Installing Raised Beds for Texas Gardening

It’s been a hot, humid Texas summer out here in the Lost Pines. Temperatures regularly are above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. All of us have been feeling the heat! Well, it seems all of us except Todd. He’s like a machine. He can ignore discomfort and pay no attention to the steady trickle of sweat on his back. Which is a boon for me because in spite of the heat, Todd has been busily prepping the raised beds for our first ever garden here at Humblebee Farms!

Ready, Set, Plant!

When we first looked at this property I was excited to discover the USDA Web Soil Survey showed lots of sandy loam. Especially after the struggle we went through to install a garden in Seattle! Sandy loam, for all you non-farmers/ gardeners out there is the gold standard of optimal soil for growing crops! But the reality is that our soil is hard, compact and if left uncovered, quickly is washed away. Sure there’s sand. Sure there’s clay. But there isn’t any loam to be found except where leaf debri has accumulated undisturbed for a very, very long time.

So while we plan on putting in a much larger garden down the road, we opted for raised beds to get started. Raised beds offer us the option to layer in compost, wood chips and more in order to achieve a fluffy, workable texture that I love to garden in. It also is a back saver – as raised gardens bring gardens up to a more natural height for humans. On the flip side, raised beds can limit your planting and unless very large, they aren’t well suited for your garden behemoths like artichoke, squash and corn. We plan to build “torguga” like mounds for those plants.

But for now, I wanted to share how we prepped – from start to finish – our raised beds. Our approach is a bit on the labor intensive side. But the idea is to do it right at the start so you have less work/ maintenance down the road! For those of you curious, we got our raised beds from Metal Garden Beds based in Dripping Springs, Texas.

Step 1: Set Pavers

To get started, we raked away loose sticks, rocks and other debri. We then leveled the foundation for the beds by position six 12″ by 12″ pavers – one for each corner and one in the middle of the long side where the beds already meet for a support bracket. Using the pavers was easier than trying to perfectly level the ground. After putting the pavers into position, Todd drilled a single hole in the paver with a concrete drill and drove a single plastic spike through to hold the paver in place. You could alternatively use landscape pins around the sides of the paver if you don’t have a concrete drill. However, the pins tend to rust away after a couple of years (by then it probably won’t matter since the beds will be established!).

A single plastic stake holds in place pavers used to level the ground

Step 2: Fill and Level

Then we filled in between the pavers with wood chips. We are so lucky to have an abundance of chipping material! Our first (and only so far) major purchase after selling our Seattle home is a Vermeer 7″ tow-behind chipper. We are already putting it to good use!

Next, we filled in the space between the pavers with large wood chips. Zoe the chorkie supervised the whole process!

Step 3: Add Protection from Pests and Weeds

Last, we layered on silt fabric, followed by hardware cloth to prevent garden pests from digging up and into the raised beds. We have a good deal of gophers and snakes here, so while this is probably a non-essential step, it was still one we decided was worth doing. Todd used his concrete drill and second set of stakes to secure the hardware cloth and silt fabric. You could again use landscape pins instead.

Step 4: Place the Beds

After prepping the base for each bed, we then positioned the metal garden beds on top of the foundation. To hold the bed in place for the next step, we placed spare pavers on the corners.

Step 5: Install Drip Irrigation Main Line

While I forgot to take a picture of this step before we filled in the beds, this step is critical! Todd drilled out a 1″ hole on the sides of each bed to allow for a 1/2″ irrigation line. Starting with the bed on the far right (pictured above) he pushed through the drip line to the inside corner. Then he installed a T with one of the T lines continuing across the bottom of the bed and out the other side.

The other line from the T goes straight up to the top of the bed (we used this later to connect the drip line at the surface – see step 7). This approach allowed him to continue the drip line from bed to bed. In the end one main line goes through each of the beds pictured above. We finished the line at the last bed on the left by leaving about 18″ of drip line sticking out with a cap on it so we could expand later.

Step 6: Fill in the Beds

This step was perhaps the most fun. We first added a thick layer of fine chips – a little over half way full. This foundation of chips will help hold moisture in by acting like a sponge. Over time it will decompose and settle, giving us room to top off the beds with compost. Next we added about 4-6″ of organic store bought garden soil in 1-2″ layers. In between each layer we sandwiched about 1/2″ of compost. finally we topped things off with about 1″ of rough compost that has a good deal of leaves and chips still in it to act as mulch. Over time, the beds will compress down and we plan to continue to fill with composted wood chips, goat droppings, leaves, lawn clippings and whatever else we pile in!

Step 7: Install the Surface Drip Irrigation.

Using that vertical line we installed in step 6, we connected a 90 degree elbow followed by a shut off valve on each bed. From here we can have fun configuring the drip line however makes sense for the plants we are planting. For our first tomato bed we ran a main 1/2″ line down the middle and then plugged in eight 1/4″ lines connected to a 1/2 gallon dripper. This means the tomatoes will get the water right where they need it – at the roots and not on the leaves! Other plants, like lettuce, enjoy a good mist so we’ll probably use a a combination of drippers and misters for them.

Step 8: PLANT!

Now that the beds are all in, we are ready to plant. It’s been a little too warm here to put in delicate starts. But it looks like next week we’ll be able to dive in. For now, it looks like I got some free cucumber starts, thanks to a last minute cuke I added to the compost pile. I’ll take free veggie starts any day!