This post was updated in March 2023
Want to know how I’m growing 47 summer vegetable plants in 8 sq.m.? Here’s how!
Most people think that there are two options for growing vegetables at home: in containers or in the ground.
But there is a third option that is MUCH better than both of the above: raised beds. Raised beds combine the advantages of both containers and ground planting and avoid the pitfalls.
What is a raised bed?
A raised bed is a frame set down on the ground, then filled with a growing medium, in which the seeds and seedlings are planted. There should be at least 15 cm of soil above ground to grow summer vegetables – like tomatoes and zucchinis. (Root vegetables, like carrots and sweet potatoes, need more soil.)
The point of the raised bed is that the plants are not growing primarily in whatever local soil you have in your yard. If you’re growing on your balcony or patio, then you may not have a dirt surface, but a raised bed can still work if you take care of drainage.
How to Build a Raised Bed in Israel – Three Ways
In Israel, there are three main options for building a raised bed:
1. Hire a carpenter to build a custom made raised bed for you. This is easy and gives a nice result but expect to pay over NIS 1,000 shekels per bed.
2. Build it yourself. A raised bed is really not a hard woodworking project and the only power tool you need is a drill – and you will save a lot of money over hiring a carpenter. The real difficulty is getting the lumber. After trying a lot of options, these days we prefer to use a website named Aviv Higia. They are the only lumber retailsers we’ve found that specialize in raised beds for home gardens. Their website makes it very easy to order exactly what you need to build a raised bed in the exact dimensions you want.
I don’t know if you’ve ever walked into an Israeli lumber warehouse, but they are not the most welcoming to Hebrew-challenged amateurs, like you and me. Just getting an accurate price quote can be a real pain – oh and they never include VAT, so it sounds cheaper than it really is. They also usually won’t answer layman’s questions, such as “What kind of screws will go with this?” and “what kind of paint is safe to use on a bed that will be used to grow vegetables?”
If you want to build your own raised bed, I can say from wide experience that Aviv Higia is a such a well-priced user-friendly option with great service and even after-sales support. A complete raised bed kit like you see in the above pic – including the suitable screws AND a matching drill bit – starts at NIS 250 (and yes, that includes VAT). They prepare your lumber to spec and leave it in one of their drop-off locations for you to collect at your convenience.
3. Use Recycled Bookshelves
On several occasions over the years, when I just wanted to start planting vegetables today but had a minimal budget, I salvaged old furniture or building materials to build my raised beds. It works great for a temporary solution, but for some reason I don’t see gardening buffs discussing it so much on blogs.
The downside is that after the first winter rainy season, the bookshelves start to get waterlogged and decrepit. Longer term, you might choose to invest in option #2 above, but if you’re just starting out on a low budget, do not hesitate to try it this vegie growing season.
My first raised vegetable bed was a wooden trundle bed frame I found next to the dumpster outside our Jerusalem apartment. It worked perfectly for a year or two. Since then I have usually used discarded bookshelves. When I first started my urban farm in Ramat Beit Shemesh a few years ago, I picked up three to build my vegetable beds when everyone was purging their garbage pre-Pesach. (When I say that “I” picked them up, I really mean that I roped my husband into do most of the grunt work of shlepping them back to our place. Thanks Shmuel!)
I have also built small raised beds built out of roof tiles, a bedside table, and an old cement sack.
I have created 8 sq.m. of raised beds. That’s enough for 47 summer vegetable plants: 6 tomatoes, 6 peppers, 1 eggplant, 2 zucchinis, 4 cucumbers, 2 melons, 2 watermelons, 10 garlic, 4 potato, 4 ground cherries, 2 sweet potatoes, 3 green beans and a bunch of Jerusalem artichokes.
All that in 8 sq. m. !
How’s that for a tiny farm with big dreams?
Filling up Your Raised Bed with Soil
All raised beds, whether paid or free, need to be filled up with good quality organic soil and that costs money. It will take about 150-200 L of soil to fill a 2m.sq. bed. You have to get that from the nursery and shelp it home (if you have a husband around who is willing to lend his upper body strength to the project, this helps – Thanks Shmuel!)
Expect to pay 30-50 shekels per 80L of good quality organic growing growing mix (תערובות גידול). I really encourage you to go for organic. Many soil mixes contain slow release chemical fertilizer pellets (in Hebrew called “Osmacot”).
For my raised beds, I slashed soil cost in half by pouring in wood chips, leaf mulch, straw and manure on the ground level, and the soil on top. I got all that organic matter for free from a local sheep farmer, the KKL-JNF forestry dept. and the municipality’s park cleanup workers.
The soil is a one-time cost. You don’t need to buy it again next year. But you will need to buy a bit of compost or other fertilizer, if you’re not making it yourself.
Important note: before you start pouring in the soil, it’s recommended to place a thick layer of cardboard or newspapers over the ground. This will hamper weeds and grass from growing up into your beds.
Still need convincing that raised beds are the way to go?
5 Reasons to Grow Vegetables in Raised Beds
- You have instant ideal soil: Whatever soil you current have in the yard is probably not ideal for growing annual vegetables. There are so many problems that it might have: too much clay, too much sand, not enough organic matter, residual chemicals, too much competition from tree roots, too compacted, too alkaline. To solve these problems will take a ton of money, time and physical labor. Skip a lot of trouble by building a raised bed filled with a good mix of soil suitable for growing vegetables.
- Easier care: Usually you will have a lot less weeding to do in a raised bed and all ongoing care is easier when it’s off the ground – simply because it’s less far to bend down.
- Better tolerance for hot summers dry spells: Vegetables plants in containers are extremely vulnerable to dryness and heat. In the height of the Israeli summer, you may have to water 2-3 times a day. Plants in the ground are less vulnerable because the huge soil mass holds moisture better – and the same goes for plants in raised beds. A single daily watering should suffice.
- More Plants in Less Space: Due to the richness of the soil and its light, airy texture, you can plant seedlings closer together than is recommended in traditional row gardens.
- Better vegetable yields: Gardeners all over the world report that they get higher yields when they switch to raised beds. That means juicier and more plentiful vegetables to reward you! Of course, there are no guarantees and every garden has its challenges and flops. But raised bed really improve your chances, due to points 1-4.
So are you ready to build your raised bed and start growing summer vegies?
I can’t wait to hear how it goes!
My name is Naomi and this is my tiny little farm in the heart of the rapidly growing city of Beit Shemesh, Israel. I enjoy growing, making and processing as much of my family's food and household essentials as possible, while nurturing a biodiverse ecosystem filled with beauty and life.