How We Built Our Concrete Block Raised Garden Beds

For the past few years, our garden has been one experiment after another. Our first year we had simple, straight rows. After that we built a large hoop house. We loved that setup, but unfortunately the PVC couldn’t hold up to the heavy rain and wind we got that year. The year after that, our garden was a random hodgepodge of whatever I could throw together. We were bummed about losing our hoop house, and weren’t really sure what to try next – so I raked up some crooked rows and stacked a few concrete blocks into small beds.

We eventually decided we wanted to make some raised beds.

Benefits of Raised Garden Beds

For us, building raised garden beds had many benefits. For one, they just look so much cleaner! They also make it easier to keep weeds under control, and protect our plants from pests. Here is a list with a few more benefits that we liked:

  • They look nice
  • Easier to keep weeds under control
  • Easier to protect plants from animals and other pests
  • Easier to keep the soil loose so plants can grow freely
  • They help keep the soil temperature warmer

Choosing The Material For Our Beds

We considered several materials for our raised beds during our planning. The standard seems to be wood. Our problem with wood is that is wears down over time, and you eventually have to replace it. I even considered using logs from our property to frame our beds because they’re free, but eventually we’d have to do all the work again to replace them.

We considered metal beds next, but we weren’t interested in spending a couple hundred dollars per bed. Especially since we wanted to build 5-6 very large beds!

Benefits of Using Concrete Blocks

After some more research, we settled on concrete blocks. Using concrete block raised beds is less common, but there were several benefits that sold us on them:

  • Concrete blocks are cheap. We ended up ordering two pallets from Home Depot (paid link), and for around $400, we were able to build 5 very large raised beds.
  • Concrete blocks will last longer than we will. We won’t have to replace them in our lifetime unless we want to.
  • We can build them higher over time. Right now our beds are only one block tall, but we plan on building them up to two blocks tall over time so we don’t have to bend over so far (especially as we get older).
  • Possibly my favorite benefit is that I can utilize the holes in the concrete blocks. I can use them to plant smaller things like garlic, spring onions, radishes, carrots, and lettuce. A couple years ago I even had a random potato plant pop up in one of the holes, and it produced very healthy square-shaped potatoes!
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Planting some garlic in the holes of our concrete block raised beds

Building Our Concrete Block Raised Beds

Step 1: Prepwork

Once we figured out exactly what we wanted, we had a few things we needed to do to get ready. We still had remnants of our old hoop house in the ground, so Ryan borrowed an excavator from his cousin and got to work ripping out old posts and leveling out the ground.

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Step 2: Digging the Trench for the Irrigation System

Once he had the ground nice and flat, he used the excavator to dig a trench so he could put in an irrigation system. Then he measured and marked exactly where he wanted to put the beds, and got to work laying pipes. He ended up using some 1 inch PVC that we had lying around, and buying some joints that he needed to put it all together. We had to return the excavator before we finished the irrigation, so we recruited our son Kender to help backfill. He’s such a hard worker, and he loves helping out!

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Step 3: Laying out the Blocks

Once the irrigation system was in place, we could start laying the blocks for all the beds. We wanted our raised beds to be 4 feet wide, and far enough apart to fit the wheel barrow and lawn mower between them. We used a piece of wood and PVC cut to length to help us measure as we laid the blocks so we could keep them straight. This was a lot harder that we expected! We had to go through several times and straighten things up after we finished laying a bed.

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4ft 2×4 for measuring the inside of the garden beds

3ft PVC pipe for measuring between the beds

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Step 4: Filling The Beds

Before filling the beds, Ryan went through and loosened up the hard ground with a broad fork. After that, he filled our beds with a few different layers of materials: First was wood chips, then rabbit compost, then plain ole’ dirt, and then he topped it off with the nice rich remnants of a decomposing stump. Once he finished filling them, he planted some clover between the beds. Clover is an awesome groundcover - it creates and adds nitrogen to the soil, and it also attracts pollinators to our garden. It looks beautiful, and when we mow it down we can use the clippings as mulch.

Weed Control

When I first started planting in these beds, I laid down a lot of cardboard to help with weed control. It helped, but it was also very tedious work. After having used these beds for a season, we've decided that the best weed control is just a nice, thick layer of mulch. Last year we used wood chips. The beds that had a layer of wood chips on top were far lower maintenance than the ones we left uncovered! We get our woodchips from ChipDrop. It usually takes about 6 months for me to get a drop after I submit my request, so I always put in my request long before we run out. That way the wood chips have time to sit and decompose a bit before we use them.

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Laying cardboard between our peas to help with the weeds.

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Used wood chips between the bush beans, and had far fewer issues with weeds that way!

Watering System For Our Raised Beds

You have several options for keeping your raised beds watered. Our original plan was to use a drip irrigation system, but we have terrible water pressure so that didn't work for us. Instead, we purchased a couple of sprinklers that are designed specifically for low water pressure (paid link), and hooked them up to the pipes that Ryan laid to our main water line with some short water hoses (paid link). This system worked out really well for us!

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Results: How did our plants respond?

Our concrete block garden was AMAZING last year! I planted some of my extra starts in the open holes with some rabbit manure, just to see how they'd do. I planted zucchini, peppers, and tomatoes, and all of them thrived! I couldn't believe it! The blocks help keep the roots of each plant separate so they aren't competing for nutrients. I thought the small space would be an issue, but I guess since they have plenty of room to grow downward, they just grow deeper roots.

Our plants in the main bed areas thrived as well. This was definitely the most beautiful garden we've ever had, and I can't wait to start planting for 2023!

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