Growing Vegetables in Israel Using Easy, Free Raised Beds

Want to know how I’m growing 47 summer vegetable plants in 8 sq.m.? Here’s how!

Five Tomatoes, Four Peppers and an eggplant in one bed! They’re still young. They’re gonna get HUGE before the summer’s done.

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.)

This is how a purchased raised bed looks, as seen on Amazon. Sorry, Amazon does not ship them here.

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 – The Hard/Expensive Way or the Easy/Free Way

In Israel, raised beds can be custom made for you by a carpenter or you can make them yourself out of lumber or pallet wood – if you have power tools and enjoy working with them. Both options cost – money, time and labor.

However, I prefer to do it the easy, free way and recycle old furniture or building materials to build my raised beds. I have been doing this for 10+ years in various apartments and it works great, but for some reason I don’t see gardening buffs discussing it so much on blogs and YouTube. They mostly seem to assume you’re going to build a raised bed or purchase one (ideally using their Amazon link 🙂 )!

My first raised vegetable bed was a wooden trundle bed frame I found next to the dumpster outside our Jerusalem apartment. It worked perfectly. Since then I have usually used discarded bookshelves. I spot them next to dumpsters all the time here in Ramat Beit Shemesh. About a month ago, when everyone was purging their garbage pre-Pesach, I picked up three to build my newest vegetable beds. (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 found this bookshelf next to a dumpster a few streets away from my house. I removed the shelves, backing and doors. Now it’s ready for it’s new incarnation as a raised bed!

I found two on the curbside while driving around the neighborhood. I wanted a third so I posted on a neighborhood list that I was looking to take an old damaged bookshelf off someone’s hands. I got plenty of offers!

Right now I have four bookshelf raised beds on my city farm. My three new beds are arranged in a “chet” shape, and the fourth older one is on the opposite end of the yard, next to the chooks. I have already grown two summers worth of fabulous vegetables in it. I feel so blessed to now have four times the growing space!

I also have a few other small raised beds built out of roof tiles, a bedside table, and an old cement sack. There is a a total growing area of about 8 sq.m.

A small raised bed built out of roof tiles. It’s planted with tiny cucumber seedlings that will one day enjoy climbing up the fence.

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

Even though the frames of my scavenged beds were free, filling them up with good quality organic soil 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!)

My new raised beds filled with soil and mostly planted. My kids painted them as a lockdown project.

Expect to pay 30-50 shekels per 50L of good quality organic growing growing mix (תערובות גידול)

For my raised beds, I slashed this 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. That was a really fun adventure that I will write about soon.

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. Check out this recipe for homemade fertilizer.

Important note: before you start pouring in the soil, it’s recommended to place a layer of cardboard or newspapers over the ground. This will prevent weeds and grass from growing up into your beds.

I placed this layer of paper bags and compostable plates to stop weed seeds in the soil from growing up into my raised bed. I poured the soil on top.

Still need convincing that raised beds are the way to go?

5 Reasons to Grow Vegetables in Raised Beds

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
Zucchinis thriving in a raised bed. There are also some ground cherry plants growing in the corners. Give them a month and these plants will more than fill the space allotted to them.

So are you ready to build your raised bed and start growing summer vegies?

I can’t wait to hear how it goes!

Bloomahs City Farm logo square

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 families own food and household essentials as possible, while nurturing a biodiverse ecosystem filled with beauty and life. 

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13 Comments

  1. Beryl Tritel on April 20, 2020 at 8:42 am

    I am so excited!

  2. Charlie Harvith on April 20, 2020 at 8:55 am

    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.

    • Bloomah on April 20, 2020 at 9:19 am

      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?)

  3. Kenneth Green on April 20, 2020 at 9:41 am

    Great article on raised beds , is the same article in Hebrew , if so like a cpoy

    • Bloomah on April 20, 2020 at 9:49 am

      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.

  4. channan siegel on April 20, 2020 at 10:30 am

    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?

    • Bloomah on April 20, 2020 at 12:24 pm

      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!

    • Marci rapp on April 20, 2020 at 6:52 pm

      1) is truma /meiser relavent?
      2) I learned that halachikly vegie plants cannot be mingled ?

      • Bloomah on April 20, 2020 at 6:59 pm

        Hi Marci,
        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.

  5. Lauren on April 20, 2020 at 12:19 pm

    Thanks so much for these great ideas!

  6. Robert Kalfus on April 20, 2020 at 8:04 pm

    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.

  7. Tamar Miller on April 26, 2020 at 5:55 pm

    What is the reason for the dishes (I think they’re filled with water) placed in each raised bed?

    • Bloomah on April 26, 2020 at 6:10 pm

      They’re part of my experimental watering system, that I will post about soon.

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