About Phillip

Phillip Cairns is a beekeeper in St. John's, Newfoundland, who writes about beekeeping at mudsongs.org.

17 Replies to “How to Build a Raised Garden Bed (and a Potato Tower) – Part 1”

  1. I will be anxious to see how the potato tower turns out. I almost tried it this year but ran out of energy and space. We have a pretty small yard.

  2. We use Tires as our “Potato Tower”

    Just keep adding Tires as Plants grow Upward.

    Re-usable year after year.

    Keeping a good Rich Composted soil allows one to Just reach down and
    pick the lower spuds

  3. Have you grown cilantro before? I tried it ONCE and found it matured like leaf lettuce…as in while we watched. I can’t wait to hear how the potatoes do.

  4. I like the idea and will continue to follow progress. I used discarded 3X3 hardwood pallets that I used for my compost box, I suspect I could do the same for the potato tower.

    Great idea.


  5. We planted a blueberry bush today. It’s supposed to produce 3 to 7 pounds of big blueberries every year. We planted it in a large 70 litre plastic storage container (somewhere around there), which we’re told is more than enough room for the bush to flourish. We’ll see. Once we decide on the best spot, we’ll dig a big hole for it. We used our super soil from Traverse Gardens with a layer of gravel on the bottom for drainage. I melted 6 drainage holes in the bottom of the container.

    From Garden Bed

    (Photo added at a later date.)

    We bought a slightly larger and wider storage container which we plan to use for strawberries. That’s next weekend.

    Photos will be added to the Garden Bed album soon.

    Tomorrow we’re planting mint, green onions and small stubby carrots in 3 more flower boxes, and we’re starting up some rosemary from seed. We love rosemary. In 3 or 4 years, we hope to have a huge bush of it, though I’d be just as happy to buy a full mature bush now. They can be a bit pricey.

    A local seed store sells asparagus roots — apparently, it grows well in the coldish climate of Newfoundland. I’ll believe it when I see it. What’s cool about asparagus is that once the plants dig in and develop a strong root system, they last anywhere from 10 to 15 years. The roots can go very deep into the ground. I’m tempted to take a crack at cultivating them, but I would need an extremely deep container.

    I wish we didn’t have so much lead in the soil around here. A requisite for our next house is lead-free soil, and lots of it. We have 9,000 square feet of land out back we can’t do anything with because of the damn lead. That’s depressing. We have high hopes for our little 8 x 8 raised garden bed.

    NOTE: I just changed a few numbers in the post. My addition for the price of materials for the garden bed was off — way off. Somehow $12 x 4 + the cost of a $6 box of screws came to “about $100,” when it should have been $50.

  6. Some articles about lead in soil and how to remove it, which you’re probably aware of, but just in case:


    • …even the lead accumulating leafy vegetables do not accumulate enough lead to make bioremediation of this metal practical. Research is currently under way to determine if some plant species can accumulate greater quantities of lead. For now, immobilization of the lead in the soil, covering/mixing high lead soils, or physical removal of lead contaminated soil are the remediation technologies available.
    • …although dicots (such as cucumbers and cabbage) will absorb lead, it generally does not migrate to the portion of the plant that someone would eat… The exception would be root vegetables like carrots… they should be washed to remove any lead.
    • Add organic matter to your soil. In soils with high lead levels, adding one-third by volume organic matter will significantly reduce lead availability.
  7. We’re going to plant sun flowers because it’s the easiest thing to do the moment, though we don’t expect great results.

    We know some vegetables can be grown in the lead soil, but we’re not convinced any of that is safe.

    We’ll retest the soil next year and see what happens. If we can find a natural method to get the lead content down to 300ppm, we might plant some vegetables. Maybe.

    Other factors in not planting in the field:

    1) The weeds back there are insane. The small piece of the field we cleared in the fall is already grown over with grasses, bamboo weeds, etc. Killing those weeds and keeping them down won’t be easy.

    2) Although we cleared away some of it, there’s still a lot of junk out in the field and in the soil. Lots of rocks and various pieces of man-made junk, plastic, metal pipes — the land needs be cleared and cleaned. To do a proper job, we’ll need heavy machinery.

    3) All the delinquents in the neighbourhood like to hang out in the field and a small patch of woods back there. They’ve lit the field on fire twice in the past two months. I put out one of the fires and the fire department, who don’t seem to take it seriously, had to come to put out the other fire out. If I had anything but root vegetables back there, I don’t think it would take long before everything would be vandalized and smashed to bits. I don’t expect the sunflowers to last long either.

  8. Uploaded a bunch of new photos from the past couple weeks. I haven’t deleted the junk or added captions yet. Way too busy with work. Things are coming along though. Tomorrow we add another level to the potato tower. We’ll see how that goes.

  9. We added the second level to our 3 x 3 potato tower today. Then filled it up with another layer of soil, about 8 inches. The sequence can be viewed here:

  10. The potatoes are doing well. Here’s the progress so far. We’ll be adding a third level soon.

    From Garden Bed
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    From Garden Bed
    From Garden Bed
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    From Garden Bed
  11. My only concern is that we planted too many potatoes. There are 9 potato plants in a 9 square feet box. When it’s done, though (it might go to a 4th level at this rate), it’ll be about 36 cubic feet of soil. That’s a lot. Hopefully, the worst result is loads of small potatoes. Which is fine with me. I love small potatoes.

  12. Today’s photos of the garden are here:

    The potatoes have turned into a jungle. We’re adding the 3rd level this weekend.

    From Garden Bed
    From Garden Bed
    From Garden Bed
    From Garden Bed
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    From Garden Bed
  13. We picked our first beets today — thinning the beets because some of them got so big they’re bumping into each other. The beets we pulled today are small, but the greens, which are my favourite greens next to fiddle heads, are huge. I’m just as happy to eat the beets for the greens.

    From Garden Bed
    From Garden Bed

    UPDATE: The beets and the greens were amazing. The beets were so fresh, the flavour was full of earth; that’s the only way to describe it.