We started our urban farm in July of 2017. Starting a farm can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be bank breaking. We have used many different resources and methods to limit the cost of our farm’s start-up costs. In this post we will recount our tactics for building low cost raised beds.
Hugelkulturs, they’re mounds of fun!
For our first farm plot, we had two main challenges: Crabgrass (a risomous grass that is nearly impossible to eradicate) and two dachshunds who love to dig. Considering that we did not want to spend a ton of money on lumber and soil and that we are concerned with saving water, we decided to build 22 inch high raised beds inspired by the German planting method known as Hugelkultur. A Hugelkultur is a mound made from organic matter that acts like a sponge and absorbs water, allowing a plant’s roots to have access to water for longer periods of time.
Before the construction on our Hugelkultur beds began, we aligned a thick layer of cardboard to prevent weeds from growing in and/or around the beds. Thankfully, our friends and family often pointed us towards resources for free/low cost materials. For example, we collected boxes from a friend’s bike business each time he built a new bicycle (thanks again Jordan!). These boxes were large and very sturdy, which will provide a free weed barrier for about a year and a half, before decomposing into soil.
The actual Hugel mounds began with free yard trimmings collected from Craigslist ads and street side pick-up piles. We piled up large logs and branches to form the base of our beds. After the large wood is in place, sticks, hay, leaves, and mulch were added to fill in the spaces between the logs. One valuable resource we received was Valley Oak mulch from the county tree trimming crew, they dumped an enormous pile of mulch on our driveway for free (see picture below)! Our final step in constructing a hugelkultur was to spread a four inch layer of high quality organic planter soil across the top of the mound, (support local landscape businesses!). One yard (approx. $35-$45 per yard) can cover about two 30ft beds.
Above is a collage of free/low cost resources for building HugelKultur raised beds. Click on an image to read more about it.
Repurposed Wood, its eco-friendly and looks real good!
The raised beds on our farm are constructed from reclaimed wood (old redwood fences and pallets). To date, the only cost for our raised beds have been for the screws and wood furring strips to join the fence boards together (remember, labor is that of love). Much of the free lumber we’ve acquired has been from word of mouth and research done of craigslist. Recently, after showing a friend the farm, he mentioned that his work gets shipments on large 10ft x 5ft pallets made of 2″x6″s and 3″x3″s that otherwise would be thrown away. We loaded up the truck with eight of them and brought them home to dismantle. After separating the pallets, we calculated that the cost of the lumber at a local hardware store would have been over $600. Fences that we’ve reclaimed have panned out to be worth $200-$300 worth of usable wood. Its important that reclaimed wood is not treated with chemicals. Make sure pallet wood or lumber has the markings KD/HT which stands for Kiln Dried/Heat Treated and means no chemicals were used. Old fences we reclaim are redwood and unpainted/unfinished.
A complete huglekulture mound with raised bed costs us as little as $35 to construct, including the cost of top soil/compost, screws, and furring strips (and, of course, that labor of love, it’s what keeps a farm alive). It is also important for us to recognize the value of community and friendship in this venture to begin our farm’s infrastructure. We would not have been so successful as keeping our costs low without the immensely helpful and generous suggestions from our peers and family, thanks again for being so supportive and pointing us in the right direction!
We have been striving to serve our community, it is nice to know that the good energy goes both ways, we love you!
-Greg and Alex Kerekez