There are many benefits to using a raised bed in your garden instead of having an in-ground garden. One popular way to make a raised bed is to use new or used railway sleepers. However, if you’ve never made a raised bed before, you may have questions about what kind of sleepers to get and how many you’ll need.
For a simple raised bed design, you will need six railway sleepers. Each side of the bed will use two sleepers, while the ends of the bed require two halves each. You can add additional sleepers to build the garden bed higher if desired.
In the rest of this article, I’ll explain how to build a raised garden bed using six sleepers. I’ll also discuss the benefits of having a raised garden bed, so you can better understand why making one is worth the trouble. If you’re ready to take your garden to the next level, keep reading!
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How To Make a Raised Garden Bed With Sleepers
Different sizes and designs of raised beds require a different number of sleepers. However, a popular and easy-to-make design uses six sleepers: four on the sides and two on the ends.
To make a garden bed with sleepers, you’ll need to determine which kind of sleepers you want to use. Railway sleepers, also called railroad ties, are the part of a railway that lies between the tracks to maintain the correct gauge (source).
Sleepers are made from several different materials, including:
- Cast Iron
The best sleeper to use for a garden bed is a sleeper made with hardwood, as these are easier to work with and long-lasting. You can buy sleepers online or purchase reclaimed sleepers from a garden center or a reclamation yard. Try to get sleepers of similar length so you don’t have to trim them too much.
If you need to cut a sleeper, the easiest way is to use a chainsaw. I recommend the Husqvarna II Cycle Gas Chainsaw (link to Amazon). I like this chainsaw because the engine reduces fuel consumption and gas emissions, and the LowVib anti-vibration feature reduces how much vibration you’ll experience during use.
Once you have your sleepers and a chainsaw, you’ll need the following additional materials:
- Coach screws
- Threaded bar
Then, to make the bed, follow these steps:
- Dig out the area where you want your bed. Dig out the position until the sleepers are all level.
- Cut all your sleepers, so they’re all the same length.
- Cut two of the sleepers in half. These halves will be the ends of the final bed.
- Lay gravel in the area where the bed will go. The gravel helps with moisture drainage.
- Place a full-length sleeper on the gravel.
- Drill a hole on one end of the sleeper and knock a 1 m (3.28 ft) threaded bar through the hole to keep the sleeper in the correct place. Repeat this step on the other end.
- Place one of the sleeper halves at a right angle with the full-length sleeper.
- Attach the two pieces with coach screws. Don’t tighten the screws yet.
- Repeat steps 5-8 with another full-length and half-length sleeper to make a single-story raised bed.
- Add the second layer of sleepers on top of the first layer and secure them with screws and washers.
- Staple a plastic sheet on the bed so the plastic covers the wood. The sheet helps protect the wood from moisture.
- Add soil to the bed.
If you don’t want your raised bed to be that tall, you can stop after step 9 and just have a single-story bed. In this case, you’ll only need three sleepers.
Similarly, if you’d like an extra-tall bed (perhaps you are tall and don’t want to bend over to tend the garden), you can add another layer after step 10. A triple-story bed would use nine sleepers (source).
Why Should I Use a Raised Garden Bed?
You should use a raised garden bed because it improves the health of your plants. Also, it’s easier to maintain without repeatedly bending over and can add visual interest to your garden.
Here are some of the advantages of using a raised garden bed (source):
- You can add fertilizer, compost, and mulch to the top of the soil without tilling. An in-ground garden requires a lot of work every year to add fertilizer and other soil conditioners because you have to till the soil first. Contrastingly, with a raised bed, the soil tills itself. All you need to do is throw your fertilizer, mulch, or compost on top, and you’re good to go.
- Raised beds are easier on your back. A raised bed could be a game-changer if you experience back or knee pain while gardening. With a raised bed, you won’t need to bend over often, reducing pain and preventing potential damage.
- Raised beds promote better soil drainage. A raised bed gives plants more breathing room in marshy conditions and drains better than in-ground gardens. Drainage is even better if you have gravel underneath the railway sleepers. A raised garden bed will improve your plant health if you live in a particularly rainy place.
- You’ll have fewer pests. If you’ve lost plants to pests such as rabbits or slugs, then you know how frustrating this can be. Pests can be persistent even when challenged with a raised garden bed, but generally, the challenge of the climb will keep most pests away.
- You’ll have fewer weeds. The borders of a raised bed prevent weeds from intruding on your plants through underground garden pathways.
- They add visual interest and dimension to your garden. In-ground gardens are beautiful, but raised beds take your garden to another level by adding dimension and variation. You can use railway sleepers of different sizes and colors to create a unique design.
- The soil warms up more quickly. A raised bed’s soil will warm faster than soil in an in-ground garden. This makes for a longer growing season.
Raised garden beds are attractive, easier on your body, and better for your plants. You can make a raised bed with six railway sleepers, but you can also use three sleepers for a single-story bed or nine sleepers for a triple-story bed. The raised bed will help you improve the look of your garden and your gardening experience.
- 7 Best Wood Options For Raised Gardens (And 3 To Avoid)
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