It’s easy and inexpensive to get hold of new, clean sleepers in a variety of timbers and they make wonderful raised beds.
They can of course be formed into all sorts of garden structures from benches to ponds, but are especially well suited to creating raised beds. If you look online you’ll find numerous raised beds, some plastic, some prefabricated, some steel but sleeper raised beds are arguably the best value and fastest to create.
Cedar sleepers can be found online for £15-20 each for a 10cm x 20cm x 240cm timber. Unlike old sleepers one person can carry these newly cut timbers and rather than having to employ a chainsaw it’s easy to cut them by hand with a basic panel saw – each one is taking me about 4 minutes.
Raised beds can of course be any size you wish. One sleeper can be cut down to create a 60cm x 80cm raised beds that’s 20cm high. Two sleepers give you enough timber for a 120cm x 160cm raised beds that also 20cm high. Fours sleepers provide enough wood for a 40cm high raised beds that measure 120cm x 160cm -making it sizable and sit-on-able, too! So, for a little as £60 you can create a robust raised bed that will last for years.
Constructing a sleeper raised bed could not be simpler. Start with a levelled area of soil or patio and lay out your cut timbers. Most online suppliers can also provide ‘sleeper screws’ – these are some 25cm long, self-tapping and really strong. Use two of these per joint. And that’s basically it! If you are looking for a chunkier bed used the sleepers on their side, which give you a 20cm wide top edge to perch your posterior once the project is perfected. Cedar will last for years outdoors but treat with an organic mineral oil to extend its life. And the best thing about new sleeper raised beds? They’re so light and amenable you can unscrew and move or extend them up or down at the drop of a hat!
Why grow in raised beds?
The advantages of growing this way are numerous. Firstly, you have complete control of the growing medium. This gives you the capacity to increase or reduce moisture holding or nutrient levels, not to mention being able to introduce a whole new soil type in contrast to your garden – ericaceous soil for example to grow acid-lovers such as rhododendrons and kalmia. Soil in raised beds also warms quicker, giving both ornamental and edible crops a head start.
This can be accelerated further by placing a fresh layer of ‘hot’ manure at the bottom of the bed at the start of the season. Raised beds are also more easily maintained than traditional borders as they’re both closer to hand, meaning less bending and they come with their own built-in mini seat all the way around the edge.