Julie Harris lines bales of straw along her fence where she is making a raised straw bale garden. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

This story was originally published in April 2021.

With lumber prices through the roof, building a raised garden bed is a pricey possibility for this summer. But you don’t need fresh lumber to create a good, useful garden space.

Here are some alternatives to wooden raised bed gardens, perfect for trying this summer.

Straw bale gardening

Who needs a raised bed when you have a bale of straw? The straw bale gardening method involves decomposing a few inches of the straw using a nitrogen-based fertilizer, then planting seeds in the top layer of composted straw.

The straw continues to decompose and support the plants as the garden grows, and at the end of the season, the entire bale can go straight into a compost pile. Because the straw bales are tall, they’re also a great option for people who may need a higher bed due to back pain or other ergonomic reasons.

Here are some of the basics of straw bale gardening to get you started.


Hugelkultur, which translates to “mound culture” or “hill culture” in German, is a method of planting that involves growing plants on a mound of decaying material. To make a hugel bed, dig a trench about 1 foot deep and add woody debris, top the pile with compostable material, and cover with the soil you removed to make the trench. You can immediately plant a cover crop or a diverse array of vegetables into the mound.

Here’s what you need to know if you think hugelkultur might be right for you and your garden.

Container gardening

Technically, a raised bed is a type of a container garden, but the world of container gardening extends far beyond your basic bed. You can repurpose recycling bins, tires (with some special considerations) or even large fabric or plastic bags to use as containers if you are not able to find or access a raised bed for gardening.

There are a few basic principles of container gardening that you should follow regardless of what you’re using, but beyond that, the sky’s the limit when it comes to creative containers.

Concrete and corrugated metal raised beds

If you are willing to be flexible with your materials, you can still make a raised garden bed if you can’t find any lumber. Concrete blocks, corrugated metal and even shipping pallets can be used to make raised beds.

Check out these various different ways to build a raised bed for some inspiration.

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