to sit and work from and to take a rest. The length of the bed will then be determined by the space you have available and how big you want the bed to be.
Raised beds can be made from just about any material that will hold soil. some of the cheapest materials are in fact, the best.
You may prefer D.I.Y. using self assembly raised garden beds, they usually come complete with stakes and screws and instructions on how to assemble the kit. I have featured a couple here.
Building raised garden beds
Whatever material you choose to construct your raised garden bed the completed bed should be comfortable and practical to work on when gardening.
The beds must be safe to use, If you are building it yourself, using concrete or stone, or the height is over 2ft, consider these points.
How to construct a bed using boards.
Use 25mm x 150mm pressure treated softwood board, cut to the lengths required.
Place 1,000mm x 50mm x 50mm stakes at corners and at every 1m length.
Drive the stakes into the ground, to leave 450mm above ground. Check the stakes are straight and all in the ground to the same height.
Set the lowest boards 50mm below ground level and fix the boards to the stakes with galvanised nails or screws. Butt the next row of boards up to the first and screw or nail on. Repeat until all the boards are fitted.
How to construct a raised bed using sleepers.
A bed made from railway sleepers is strong, long lasting and looks natural.
Sleepers come in a standard size of 250mm × 200mm × 2,400mm and work best laid horizontally. They can be layed on their edge or flat forming seating.
Sleeper are very heavy to handle and fixing requires a certain level of skill, strength and drilling. If you are using reclaimed railway sleepers the tar can be toxic to some plants and can stain clothes and hands. A better option is to use new oak sleepers. Most timber merchants stock them.
• Mark out your bed area.
• Cut the sleepers to length and cut the ends to overlap at corners.
• Sink the bottom sleepers into the ground to half their depth.
• Drill holes in the sleepers at 1m centers, 25mm wide by 75mm deep.
• Tap 150mm long dowels into the holes. • Fix the next layer of sleepers by locking dowels into matching holes.
Drill and fix the next layer of sleepers.
• At the corners and 1m intervals drive 1,000mm × 75mm × 75mm stakes into the ground inside your bed, burying half their
• Attach each sleeper to the support stakes using 200mm coach bolts.
• Finish by Laying hardcore or 20mm gravel for drainage and then fill with soil.
How much top soil will I need to fill a raised bed?
What soil is best for raised beds.
Improving and keeping raised bed soil in top condition.
When you hoe, rake or fork the soil over add some grit sand and home made garden compost until the texture is how you want it. You might want to consider no dig gardening I have explained how to start here gardening without digging
You won't need to lay weed suppressant fabric, weeds will struggle to grow though a foot of soil. Most weeds are airborne, so will grow on top of the weed suppressant fabric anyway.
If you have a bad back or a disability that stops you bending or getting down low or garden from a wheelchair, building wheelchair accessible raised garden beds, makes it a lot easier to keep on gardening.
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I design and build accessible gardens, incorporating raised garden beds, for elderly gardeners and people who find bending or stretching difficult. Tips and contact details can be found hear Garden design for elderly.