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raised-bed Using cinder blocks for raised beds question.

Hi all. Having recently purchased our own house and land, naturally my thoughts have turned towards putting in some gardens for my plants. I've decided to go with raised beds to start with as our soil is terrible, and will take quite a bit of work and time to be decent enough for planting. Hard clay with slow drainage in some areas. I've been trying to decide between cedar boards and cinder blocks for the bed materials, with cinder blocks being the cheaper option. My question is, would cinder blocks cause the soil to get too hot for peppers and tomatoes during our summers?
 
In my opinion the cinder blocks will keep things cool.  I have a cinder block compost area with two sections, one section composting and the other mature and usable soil.  The ground near and in it remain very cool and it also attracts earthworms very well.  I have several landscape timber beds as well.
 
It's not quite attactive to the eye as cedar might be, but function is great!
 
Good luck in the new home!
 
Mike
 
regarding how ugly CMU block construction is...

you will find that it is trivial to install a natural looking stone veneer on any CMU construction. you can even add a slate cap stone if you like. it looks pretty nice.
you can do fake stucco... tile/ tile mosiacs(prob. not a good idea.) or brick.


i dont think ANYONE leaves cmu construction naked these days...
 
capsidadburn said:
In my opinion the cinder blocks will keep things cool.  I have a cinder block compost area with two sections, one section composting and the other mature and usable soil.  The ground near and in it remain very cool and it also attracts earthworms very well.  I have several landscape timber beds as well.
 
It's not quite attactive to the eye as cedar might be, but function is great!
 
Good luck in the new home!
 
Mike
 
Thanks for the info! Thats the opposite of what I would've thought. Good to know!
 
queequeg152 said:
regarding how ugly CMU block construction is...you will find that it is trivial to install a natural looking stone veneer on any CMU construction. you can even add a slate cap stone if you like. it looks pretty nice.you can do fake stucco... tile/ tile mosiacs(prob. not a good idea.) or brick.i dont think ANYONE leaves cmu construction naked these days...
  
Not too worried about the looks, but appreciate the info on the stone veneer. My wife has some great artistic abilities so may let her design something to paint on the outside.
juanitos said:
http://thehotpepper.com/topic/48823-ajs-2015-season-prep/
 
ask alabama jack you can see he has a cinderblock raised bed..
 
I think i would go withe cinder blocks if they were cheaper as they probably last longer than cedar boards.
Appreciate the link! Looks like cinder blocks it is then! From what I've researched so far cinder blocks could be nearly half the price of cedar for the same sized beds.
 
MeatHead1313 said:
Not too worried about the looks, but appreciate the info on the stone veneer. My wife has some great artistic abilities so may let her design something to paint on the outside.
that brings up another interesting option. You could easily apply a plaster layer to the CMU blocks. The plaster would take to paint nicely... kinda like a fresco.

plaster, and the tools you need to work it however, are costly.


anyway. are you planning on just stacking these? or actually grouting these together?

if you are not interested in messing with mortar etc. you could look into the retaining wall/landscaping block systems that are sold.
they use urethane based adhesives and locking grooves to hold themselves together. they also have cap stones, and other decorative options for the tops of the walls.


edit: Oh yea, the coolest thing about the landscape blocks... is that alot of company make lighting units specifically made for these block systems. Not interesting if you are budget oriented, but if you wanted to splurge, i imagine some indirect light, washing down the sides of the planter would look amazing.
 
queequeg152 said:
that brings up another interesting option. You could easily apply a plaster layer to the CMU blocks. The plaster would take to paint nicely... kinda like a fresco.plaster, and the tools you need to work it however, are costly.anyway. are you planning on just stacking these? or actually grouting these together?if you are not interested in messing with mortar etc. you could look into the retaining wall/landscaping block systems that are sold.they use urethane based adhesives and locking grooves to hold themselves together. they also have cap stones, and other decorative options for the tops of the walls.edit: Oh yea, the coolest thing about the landscape blocks... is that alot of company make lighting units specifically made for these block systems. Not interesting if you are budget oriented, but if you wanted to splurge, i imagine some indirect light, washing down the sides of the planter would look amazing.
Appreciate all the detailed info! At the moment I'm looking at just the plain old cinder blocks stacked up with no mortar and filling the holes with soil/potting mix and planting either herbs or flowers in them both for my wife, and as companion planting for the peppers and tomatoes. Will definitely have to keep the landscape blocks in mind for the future though.
 
There is always containers as well unless you don't want them for whatever reason.
I only grow in containers now except for my Comfrey which needs to be in the ground for those deep tap roots. :lol:
 
A couple of thoughts.  I like timber garden edging as I use a weedeater to get into the tight spaces around the edges and have found the concrete blocks absolutely eat the cable. Not sure if that would be relevant to you.
 
If you are looking for a cheap source of good timber try to secure some old scaffolding planks, they are relatively cheap where I am and really last on the ground.
 
Proud Marine Dad said:
There is always containers as well unless you don't want them for whatever reason.
I only grow in containers now except for my Comfrey which needs to be in the ground for those deep tap roots. :lol:
  I'm in all containers this year. Still going to have some in containers next year, just looking to give some plants more root room as we've got a lot more room to work with now.
Robisburning said:
A couple of thoughts.  I like timber garden edging as I use a weedeater to get into the tight spaces around the edges and have found the concrete blocks absolutely eat the cable. Not sure if that would be relevant to you.
 
If you are looking for a cheap source of good timber try to secure some old scaffolding planks, they are relatively cheap where I am and really last on the ground.
Thanks for the info on the weed eater. Will have to remember to avoid the edges. Good thing is, can easily maintain right on the edge while weeding.
 
Create a border around the beds with pea gravel or mulch to solve the weed trimming issues. It would also look nicer than cinder blocks on grass. Sink some landscape timbers around the outside border edges to contain the gravel or mulch.
 
Plaster will not work on cinder blocks - it comes off with water.  Even most outdoor stucco-like things will breakdown when near the ground. And you are in a very rainy area! In my opinion cinder blocks look OK if the planting is done well.  We have some in our community garden and they look really nice - but the tops are finished in cut rock.  You could also put a planted border around that either covers from the top (and hangs down and over -  nasturtiums could be one choice, but in your area there are lots of options) or from below (in the bad soil - but there are some plants that could handle it). You may even be able to encourage moss and lichen growth on the blocks (there are methods for this - and they may work in your area because it's so humid). There are also paints that could work - like an epoxy paint - that will last for quite awhile, but repainting will be a real chore.
 
plaster of paris might come off with water....
 
but not actual plaster, hence its use in pools.  old plaster walls are of this type are they not?
 
Sort of.  If you go to a home improvement store and ask for plaster, you will often get plaster of paris.  But I stand corrected: plaster is really anything that you mix with water and slather on something else.  So there are mustard plasters - made of mustard powder and other ingredients that were used to treat ailments (but not so popular now).  The plaster that is used in pools is really just a type of concrete applied as a plaster.  That should work. If you get it - ask for pool plaster.  It can be tinted and textured too.  You will have to really stabilize the blocks or it will crack - or you could individually coat the outside of each block, then assemble, so it won't crack at the seams (because the poster did not want to do a permanent mortar job with the blocks).  Interior wall plaster is usually lime plaster (the lath and plaster method) - but gypsum plaster was often used in conjunction with it. Pure lime plaster can stand up to wet conditions - but may need some maintenance, but this is not hard to do. Concrete plaster is often used to cover brick or masonry and also stands up to water well. 
 
A friend of mine makes hypertufa - a concrete made with lightweight materials added,  such as perlite or vermiculite, and often incorporating things like peat, sphagnum, paper, plant fibers, and other organic materials to make it like a 'natural' rock.  Real Tufa rock is a type of porous limestone rock used to make containers for plants, but it is not easy to obtain. Anyway - he is now making raised beds with it.  This is still a work in progress, but should look very nice - if you like a rustic look.  It is really light-weight compared to regular concrete. You can also form it in anyway you like so curves and other unique shapes are not hard to construct.
 
loki said:
Interior wall plaster is usually lime plaster (the lath and plaster method) - but gypsum plaster was often used in conjunction with it. Pure lime plaster can stand up to wet conditions - but may need some maintenance, but this is not hard to do. Concrete plaster is often used to cover brick or masonry and also stands up to water well. 
 
A friend of mine makes hypertufa - a concrete made with lightweight materials added,  such as perlite or vermiculite, and often incorporating things like peat, sphagnum, paper, plant fibers, and other organic materials to make it like a 'natural' rock.  Real Tufa rock is a type of porous limestone rock used to make containers for plants, but it is not easy to obtain. Anyway - he is now making raised beds with it.  This is still a work in progress, but should look very nice - if you like a rustic look.  It is really light-weight compared to regular concrete. You can also form it in anyway you like so curves and other unique shapes are not hard to construct.
only plaster im familiar with is pool plaster, as ive patched chips etc during regular pool maintenance when ever im around my moms. i assumed plaster they used on old brick construction was the same. but yea from what i know, its just portland + limestone + sand + a small amount of some irridescent flakes of some mineral to match the existing plaster + an acryllic polymer for some reason.

i didnt realise he wanted to use the HOLES of the blocks as planters. i assumed he wanted to do a full blown raised bed. But yea, you would need to a solid base for the block, and reinforcing in the corners etc, for it to last at all.


the hypertufa sounds interesting. kind of like the hempcrete that is brandied about.

im facinated by concrete forming etc, at some point i want to learn to make benches and formed tables etc. ive been reading about fiberglass reinforced self settling concrete, its a facinating subject.
 
Over here in the uk we call sand and cement for wall protection 'render'. Common mix 4/1 plastering sand to cement with some plasticiser addition to help spread. We do 2 coats; first coat 'combed' whilst still wet to provide grip for the next, second coat allowed to start setting then rubbed flat with a plastic or wooden 'float' like a bit of board with a handle.
You guys do everything different to us regarding construction though...
'This old house with Steve and Norm' is the best programme ever to come out of the USA
 
thanks for the mention juanitos...
 
a note about my construction...in order to promote good drainage, the actual bed is 8" off the ground...the dimensions of cinder blocks is 8 x 8 x 16...I then ran a streak of cinderblocks between the outer two walls and put 16" tile (the cheapest you can find)....then filled the bed up with good grade home made potting soil...
 
I also have a drip line running there   I think I can grow between 30 and 40 plants depending on size of course...first of season it is almost entirely a tomato bed...then after the first good flush of tomatos, I pull them and put peppers in there...
 
sorry to ramble
 
Bailey said:
Over here in the uk we call sand and cement for wall protection 'render'. Common mix 4/1 plastering sand to cement with some plasticiser addition to help spread. We do 2 coats; first coat 'combed' whilst still wet to provide grip for the next, second coat allowed to start setting then rubbed flat with a plastic or wooden 'float' like a bit of board with a handle.
You guys do everything different to us regarding construction though...
'This old house with Steve and Norm' is the best programme ever to come out of the USA
yea you guys in the UK use ALOT of CMU in construction. i never understood that.
is it a lumber price thing? obiviously you guys have to import lumber... im assuming its expensive?

everything in the US is stick framed... and here in the south... its poorly stick framed. nowadays they are doing alot of engineered lumber, which is either glue laminated plywood pieces, or these I beam members with OSB and timber chords. ive even seen some composite truss engineered members with steel pieces replacing the OSB.

old houses(60s-70s)up north tend to be far better quality wise in my experience. i suppose they have to be tho... with harsh winters etc.
old houses in the south by in large tend to be dogshit.
 
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