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.
Check out Aviv Higia’s Custimozed Raised Bed Options
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.
I am so excited!
Hi Bloomah – I have been growing vegetables in the raised garden for many years. I appreciate all advantages that you specified. I would like to add one – because you never walk in them, you never compress the soil so it can remain light.
I actually use styrofoam boxes on tables. The boxes are a meter high. This means that I don’t have to bend over to do my work, animals can’t get up that high, and everything is more visible to me.
The boxes are made for gardening. I purchased them at the Styrofoam factory on keyboards Miishmar Ha Negev.
This is such a valuable comment, Charlie. Thanks for sharing.
I love the idea of meter-high raised beds. My concern is the tremendous amount of soil that would be need to fill them up. It would add a lot to the costs, no?
I guess you could fill them three-quarters with wood chips/straw and just put 20cm of soil on top.
It’s a great option for people with physical limitations.
(BTW what is keyboards?)
Great article on raised beds , is the same article in Hebrew , if so like a cpoy
You’re right! this needs to be in Hebrew. But I’m not going to get to translating it for now. You can try Google Translate.
Great article. I really enjoy your ideas. The only question I have with using discarded bookcases and the like would be is the wood not pre-treated and thus wont some of the wood paint/chemicals leak into your soil?
Good question. The bookcases are laminated on the inside. the paint is only on the outside. Obviously I’m not guaranteeing against any contamination. It depends on what bookcases you pick up!
We’ll be making aliyah this fall to Ramat bet Shemesh and I just discovered your blog! Honestly curious though- is it impossible to grow anything directly in the soil of the ground? Seems like a waste to have so much of it all over and be able to do nothing with it.
It’s not impossible at all, just much harder. Most urban gardens in Israel have very little soil. They do massive amounts of earth-moving when they construct apartment buildings and the soil is removed. It is possible to build it up again over a couple of years, but if you wnt to plant vegetables this season, raised beds are the easiest, fastest way.
1) is truma /meiser relavent?
2) I learned that halachikly vegie plants cannot be mingled ?
1. Yes. Absolutely. Any fruit or vegetable you grow in Israel, you must separate Trumos and Maasros before eating. It’s not hard. We do it a few times a week and it takes 1 minute.
2. Right. According to the Chazon Ish, there must be 15cm between most vegetables. Anyhow we don’t usually plant them closer than that, as they will be too crowded. If you’re growing legumes, the distances are greater. Stay away from legumes in a small space (beans, peanuts, etc)
Disclaimer: I am not a halachic authority.
Thanks so much for these great ideas!
Many years ago I gardened using the French organic raised bed method, similiar to your idea, and yielding excellent results. Thecsoil in which the plants grow is never stepped on and never compressed, allowing the roots and ants to grow to their full possibilities.
I plan again to garden using your methods. Thank you.
What is the reason for the dishes (I think they’re filled with water) placed in each raised bed?
They’re part of my experimental watering system, that I will post about soon.
Would like to know more about raised beds farming.
When buying lumber are they clear what the wood is treated with? As much lumber is treated with chemicals that are not safe to use for planting items which will be eaten.
I also would strongly recommend using Mel’s mix for filling the beds (as outlined in his square foot gardening book)- it includes peet moss, vermiculite, and other things.
Thanks for your comments. You raise some interesting points.
I agree in theory but I severely doubt it’s possible to know for sure that your wood is 100% safe. Everything comes from China and is treated with who-knows-what.
I just take reasonable precautions and pray for the best. The produce in the store is grown in plastic with tons of chemicals – and we eat that. Can my homegrown vegies be much more contaminated?
As for Mel’s Mix, as advocated in the famous book “Square Foot Gardening,” I love that book and one day in in my dreams I will try growing vegetables in Mel’s Mix!
It’s not easy to get peat moss in Israel. It’s not sold in Garden Centers. Large quanitities of vermiculite aren’t easy to get either. They only sell it in small bags here.
Luckily there are other vegie growing gurus and methods more suited to my local conditions.
The No-Till approach seems more realistic. The garden beds are filled with woodchips and leaves and hay – like I recommend in my post. Plus a lot of compost on top, which is pricey but easily accessible in every garden center – or can be made at home.
If you live in Israel, I highly recommend you research No Till gardening.
Thanks for your response. I am recently found out that you can get untreated wood in Israel,. (I do not see growing food in treated food equivalent to the plastic in the stores, when they’re growing with the sun/water/roots – they are pulling nutrients/non-nutrients into the plant and the heat can also impact the release of chemicals from the wood. Paletts especially are usually treated with methyl bromide to impede mold growth. That is def not something you want near your food source. Maybe there’s a good liner to use between the wood and the roots..?
As for Mel’s mix, you can actually get it all here. I found it all relatively inexpensive at an organic nursery in the sharon area. Asking around to places that supply the ‘regular’ plant nurseries usually leads to the coarse vermiculite and peat moss.
That said, over the years my raised bed clearly has escape route as I lose so much of the Mels mix each year – that I have given up this year and am just using plant pots in the raised bed.
Thanks for the No- Till approach, will look into it and maybe, maybe Ill move the pots out and grow some veggies again.
that is good to know about getting the peat moss and untreated wood. I am so glad to hear that you can get it if necessary.
I guess on this blog I try give advice that will be accessible to the average newbie, without a lot of extra effort.
I’m aware that there might be more ideal ways to do things, but if it gets too complicated, then most of us get overwhelmed and don’t even try! (I’m including myself in that!)