How To Build An Above Ground Garden Box

How To Build An Above Ground Garden Box

By Vincent J. Zazueta

A”raised garden bed” is simply soil that has been improved with the addition of generous amounts of organic matter and built up or raised above the ground level.

There are two types of raised garden beds; in-ground and above-ground. An in-ground raised garden bed use the existing soil and is amended in place.

An above-ground raised garden bed/box refer to some type of box filled with soil that was mixed with compost. An above ground garden box can be made from plastic, wood, concrete or straw bales.

Below are basic instructions on how to build a 4 foot by 8 foot above-ground garden box using wood.


· Two pieces of 2×10 Douglas Fir boards, 10 feet long.

· One piece of 2×10 Douglas Fir board, 8 feet long.

· One-pound box of 3-inch decking screws.

· Four wheelbarrow loads of good topsoil

· One wheelbarrow load of aged, barnyard manure, cow, chicken, or goat.

· Four wheelbarrow loads of compost or nine 1.5 cubic foot bags of commercial compost.

Building the Above-Ground Garden Box

First, cut the 8-foot-long board in half; these two pieces 4 foot long will be the two end boards of the above-ground garden box.

Secondly, cut both 10-foot long boards to 8 feet 3 inches. These two pieces will be the two side boards of the above-ground garden box.

Next, working on a level area, place the two 4-foot long end boards in between the two 8 feet 3-inch side boards. Have a friend hold all four boards up. Use a 9/64th drill bit and pre-drill 4 evenly spaced pilot holes in each side board and attach side boards into the end boards using the 3 inch deck screws.

When considering where to place the above-ground garden box, it matters if you are planning on growing a winter or a summer vegetable garden. For a winter vegetable garden, place the above-ground garden box running in a north to south direction and in a location, that will get plenty of sunlight. For a summer vegetable garden, place the above-ground garden box running in an east to west direction and in an area, that gets partial shade.

Mixing the Soil for an Above Ground Garden Box

Once you have your above ground garden box built and placed at your selected site, you are now ready to mix up the topsoil with the aged barnyard manure and compost to ensure a healthy environment for your plants.

One reliable source of topsoil and commercial compost can be purchased at Landscape Rock Supply, 212 E. Evan Hewes Hwy., El Centro. For the topsoil, use both “fill dirt” and silt or what is also known as “carrot ground”. The topsoil you choose should preferably be dark with a good crumb structure. I will write more about soil in a future article.

Next, locate a reliable source of compost. Home-made compost is preferable. However, since most people do not compost at home and the local landfill company, Allied Waste, who also does not compost its green waste or provide free municipal compost to Imperial County residents, one alternative is to purchase commercial compost from the Landscape Rock Supply Company or bags from a big box store.

Mix four wheelbarrow loads of topsoil with four wheelbarrow loads of compost or three loads of compost and one load of aged barnyard manure. After everything is thoroughly dry-mixed and uniform, fill the above ground garden box completely to the top with the soil mix. Since the soil mix was dry-mixed, the soil mix will eventually settle below the top of the above ground box. Your above ground garden box is now ready to plant. Once the seeds and/or transplants are planted, this extra space can then be top-dressed with more compost.

Benefits of Above-Ground Garden Boxes

· Ideal for smaller spaces (versus a conventional row garden).

· Above-ground garden boxes can be built on parking lots and compacted difficult-to-garden soils.

· Access for gardeners with disabilities. Above-ground garden boxes, at the proper height, can improve access for wheelchairs, or other gardeners who have a tough time bending over.

Now that you have the basic instructions on how to build an above-ground box, are you ready to learn how to mix up a batch of your own ideal potting mix and grow your own seedlings. I will be writing about these topics and other garden related articles in the future. Take the time and visit the Harding Elementary School Garden at the corner of Hamilton Ave. and 7th El Centro and the Brawley Boys and Girls Club in Brawley to see their above ground garden boxes.

Vincent J. Zazueta is a Garden Based Community Educator and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Agricultural Systems and Environment from U.C. Davis and a Secondary Science Teaching Credential from San Diego State University. He learned the love of gardening from his Grandma Josefa. He lives in El Centro and can be reached at

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