What Should I Do?

How to Install Raised Garden Beds

A 1-manpower project
Monday, July 15, 2013, 9:32 PM

If you've been intending to become a gardener but aren't quite sure yet how to get started, this how-to guide is for you.

It chronicles the steps that I successfully followed to put in my own garden this year, in my spare time, all while working hard on the Peak Prosperity business as well as traveling frequently for work. From start to finish, it was a 1-manpower project - showing that if I could get this done on my own given my crazy work schedule, most anyone can do this, too.

Hopefully this guide will give you the direction, inspiration, and confidence that you, too, can be tending your own well-constructed garden beds soon.

Plan Your Work

Site Selection

To thrive, garden plants need sun, water, and good soil. Taking the (short) time to identify a site that offers the best combination of all three will dramatically increase your odds of successfully growing food.

During the prime growing months (May-Sept in the Northern Hemisphere), inspect your property for sites that offer the most sun exposure throughout the day. From those options, look then at the sites with the best drainage.

Worry less about the soil conditions at first, because you can control that easier than the prior two variables by using raised garden beds. But by all means, if you have sites of equal sun/drainage rating but different soil quality, pick with the one with the better soil (most vegetables like a sandy loam consistency).

If you have more than 0.25 acre of land on your property, then another factor to consider is proximity. You'll be making a lot of trips to your garden over time, so picking a convenient spot relative to your house (your kitchen and tool storage area, in particular) will result in reduced schlepping, which your future self will be awfully appreciative of.

In my case, I selected a spot tucked into the corner of my yard nearest the kitchen door and tool shed. It's not the sunniest section of the property, but it still gets about 80% of the day's sunlight while being easy to access. Months later, I remain very happy that I made this trade-off.

Here's a picture of what the plot looked like before I started work on it:

Make Your Measurements

Measure twice, cut once, the wise carpenter advises. This applies just as well to gardeners.

Once you've determined where your garden is going to go, then it's time to start visualizing the specifics about what it's going to look like.

If you're going to be taking this on as a one-manpower job, like I did, it's better to start small. You can always expand upon your initial plot in future years.

In my case, the spot I selected provided enough space for a 22' x 17' garden footprint. In my opinion, that's plenty of room for a first-time gardener to handle.

With your footprint perimeter in mind, start brainstorming how to best use that space. How many beds can it accommodate? Do you want a few large beds, or many small ones? What do you want to grow? Where in the garden do you want to grow them?

Get some paper. Or use a whiteboard. Diagram it out.

Once you have something visualized, show it to other gardeners. Bring it down to your local nursery. Ask experienced folks for their opinion. You're sure to get some good feedback that will improve your plans.

Here's the rough sketch I made for my garden:

With your visual plans now in hand, head out to your plot with measuring tape, a ball of twine, and a handful of stakes. Begin by marking the perimeter of your garden, then progress inwards to mark exactly where the raised beds (and any other physical components) will be.

Below is a photo of where I decided two of my 6'x4' beds would go:

When you've outlined your garden, take a walk around it. Is there enough clearance? Squat down between the beds. Do you have enough room to maneuver comfortably?  Will you be able to reach across them from all angles? If not, move the stakes around until you're content with the results. This is by far the best time to make design changes. (It's a heck of a lot easier to move twine around than a box filled with 30 cubic feet of dirt!)

If you're going to be putting in an irrigation system, now is the time to give thought to where the hoses will run. Map out how the main hose will bring water from your main spigot to the garden, as well as where the daughter hoses will run to each raised bed.

For a garden this size, you don't need an irrigation system you'll be able to water by hand with a standard garden hose, if that's your choice. But I highly recommend laying the piping for one, if you can, when you initially build out your garden. It's a lot easier to activate an installed system than it is to dig through a mature garden later to put one in.

Work Your Plan

Constructing Raised Beds

Now that you know where your raised beds will go, it's time to build them. Fortunately, this requires only the most basic of skills. So you carpentry novices (like me) can handle this just fine.

Get yourself enough 2"x6" boards to build the beds you'll need. Cut the wood to the length you'll need for each side of your bed frames, depending on how big you want your beds to be. I went with 4'x6' dimensions; most people prefer 4'x8'.

I highly recommend building double-height sides. That essentially means building two box frames and placing one on top of the other. In my first gardening foray a few years back, I only used single-height sides and found myself constantly weeding. With double-height sides this year, I've barely had to weed at all.

Use 1"x"1" stakes in the corners to add stability to your double-sided frames.

After your frames are built, you should cover the bottom with mesh wire to prevent burrowing rodents from attacking your plants from below. Out where I live, this is an absolute must; the gophers here are so bad that they drove away the initial Russian settlers back in the 1800s (and those Russians had a pretty high tolerance for hardship!).

I recommend using finer wire mesh (i.e., smaller holes) than standard chicken wire. The smaller the holes, the smaller the odds are that a critter can squeeze through them. Simply use a staple gun to attach the mesh to the frame and voila! Your raised bed is ready for installation.

Installing Your Raised Beds

Carry your raised beds over to your garden site. (While I was able to do this myself, you'll find an extra pair of arms is very welcome for this quick task).

Before you lay the beds within the twine outlines you measured out earlier, remove the ground vegetation within the footprint first. A hoe or the flat end of a pick work well for this (I used the latter):

With the vegetation gone, work with your shovel, etc., to make the ground within the footprint is as flat and level as possible on both the length and width axes. Use a carpenters level (the ruler with the little air bubble within it) to help you with this, if you have one. If your garden is on a slope, one wall of the rectangular clearing you're making will likely be higher than the other. That's okay.

Now that you've stripped the ground vegetation and leveled the base, place your bed into the footprint you've created (again, a few minutes' assistance from a friend would really help here). Make sure it fits snugly within the footprint in the alignment you want, and use your pick or hoe to trim the side banks if need be to make the fit perfect. Confirm (with your carpenters level, if you have it) that the sides of the bed frame are indeed level. You may need to lift the frame up to add or remove dirt from underneath it to correct the pitch.

A successfully installed bed should look something like this:

Setting Up Drip Irrigation

As mentioned earlier, if you can lay in an irrigation system now, you'll save yourself a lot of time and heartache compared to installing one in the future.

For detailed guidance on how to do the installation, read the very good WSID post Installing a Drip Irrigation System. I must admit, I was a little daunted before tackling this task, as I'd never worked much before with water systems. The basics are so simple, though, that in almost no time I felt like an expert.

The key things to figure out at this time are

  • How water will get from your spigot to the garden
  • How water will get from the garden entry point to each of the beds (and anywhere else you may want it to go)
  • How water will flow within each of your beds

Here's a shot of how I laid things out for my garden:

They're not the best photos, but you'll see how I was laying down the hoses that would bring water to the beds, as well as a main hose for each bed, from which smaller drip lines will eventually extend (pictures of the finished system are further down in this article).

You'll find that working with the components of a drip irrigation system is sort of like working with Tinker Toys. You build it, decide you want to make some changes, quickly disassemble parts of it, and rebuild the way you want. Really, anyone can do it.

Filling Your Beds

Okay, now we get to start talking about dirt. 

A principal benefit of raised beds is that they allow you to optimize your soil conditions. What makes great soil is a topic that requires a full What Should I Do? article all on its own. But the easy guidance I can provide here is just to head off to your local nursery, tell them what plants you want to grow, and let them guide you to the best soil options.

In my case, it was an artisan mix produced by a local soil and mulch producer. (I didn't really realize this kind of company existed, beforehand).

Be warned: Raised beds require a surprising amount of soil! My four 4'x6' beds needed 2 cubic yards of dirt. That may not sound like much, but it is.

I was able to save a TON on the cost of the soil by bagging it myself. It's a good thing for my wallet that I made that decision before realizing how much work it would be. On my first trip for soil, I was astounded by how much dirt I was going to have to bag when the front-end loader dumped its full bucket-load at my feet. But that astonishment quickly turned to disbelief when it returned to dump a second load.

For perspective, here's what the back of my Toyota Highlander looked like when I arrived home (and yes, the middle section and passenger seat were piled to the ceiling as well):

And that was just for 1 cubic yard...

Anyways, once you've got your soil home, start filling up your raised beds with it. One important thing to know is that your soil will settle over time, so add more than it looks like you need. Mound the excess dirt in the center of the beds.

Before planting anything, you'll want to wait 2 weeks for the soil level within the bed to lower as it settles. You can then spread the mound out evenly across the bed to raise the dirt line back up.

Congratulations, your raised beds are ready to go!

Fencing In Your Garden

After all this work, you definitely want to protect your investment.

Putting in a fence is highly recommended if you live in a location where deer, rabbits, chickens, dogs, or other garden menaces are a factor.

Again, if that sounds a little daunting, don't worry. The mechanics here are extremely simple.

Corner Posts

Your fence needs the greatest stability at its four corners, so this is where your effort will be most concentrated. 

First, obtain your corner posts. For my garden, I went with four 8-foot redwood 4"x4"s, which I bought at the hardware store.

The twine you previously laid down for your garden borders should make it easy to see where the corners are. At each corner, dig a hole at least 12" deep; enough to hold the 4"x4" vertically upright with stability. If you have one, a post hole digger makes this job much easier and more efficient. You can usually pick up a used one for $10 or less at a good flea market or garage sale. (I did). 

If your garden is on a slant, dig the holes on the higher end deeper so that the tops of all of your corner posts are at the same elevation. Once they are, you're ready for the concrete.

You can buy quick-setting fence post concrete for a few dollars a sack at your local hardware store. It usually is a just-add-water mix and is simple to prepare -- just be ready to use it quickly, as it begins hardening fast.

But there's one last thing you should do before mixing your concrete: Near the top of each fence post, on two adjacent sides, hammer a nail halfway in on each side. From each nail, hang several feet of string with a weight tied to the end (like a large washer). These weighted strings will be your plumb lines, which you will use to ensure that the post is in perfect vertical alignment. If the plumb lines are touching the post or are angled away, gently move the top of the post until they both hang parallel to the post.

Okay, back to the concrete. Add your water and stir to prepare. Starting at one corner, remove the post, pour some concrete into the bottom of the hole, put the post back in, and then fill up the remaining space around the pole with concrete. Use your plumb lines to ensure that the pole is perfectly vertical. Stand there for several minutes while the concrete sets you can leave once the pole doesn't shift at all when you let go of it.

Repeat for the other 3 corners.

The next step is to put up your fence wire between the poles. Before doing so, though, it's wise to create a trench several inches deep along the line where the wire will run, so your fence wire will ultimately extended into the ground to discourage hungry critters from digging under it. A miners pick, again, proves useful here.

With the trench completed, attach one end of your fence wire to a post with U-nails, which hammer into the wood pretty easily (this should be done at least one day after pouring the concrete, to make sure that the post is solidly fixed in place). Run the fence wire along the trench over to the next pole. Pull the wire as taut as possible (a friend's assistance comes in handy here) and affix to the new pole with U-nails, as before.

You probably will not be able to remove 100% of the slack in your fence wire line no matter how hard you try. Not to worry. You'll shore up any slack with T-Posts.

Most hardware stores carry these, but you can usually find older ones on Craigslist that will fill the bill just fine. Place them at regular intervals (I used 2 per side in my 22'x17' garden), hammering them in to the ground by 12" or so. A post driver is perfect for driving them deep, if you have access to one.

Then tie the fence wire to the T-posts at several points using baling wire. Once done, your fence wall should be pretty straight and well-supported.

Here are some pictures of the fencing going up around my garden. Note that the further the fence extended, the more the chickens wanted to be inside the area I was enclosing to keep them out of!

The last photo is one of my daughter, Charlotte, and her chicken, Fuzzy. Poor Fuzzy was taken out for lunch by a coyote soon after, where she was the main dish :(

At this point, your garden beds should be "boxed in" by your fence. Just be sure you're on the outside!

Determine where you want the main door to your garden to be, and cut a temporary (or not) access entrance there in your fence wire. This worked so well for me that it's still the entrance I use now that my garden is finished: I just went on to create a "door" from additional fence wire, using carabiners as "hinges." Simple, yet very utilitarian.

Congratulations your garden is now securely fenced! At this point, you're pretty much ready to start growing food. 

I know, it seems like a lot of work to have done before a single seed has been planted. That's because farming, even backyard gardening, requires real effort! But it's some of the most rewarding effort you'll ever put in. When your first harvest arrives, the vegetables will taste incredibly wonderful, in no small part because you'll appreciate what it took to grow them.

Also, remember that this sweat work you're doing is an up-front investment. You'll be able to use these beds for years and years. Your future self will be very grateful for the effort your current self is putting in now.

Finishing Touches

If you planned for them, now is the time to put in any special features you want in your garden. For example, in mine, I installed:

You may want to try some of these, too, or you may have other ideas to explore. Be creative and inventive. My only advice is to keep it manageable. Remember that your main time and attention will be spent on the raised beds, so don't add too many distractions.

One other finishing touch I definitely recommend is to remove the rest of the ground vegetation between the beds in your garden. You don't want weeds and unwanted seeds finding their way into your beautiful beds. 

Here's how my garden looked at this stage. Note the 4 drip lines extending down each bed.

Last, you should strongly consider laying mulch between your beds now that you've removed the ground cover. If you don't, you'll find that the weeds and grass grows back in faster than your vegetables. A good 3" layer of mulch made of weed-suppressing woods (your nursery can help you pick out the best options) will save you a lot of weeding, plus it makes the garden look substantially better, aesthetically. I was able to purchase all the mulch I needed for under $17 an investment I'm so glad to have made.

The Payoff

With your garden beds in place, you're now able to grow a multitude of vegetables, herbs, and flowers throughout the year. Plus, you can help nurture local pollinators, make your property more visually pleasing, and provide yourself with healthy outdoor activity (exercise, emotionally-centering contemplative time, Vitamin D the list is long...)

In my garden alone this year, I'm growing:

  • strawberries (2 varieties)
  • potatoes (5 varieties)
  • tomatoes (3 varieties)
  • onions (2 varieties)
  • peppers (4 varieties)
  • carrots (2 varieties)
  • cucumbers
  • bush beans
  • butternut squash
  • rainbow chard
  • watermelon
  • broccoli
  • kale
  • basil
  • cantaloupe melon
  • arugula
  • lettuce (5 varieties)
  • corn (3 varieties)
  • pumpkin
  • sunflowers
  • Concord grapes

And I'm certain a more creative gardener could squeeze even more diversity into this space.

Now in full bloom, the garden is looking great:

And I must admit, I experience no small satisfaction every time I look at it, knowing that this abundance came from my vision and sweat (though I also feel very humbled, too, knowing that this is a pretty small garden compared to those managed by many of Peak Prosperity's more seasoned gardeners!)

Hopefully this article has provided you with the clarity, confidence, and inspiration to do the same. If you decide to undertake putting in a garden, you won't regret it. But watch out you might become more addicted than you intended!

Know that, at any time, you can tap the expertise of the hundreds of gardening enthusiasts in PeakProsperity.com's Agriculture & Permaculture Group when you're in need of guidance or support. It's a fantastically valuable resource, having that much experience at your fingertips, and it's completely free.

And if you do create your own raised bed garden, be sure to share photos of it in the Comments section below.

Good luck!

~ Adam Taggart

Related content


sand_puppy's picture
Status: Gold Member (Online)
Joined: Apr 13 2011
Posts: 301
Awesome Garden!

Very inspirational to us "city boys" who haven't done this stuff before.  :-)

Rob P's picture
Rob P
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 8 2008
Posts: 85
Just a couple of comments

I've been gardening in raised beds for about 8 years now.  One suggestion I'd make has to do with the type of wood you use.  I had local cypress available to me.  It breaks down very slowly and resists pests too, but it was pricy.  If you just use typical boards from the lumber yard (untreated lumber) it will start to rot in about 3 years - probably gone in 5. Other options include making the bed frames out of concrete blocks.  Either "Organic Gardening" or Mother Earth News just had an article on materials and so forth.

I used drip irrigation for the first 3 or 4 years, but I've now stopped that.  I installed a largy poly tank on a 6 foot platform to catch rainwater from the roof downspouts. I don't filter the water in any way.  I do have 2"  ball valve on the outflow that I use to blow the crud (leaves and bird poop - whatever) off the bottom of the tank.  I then direct the unfiltered water to the beds with a 1" garden hose.  The 1" hose (as opposed to smaller standard sizes) delivers a lot of volume, compensating for the low head pressure of the tank set up. I then use trench irrigation within the beds.  For example, you can plant beans in two rows and dig a shallow "trench" down between them.  You then flood the trench with the tankwater - or whatever water you use. Like drip, this takes the water straight to the roots. Also use plenty of mulch as Adam says.  Anyway, I've come to this arrangement which really works well.

What I don't like about drip irrigation is that it's an expendable item and it's made from "ta da" petroleum. You're going to get a few years out of it and then you'll be replacing it.  The required filters will have to be replaced even more frequently. I'm always looking for simple, elegant solutions that minimize moving parts and consumable items.  I don't mind buying something like a really good hose since it's the only one I'll need for a really long time (I hope), but you know, if you're dependent on drip equipment then - well, you're dependent on the larger economy and the company that makes the stuff etc.

So, Adam, you're clearly working your butt off and your garden looks great. I really enjoyed the piece.  It's fun to see what other people are doing. Just a couple of comments and alternatives that people may find useful. 

Adam Taggart's picture
Adam Taggart
Status: Peak Prosperity Co-founder (Online)
Joined: May 26 2009
Posts: 1656
All-in costs for the project

I've had a few folks inquire about the cost of installing a garden of this size.

All-in-all, it was pretty cheap for it's size - I probably spent around $350 on materials.

BUT, there's a big special factor here. Much of the wood was free. On my property, there's a bunch of old redwood boards left over from a previous tenant. Most are too rotten, but enough were solid enough to use for my beds and potato tower. If I had to buy those boards new, it would have added probably another $350 or so.

Also, I was able to recycle wire from another project for the gopher wire underneath each bed. If I had to buy new, that probably would have added ~$75.

And soil can vary *widely* in cost. If you can find a place where you can bag it yourself, it's MUCH MUCH cheaper. For example, the soil I used cost $37.60 per cubic yard if you bag it yourself - that's about 30 bags. A single pre-bagged bag costs $8.75. Do the math: I saved $225 per yard by bagging it myself! (I used two yards in total). Be aware though: bagging it is tedious work. Get some help if you can.

So, rough cost (gu)estimates if you bought everything new:

  • wood for 4 4'x8' beds: $350
  • wood screws: $30
  • gopher mesh for 4 beds: $75
  • 4 4"x4" posts: $60
  • T-posts: $100
  • fence wire: $150
  • soil: $75 (self-bagged)
  • mulch: $20 (self-bagged)
  • irrigation system: $90 (including timer & pressure regulator)
  • baling wire: $10

This assumes you already have the tools you'll need (saw, wire cutters, drill, hoe, pick, etc). Also, you'll obviously need to buy seeds (cheaper) or starts (more expensive) when it's time to plant.

Rob P: thanks for sharing your years of experience. Over time, I hope to evolve & improve to a system like you have. I love how you put it: "simple, elegant solutions that minimize moving parts and consumable items"


sugraham75's picture
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Joined: Jan 20 2013
Posts: 7
Drainage is very important...

I want to second Adam's call to pick a site with good water drainage.  I am an avid beer brewer, so I had some 1-year-old hops growing at my last house that I wanted to take with me when I moved last year.  My new house is on a sloped piece of property with great soil, so I didn't think I needed to worry about water drainage at all - it seemed like it should all flow downhill without issue.  Last year was a relatively dry summer, so the nice sunny site I picked seemed great and the hops transplanted nicely.  This spring (in the northeast) started off dry enough so the hops shot right up early on.  Then the rains came and it turns out my sloped property actually carries water runoff above ground from the hill all the way down to the bottom.  The spot I picked for my hop garden happens to be the wettest spot on my property with standing water remaining until even now in mid-July!  I've recently been spending my weekends digging drainage trenches to try and move the water downhill, where if I had just picked a spot 10 yards away, I could have been nice and dry, focused instead on expanding my brewing and vegetable gardens rather than trying to salvage them.  Hopefully my drainage efforts pay off or else I'll be starting over next year...

Amanda Witman's picture
Amanda Witman
Status: Peak Prosperity Team (Offline)
Joined: Mar 17 2008
Posts: 409
Rob, can you recommend a "really good hose"?

I'm of the same mind of you -- buy quality once so you don't have to replace it, whenever possible.  I'm interested in hearing what you (or others) consider a high-quality hose, where you get it, what it costs, etc.  I have had several that broke or failed after a couple of years, and I'd like to find better if I can. 

I like your trench-watering idea.  It makes perfect sense to me. 

I'm planning raised beds, hopefully to be installed before next planting season.  (Optimistic, but I am an optimist!)  I love reading about what others have found successful as it shortens my own learning curve.  Thanks (and also many thanks to Adam, for providing such an excellent step-by-step guide to building raised beds -- this is a treasure.)

Amanda Witman's picture
Amanda Witman
Status: Peak Prosperity Team (Offline)
Joined: Mar 17 2008
Posts: 409
Rob, can you recommend a "really good hose"?

I'm of the same mind of you -- buy quality once so you don't have to replace it, whenever possible.  I'm interested in hearing what you (or others) consider a high-quality hose, where you get it, what it costs, etc.  I have had several that broke or failed after a couple of years, and I'd like to find better if I can. 

I like your trench-watering idea.  It makes perfect sense to me. 

I'm planning raised beds, hopefully to be installed before next planting season.  (Optimistic, but I am an optimist!)  I love reading about what others have found successful as it shortens my own learning curve.  Thanks (and also many thanks to Adam, for providing such an excellent step-by-step guide to building raised beds -- this is a treasure.)

aggrivated's picture
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Joined: Sep 22 2010
Posts: 143
My three additional problems and the fixes


Very good and well documented piece!  Here are some additional issues I've had to address.

My raised bed garden has been in for about 4 years now.  Gophers are not a problem here in west Tennessee, but rabbits are.  They managed to dig under my fence even down under my 4" sunken fence edge and they can squeeze through really small holes. It's amazing how much damage a bunch of rabbits can do in one night! They obviously work as a team.  My fix was to redig 6" deep and 12" out around my fence and lay in 24" tall very small fencing with 1"x2" rectangles.  12 inches up the side of the fence and 12" out from the fence.  I just bent the 24" fence half way up and laid it in on each side and wired it to my existing fence.  Many rabbits have tried and failed since then.  They always pick a spot less than 12" from the fence to start burrowing down!  It's a lot of work to install, but beats loosing your whole spring greens garden.

My garden is 25' square on a sloping southwest  facing piece of ground.  Ideal except the slope.  When I had finished my fencing the uphill side gave the deer an advantage for jumping the fence.  To give the fence greater height on that side I cut various cedar branches and placed them vertically at the top of the fence (weaving them into the top three rectangles) to give it another 2 feet in height.  To my delight, these have also turned out to be wonderful perches for the local blue birds who love to eat insect larvae in the garden.

A third feature I installed just this year was to place flattened carboad boxes over all the pathways between the boxes and cover them with about 1" of mulch.  Goodby weeds and mud.  The garden feels 78% more civilized than last year!

I love the raised beds.  To sit on the edge of a bed and work your garden is so much easier than going down to ground level.

Rob P's picture
Rob P
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 8 2008
Posts: 85
Hey, Amanda

Well, there aren't many choices in 1 inch hoses. To further explain the problem:  I need a 100' hose as I'm gardening a fairly large area of raised beds (2100 sq of bed space), some of which is fairly far from the tank.  OK, smaller ID (Inside diameter) hoses like the 5/8" reduce the volume of water moving through the hose due to friction loss and the low pressure of the tank system (low PSI).  OK, well I've worked really really hard at building the organic content of these beds for many years now.  I've also added considerable sand.  But, this means that water tends drop through the very loose, very organic/somewhat sandy soil rapidly.  (note: more clay int he soil will probably affect this problem in a postive way - But I really don't want more clay content; think: great big CARROTS, etc).  So, when I flood irrigate a trench I need to deliver a lot of water fast so as to fill the trench up like a bowl of sorts. So, that's why I had to go to a 1 inch hose; it delivers a lot of water fairly quickly. This is working pretty well.  My beds are all 3' wide times multiples of 12'.  So, I have some beds that are 24", lots of 12s and 3, 36' beds. 

If you're going to do this you'll just need to experiment with it.  With my soil and all, I don't try to flood more than 12 foot at a time.  So, I'll put bricks at intervals to create little damns. Also, you may have to work with "blow outs", but in my case, at least, this just takes a little attention at the beginning, when you start irrgating.

Oh, also you need to pay attention to the slope of your beds.  I think (very) slight slope is better as it allows you to put the hose at the high end, facilitating the movement of the water with just a little gravity. 

I'd say try this some in some beds before going all in.

So, I try get a fast fill that then disperses more or less evenly as the water is absorbed into the soil.  Here - here's a post of it from last year.  I didn't have the 1" hose yet - it was my second year of working with this. 


Also, if you might be interested, here's link to our little yeard project from 4 or 5 years ago.  Things have progressed a lot since then but this is a pretty good representation of it. 


Amanda, in regard to the hose endorsement:


This is the one I HOPE holds up. Seems pretty good.   But, you know, get back with me in 10 years.  The fittings seem a little light for the long haul, but I've repaired and modified a lot of hoses over the years - so, maybe I'll be doing that with this one.

In smaller ID hoses I'm having a pretty good experience with "swan" hoses.  I can't stand it when they kink up; really frustrates me.  Both these brands seem good.  But you know, so much of everything is designed for the dump.  As I said, I'm planning to pass these on to the next generation, but - well, get back with me in ten years. 

You know, I'm still using my grandfather's coal scoop in my gardening work.  It was made in 1912.  But that was before we had to create junk stuff to keep everybody buying stuff to keep the economy growing - I' starting to rant.  I seem to do that more, the older I get.  I hope I'm not turning into one of those crusty old types. 

Let me say also that I've been at this for 8 years, but I still feel like a beginniner.  With that said, I am more than happy to share whatever I know from all my reading, doing and experimenting with everyone here.

Rob P's picture
Rob P
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 8 2008
Posts: 85

Aggrivated, I hear you on those rabbits.  We've also got groundhogs, raccons and possums right here in this old part of town. I've relocted lots of little critters. 

Two other suggestions:  1. A 22 rifle (if you're in the country).  I can confirm that this works for sure - especially if you're retired and can sit on the back porch a lot, sipping iced tea, and waiting for peter to show up. This approach has the added bonus of providing a little protein in the fall and spring months too.  BUT, my wife, nearly a vegetarian, hates this stratagy; So,  if your spouse hates this approach or if you're stuck in town or whatever,  try strategy   #2. A young, really agressive, cat.  Our cat totally held the rabbits and squirrels at bay here in town for years, before he died last year.Now I've got the same sort of problem as you have. Solution: get another cat - preferably a mix, with a lot of scrappy siamese or something like that in the bloodline.

You must be close to where I'm at geographically - Western Tennessee - Southeast MO - bootheel.

Adam Taggart's picture
Adam Taggart
Status: Peak Prosperity Co-founder (Online)
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Posts: 1656
Outdoor cats = great gopher hunters

I agree with you on the cats, Rob.

When we moved into this property, we inherited 2 feral cats that the previous tenant cared for. We've continued feeding them, and to my delight, I've observed them supplementing our food with a steady diet of gophers they bag from the yard.

I'll often find them sitting still for hours perched over a gopher hole, just waiting for an unsuspecting victim to pop its head out.

The only downside is they like to show their appreciation for us by leaving these trophies on our doorstep -- to my wife's constant dismay.

Small price to pay, though, for safe vegetables!

Rob P's picture
Rob P
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Yeh, I know, the cats also get a lot of birds in the process. 

I'm consciously doing permaculture so I view it all as elements interacting  in a  complex system (I.e the cat, the birds, and everything else) based on the characteristics of natural systems - and also as a process rather than an end-state. The process involves a lot of coming and going, birth and death.  So, you know, that's what happens all the time in the larger natural systems.  Some things get eaten.  But, yes, it can be a little diconcerting to walk out on the backporch before dawn and accidently step on a dead rabbit the cat has left as a "trophy".   Happens all the time around here - or used to before the cat died.

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Adam, very impressive and you can tell by your words...

...you feel great about this and should. Cats are great for chipmunks too even though they are a great source of fun to watch. Everytime the cat gets one I scream "Alvin"! So sad to see them go but hundreds are close behind to keep the cat busy. I have hundreds of newly hatched frogs and protect them with my life. I am ever watchful of them when I cut the lawn, and weed whip. I have two fountains, small ones and have called the dominant frog Fred in the front of my house and the one is called Barnie in the back of my house. I love frogs, what can I say.

OT: I have many, many bee's this year and if not for this site I wouldn't appreciate them like I do now. I actually will spend many moments just peering into what they are busy after within a flower and I have no fear of them like I used too. If they sting me I have no problems with this as they mean more now somehow. Fact is, I enjoy the outdoors so much more than at any point in my life.

Our garden has been supplying us with so much. I love fresh lettuce just cut from the plant and especially like watching it grow for next weeks harvest, perhaps two weeks harvest. We had so many strawberries that while picking I gorged myself, dirt and all (not a lot of dirt), we still had so many quarts for jam and freezing, not to mention with short cake and whipped cream for us and guests. Many were shared as well with neighbors and Mother In Law who lives nearby. My friend picked with her husband 60 pounds of Michigan cherries so we'll trade jam for jam and I'll get pie filling and I'll let them take home a lot of tomatoes as they will be visiting us in a couple of weeks. I will get a lot of venison too as his freezer has to get reduced for this years meat. I'll trade hamburger that I recently got to much of from a farmer friend. Besides, I'll take venison as a nice change any day.

I have raised beds off of a large raised bed area. I do my tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, eggplant, celery, and carrots in a spindle shaped raise bed on the outside of my main bed where I have my onions, asparugus, cabbage, coliflower, broccoli, beans, lettuce, and I forget the rest. I have rasberry bushes way back in a sun lit area as they are too evasive. My strawberries are with my main garden area but are allowed about a 20'x20' area. I keep them trimmed within their bed so they don't take over.

I have got to try this potato tower, what a terrific idea that I have just not taken up yet.

A suggestion for raised bed if you have a private mill nearby. I get many of my boards from the outside cut of logs and the mill operator charges me nearly nothing. It looks great and rustic in the yard. I stop in when I get something in like a couple quarts of strawberries and that seems to make an impression. People like to be respected and treated kindly, so do I.

phecksel's picture
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Posts: 138
Fill it with Mel's mix 1/3

Fill it with Mel's mix

1/3 Peat

1/3 Compost (5 different kinds)

1/3 Course Vemiculite

LesPhelps's picture
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Posts: 209
Filling raised beds using sheet mulching

I have two raised beds 5' X 14' and plan to add at least two more this fall.  The 5' width was a mistake.  I figured long arms and all.  Any future beds will be 4' wide.

I don't have mesh in the bottom of mine.  I use a broadfork to work the soil and want to penetrate deeper than the height of the boards.  My beds are surrounded by a fence to keep critters out. 

Another way to save on soil is to fill the beds using sheet mulching.  That is what I did and it worked very well.  I layed out the beds in the fall when leaves are readily available.  I broadforked the existing soil under the beds and covered the soil inside the beds with cardboard.  On top of the cardboard, I added several bags of composted manure to attract worms.  I then filled the raised beds with a mix of leaves and grass clippings (approximately 2/3 leaves and 1/3 grass clippings).  I let the beds sit like this over the winter and then in the spring, I added about 2 to 3 inches of top soil to on top of the grass/leaves and planted the garden.

I know it sounds funky, but it works.  My first year garden output was at least as good as ongoing results have been.


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Wendy S. Delmater
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Great post, Adam.

Great post, Adam. I'm sure it will all be very useful to anyone starting a raised-bed garden. The cost of putting them in sounds about like what I paid for years ago, when we put ours in. But since we have 17 raised beds it was that much more expensive.

Sorry to hear about the soggy hops bed, sugraham75. In a new garden moving things is not unusual, though. We moved our strawberries when they were not getting enough sun; they're fine now.

As far as compost is concerned, folks should check with their municipalities about free or cheap compost. We get ours the next town over, in a facility that composts all the yard waste from the town: $30 for a an open-bed truck full, whether it's a pickup truck or a dump truck. We added peat moss and eventually maunure, and when the beds started to lose soil (they inevitably do) we replaced it from our compost heap.

I read with interest how many of you put mulch down on the paths between the raised beds. We were considering it, and now we will.

Here is a recent photo of some of our raised beds. I think you can see how much better it would be if there were mulch in between the beds. Instead of dandilions, and crab grass.

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Posts: 459

Adam Taggart wrote:

I'll often find them sitting still for hours perched over a gopher hole, just waiting for an unsuspecting victim to pop its head out.

The only downside is they like to show their appreciation for us by leaving these trophies on our doorstep -- to my wife's constant dismay.

Our cats are also great hunters.  Two years ago a small snake made its way across the lawn and one of our cats grabbed it behind its head and ate it (well, most of it).  My wife was watching all of this and yelled "what's it taste like, chicken?"  No response from the cat.

Doug's picture
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Posts: 2715
similar thoughts

We seem to be thinking along similar lines.  I just put a gutter system on the barn that drains into a tank, to which I attach a hose to water the young trees of my nascent forest garden.  I'm thinking of putting another tank on a platform between my garden and pond.  It's located quite a distance from any buildings, water connection or electricity, so would like to use a hand pump to fill the tank from the pond when needed.  Does anyone have any leads on hand pumps that are adaptable for such use?


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Phil Williams
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Posts: 186
Clover Pathways


Great garden! I like how your zone 1 garden is so close to the house making it very convenient to tend. Many times people put their gardens so far away from the house.

I like wood mulch or straw for pathways, but another option for pathways is to use a living mulch like Dutch White Clover. It only grows about 8 inches tall so I never mow it, and it provides nitrogen fixation and the flowers attract the pollinators. The only bad part is that it will spread, if you don't want it to, but in a raised bed situation, no worries about that.


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Rob P
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Posts: 85

Doug and others.  Check this out. There are a number of variations of this being designed and implimented by various backyard engineers.  This is the version that uses on two check valves - minimal moving parts.  I've been fooling around with these.  Take a look:

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Comments on Materials and Watering


Dave_Trickett's picture
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Posts: 2
Comments on Materials and Watering

I purchased two and a half contiguous lots in the middle of Philadelphia a few years ago. The lots were paved with old broken concrete.  The 1/2 lot was an adjacent 40' by 20' set of garages that was on the city's demo list since it was in fact falling apart.  The whole property was bound by brick walls, except for the front.

I scavenged 100 feet of 12' tall industrial grade cyclone (chain link) fence, and using a small bolt cutter to reduce it to 10' used it to fence in the front and secure that area. (I only needed 40' of this) I also scavenged a 9' double gate and installed it as well.  Old East coast cities are nice in that you can find many materials on Craigslist or other ways cheaply.  I did end up buying most of the vertical poles for the fence, however.

I rebuilt the dilapidated garage and converted it into a workshop.  I designed and installed a water catchment system using the water from this roof.  The new roof surface was "torch down rubber."  Before I coated this with aluminum impregnated asphalt paint ("silver coat") the water (regardless of how much water I diverted at the beginning of each downpour) would have roof impurities in it.  Once it was coated, the water was much cleaner (I had it tested - no problems).

The system works as follows.  There is a "y" directly below the roofdrain.  The vertical component of the y leads to a shutoff valve and then a simple filter made of 4 inch pvc, rubber boots (for access) and stainless steel mesh.  Following the filter the line (2 inch pvc) runs into a 55 gallon drum through the bung hole.  I forget whether it was the coarse bung hole or the NPC threaded one.  I used alcohol solvent based gasket cement on the connections.  It is blue and works well.  In operation the first 55 gallons of rain runs past the y through the strainer and fills the drum.  By the time it is filled the roof is washed and the water backs up or rises in the pipe.  Once it reaches the height of the y the remaining rain passes through the arm of the y and to another shutoff valve (also normally open). From there is passes through another strainer and then into and past 2 55 gallon drums plumber together and on their sides ABOVE (on a support structure) the gravity fed bathroom in this shop.  So, these fill first.  I won't go into how I did this other than to say regular pvc cement and more gasket sealant at the bungs.  Each drum has 2 bungs, so you run the water into them (using a T so they both fill in parallel) and another T and adaptors from 2 inch to 3/4 pvc and then UP, acting as an air release vent.  The drums are, as I said, on their sides, adjacent one another with the bungs oriented vertically. The lower bungs are for the water feed; the upper ones are the air vent (so it can fill). 

Once these are filled up, the water continues on to the outside of the building.  I planned this as I rebuillt the  shop, so I encapsulated a 2" pvc pipe through the brick front when I rebuilt it.  At this point the water line is about 9' or so above grade. From here it runs into a 1000 liter IBC (intermediate bulk container) (please look this up if unfamiliar).  This one originally had olive oil in it.  I paid $50 for it. 

Important: Cheaper IBCs are not provided with bottom valves of high enough quality to be used regularly. They will eventually break or the plastic leading to them will if you plumb the system relying on these valves for daily use.  Leave the valve but plumb in a regular use valve after it.  You will need to support this valve and any lines or spigots.  I used wire.

So, at this point you have 1000 liters of rwater in storage.  I installed it on top of about a 5' tall mortared  cinderblock platform for storage beneath and some assk gravity water pressure.  Head builds at about .5 psi per foot of tank height. So at worst I get about 2.5 psi and when full about 5  or 6.  This is plenty for a vigorous flow through a 3/4" sillcock.  This is insufficient for running through a regular water hose to the garden (remember the rest of the lot?).

[Before going on I need to explain how I drain that first drum under the "y."  Recall that there are 2 bung holes in the plastic drum (use plastic, not metal drums - should have mentioned that earlier).  The unused one is your drain line.  You need to thread a half inch male pvc adaptor through the bung plug (they have a cylindrical threaded depression in them for this purpose) and seal that.  (You need to drill it out first.)  Then you cut the proper length (about 33 inches) 1/2 inch pvc pipe and attach it to the end of the male adaptor protruding through the bottom of the bung plug. Make sure this is sealed well.  Now, thread in the bung - again, use gasket cement.  What you now have is a half inch tube running to the bottom of the barrel and sealed in.  You add a couple of elbows and run it back down the side of the drum and from there to a valve and drain.  When the rain stops, you open the valve and the drum drains through vigorous siphoning action.  Recall that the water is backed up all the way to the top of the "y."  So there's plenty of pressure to expel this sacrificial water.  It takes about half an hour to empty.  Just remember to close it again for the next storm.  Why did I go this route rather than a spigot at the bottom of the barrel?  Two reasons: 1. It's a pain to install a spigot in a barrel that is closed... All the methods I could envision had in my opinion a high likelihood of failure eventually... 2. This method is cheap and foolproof...]

Anyway, the first year I just dealt with the slow flow.  The second, I designed and installed pvc drip irrigation for each bed with 5 gallon buckets at the head of each bed connected to 3 or 4  half inch pvc lines.  All was dry fitted.  The beds were 25' by 4.5' - 5'.  I drilled 1/16" holes every 8 inches or so in the lines and capped the ends.  It worked fine but you needed to fill the buckets 2 or 3 times to get adequate irrigation.  Also, you need to support the buckets about 1' or more above the lines for enough head pressure.

This was acceptable but still slow.

The 4th year I expanded the garden and went ahead and bought a 1" clear water pump.  You could use a shallow well pump or a pressure booster pump.  The price is anywhere from $40 to $150 if you are willing to go with Harbor Freight (boo, hiss...).  Northern is another supplier...  Anyway this meant that with the flick of a switch I had pressurized water.  This allowed regular water hoses and watering techniques.  I kept the bathroom on gravity feed of course.

I could have stayed with a gravity flow system by hard plumbing 1 or 1.25 inch lines to the beds and put in valves and such, but pressurized water does have advantages.  If off the grid, I'd still opt for solar or even a generator to be able to run a pump.  It's just a lot easier to get good results this way. 

So... Amanda, if I were you, I'd just buy a pump. You can even get decent pressure with a cheap sump pump.

Ok, now to the beds...

I was on cracked concrete.  I removed some of it but decided it made more sense just to leave it and build on top of it. This meant I didn't have to worry about what might have been in the soil under the concrete...  Also, I would have had multiple yards of concrete rubble to dispose of.... Yes, I could have used it for the bed walls....

I used cast off wide dimension lumber for the bed sides.  Went up about 2.5 feet.  The lumber was rough hewn 8" by 10" 6' long lengths from dismantled "crane pads."  The city had recently rebuilt the elevated transit line, and there were hundreds of these lying around in the work areas.  I located the supervisor and he gave me the ok to take them (saved him some hassle).  They looked great though I had to drill holes through them and pound rebar through them to stack them securely.  Large interesting wood beetles and grubs appeared the next year and they began to degrade.  The grubs added dung to the soil though and there were very interesting mushrooms on bed exterior sides. 

It took 4 years or so, but I had to replace all of these walls.  The beetle population went through a classic Malthusian population bloom/die off sequence.   I opted for 8 and 10 inch cinder block dry stacked 3 high.  Works great and affordable but a little less attractive.  I would not use wood again.

An advantage to dry stacked cinder block in the city is that on an asphalt or concrete lot (or even an impacted dirt surface) you could easily reconfigure your beds if you wanted.  I could even envision running a small CSA on a larger lot, and with a front end loader one could move soil around and add amendments easily, since the blocks are readily moveable.  Go at least 2 high. 3 is better and acceptably stable.

This method also allows for easy addition of modular polycarbonate or glass covers for cold or hot frames and season extension.  Last year I had greens all winter by isolating a 12 by 6 section and looping a roof de-icing cable through 6 inches of soil and then placing the greens in 5 gallon buckets above this soil, with more soil (compost) just tossed in between.  I put glass frames (salveged from a defunct easter lilly grower who used them for hot frames) on top, and used a photo eye to control the activation.  I had greens galore all winter.  The electricity cost was about $1 a day if that... Well worth it for what I got out of it, foodwise.

My soil came from the city's Fairmount Park Recycling center. A few years ago they got serious about their composting operation and bought the necessary equipment for a row composting operation.  I forget what they charge per ton (don't buy it after a rain), but it works out to about $60 per truck load, maxing out a 3/4 ton truck...   I use this compost direct.  It has no clay in it, so the only problem is that the beds drain and dry out more quickly than they would otherwise.  I go through 100 gallons of water a day in August (without rain) , with 5 beds and assorted container vegetables.  I forgot to mention that I added more rainwater catchment storage - 1000 gallons total or so, not counting the bathroom.)

One other thing. These beds are ridiculously productive so I plant closer than usual. I don't get the circulation problems one might expect from this - even with tomatoes (don't allow any tobacco smokers near them, by the way (tobacoo mosaic virus)).  I think it's a matter of healthier plants (no chlorine in the water, for example) and the top layer of the beds drying relatively quickly.  The close spacing also reduces weeds.  You want to keep some weeds around though... I have noticed that aphids prefer certain things so I tolerate a small amount as trap plants...

Bottom line: consider cinder blocks but make sure they don't have any contamination in them; compost works great as soil; re rainwater catchment, do some research on the web - there are plenty of fine videos on them, but don't waste your time or money on the 55 gallon drum kits they sell at places like Whole Foods unless you're gardening in a very small space... Go bigger and do it right. And don't be afraid of a little tech when appropriate or justified by cost benefit analysis.  My avoided water bill more than jsutifies or absolves me for the use of the pump.  Also, get a cat...  It took the squirrels a little while to realize mine was serious about eating them...

Hope this is helpful - sorry about the length.


Adam Taggart's picture
Adam Taggart
Status: Peak Prosperity Co-founder (Online)
Joined: May 26 2009
Posts: 1656
garden to table

My wife and I just returned from 15 minutes in our backyard "farm". Here's what we returned with:

  • Gravenstein apples
  • eggs
  • chard
  • kale (Russian)
  • cucumber
  • carrots (Atomic Red & Jaune Obtuse du Doubs)
  • heirloom tomatoes (Morado)
  • green beans (Kentucky Wonder Pole)
  • red pepper
  • butternut squash (Waltham)
  • potatoes (German Butterball & French fingerlings)

Such a pleasure to have such fresh bounty on a regular basis here in late summer.

At this point, I'm happily declaring the first year of this new garden a full success.

phecksel's picture
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Joined: May 24 2010
Posts: 138
Congrats on the bounty! 

Congrats on the bounty!  Right now, I have tomatoes coming out of my ears!  On my 5th batch of Bloody Mary Mix!

Brussel Sprouts are a bust for the 2nd year in a row

Garlic did ok, considering the amount of contruction equipment that ran over the garlic bed.

Carrots got into the separate raised garden bed and made short work of lunch.

Onion, wow, do we have a lot of onions!

Beans, we didn't even pick anymore at the end, it was bumper crop.

Miscellaneous other stuff, all grew well.

Quercus bicolor's picture
Quercus bicolor
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Joined: Mar 19 2008
Posts: 216
Raised bed update

I built my beds late last fall.  I got locust from a nearby mill.  It lasts decades rather than years.  I got 1"x8" boards, figuring a full 1" thick rough cut locust is at least as strong as 2" milled pine board (1.5" after milling).  My beds are currently single height.  I built the beds 4' wide in a big "C"  32' long x 11.75' wide w/ a 7' opening on the side facing the gate and 3.5' paths.  This "all one bed" approach greatly cuts down the ratio of lumber used / square feet of bed, reducing cost.  The most difficult part of working with locust was it's hardness - lots of very hot drill bits and probably about a 20-30% breakage rate for screws. 

I used this hose to get water to my simple irragtion system.  It uses drip irrigation tubing and mini sprayers to minimize cost and get rid of all of those skinny little drip lines at ground level.  I will install it as soon as our crazy late northeast winter ends.  I figure the timer will irrigate every day or two before sunrise when dew is present anyway and the wind is light, so there will be minimal wasted water and little additional wetting time for the leaves.

Also for this spring, get soil (my own compost composted horse manure, plus a prepared garden mix), build the fence (8' unpeeled locust posts - not perfectly straight, but slow rotting and only $3 each).  I've also purchaced these pots to put next to the beds on the asphalt driveway (the 15 gallon size).  These plus some plastic recycling bins will be for growing strawberries.  I'll have traditional drip emitters in these pots.

Oliveoilguy's picture
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Jun 29 2012
Posts: 312
Garden Hose


We struggle with poor quality garden hose all the time. Lots of hose end replacements and kinks and always issues. Saw your link to the 1" Flexogen hose http://www.amazon.com/Gilmour-Series-Diameter-Flexogen-10-10100/dp/B000X... and wonder if you have tried all rubber hoses. I bought one at Home Depot just cause I was fed up and paid a lot, but really like it. Have found a link to a 1" all rubber hose. http://www.factorydirecthose.com/product/300EN-STC10-S12-BCP6-100 It costs 40% more, but weighs 52# instead of 42# on the flexogen. I can't imagine the rubber one is worse for the environment. What do you think?

Quercus bicolor's picture
Quercus bicolor
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Mar 19 2008
Posts: 216
Olive oil guy,You might want

Olive oil guy,

You might want to check out the hose I linked to 2 comments up.  It's only 3/4", so it might not flow as well when gravity fed.  I haven't used it yet, but have it in my possession and it seems to be super sturdy with heavy duty fittings and very low chance of kinking.  Plus it's lead free and drinking water safe, something I insist on for a vegetable garden hose.  I'm using a 75' and a 50' (total 125 feet of run) for overhead mini sprayers on drip tubing.  The cost is $50 for a 75 ft hose or $40 for a 50 ft one.  The outdoor faucet flows at about 6 GPM at the faucet (40-60 PSI household system, but lots of 1/2" copper and a water softener before before it gets to the faucet).  My calculations tell me I'll get about 5.5 GPM at the hose end. 

You can use this online calculator to see how much flow you'll get with different hose lengths and diameters.  A gravity fed system gets about 1 PSI for every 2.25 feet of elevation drop (waterline in tank to hose outlet).

Oliveoilguy's picture
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Posts: 312
Quercus bicolor

Found this review and trial of hoses. Looks like Sears all rubber  50' is top ranked here. http://thesweethome.com/reviews/the-best-garden-hose/  Cheaper from Sears than from Amazon.

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