Raised beds are expensive to buy! If you have the time, and the necessary tools then it’s relatively easy to make your own. Here is the result of some of my research for my latest raised-bed project.
Part 1: Materials
There are lots of materials you can make beds out of. Here are some of the ideas I found:
Scaffolding planks/plain wood
Cost per metre: £1 – £3
This is the most common option. If you can get old scaffolding planks they’re usually cheap. Alternatively, plain untreated wood from the builders merchants will do the same job. Note that untreated wood will rot away after a few seasons – I’ve heard conflicting reports of it lasting anywhere from 1 to 5 years before needing to be replaced. This is the trade-off you choose to avoid preservatives potentially leaching into your soil.
You can buy pressure treated wood which will last a lot longer; again, it contains preservatives which may potentially leach into your soil. I found it very difficult to find reliable information about the likelihood of this but I don’t mind replacing my beds after a few years.
Cost per metre: £8 – £20
If you can purchase railway sleepers which are non-treated, those will be perfect for your raised beds. They are thick, heavyweight items that will likely last for a long time.
However, real reclaimed railway sleepers almost always come coated in Creosote, which is a horrible preservative that is applied to the wood. You will recognise it as a dark, tarry substance. Due to its carcinogenic properties, it is not recommended to be used anywhere where it is likely to come into frequent contact with skin – and this probably includes raised beds! Additionally, I can’t imagine it will help your soil quality, or contribute toward the ‘organicness’ of your produce.
Cost per metre: £10+
This is my favourite option, if we weren’t concerned with price! Recycled plastic will last for a very long time, never rotting. It won’t release any undesirable chemicals into your soil, either. And they look good: some types can look very much like some kind of beautiful hardwood. However, they were out of my price range
Just google “recycled plastic raised beds” to find some of the many companies that make these.
Rubber – tyres
Cost per metre: £free, but labour required!
Recycling old car tyres looks like probably the cheapest way to make very long lasting beds. Best of all, any tyre place will give you as many old tyres as you want. They normally have to pay to dispose of them so they’ll be happy to hand them over!
This option involves a lot of labour, though. You’ll need to cut the tyres up into square sections which you’ll bolt together into “rubber planks”, which you can form a raised bed from.
Another option is to simply lay them out and fill them with soil!
Although they’ll last a long time, and won’t cost you anything, the downside is that they will not look particularly attractive. Just google for ‘raised bed tyre’ to get information and photos.