A New Opportunity - From Oregon to the World, Juniper Raised Garden Beds
The idea for Portland Raised Beds - a family run business in the Portland, Oregon metro area that was launched in 2017 -emerged from my own interest in building raised garden beds and wanting to find a suitable, durable, and all natural wood to use in our own yard. My goal was to find wood that had no chemical treatments, would look nice, and could be expected to last for many years outdoors in contact with the ground and water (it rains a lot here, around Portland, in case you didn't know).
In the past, I've built raised beds in community gardens and in the yards of homes where my wife, daughters, and I used to live. We always had lots of sun, long periods of hot dry weather, and never expected to use the raised beds for more than a couple of years at most. For most of those beds, I simply scrounged up spare wood or pulled lumber from construction garbage bins. Those beds had character, that's for sure. But there were a number of problems with my frugal, though practical, approach.
- Often, I had soft wood boards of varying dimensions, random splits, and stains - I always found a way to get them together well enough to contain the soil (I added) and keep out a lot of the grass and weeds that grew around the planting area...at first.
- Typically, it was no more than 1-2 years before the boards and joints were coming apart, and the wood had begun to fail due to rot or abuse. (I didn't want my family eating things from soil that was in contact with the various chemicals and treatments applied to most wood designed for outdoor applications, and I was using untreated lumber.)
- Although I have always enjoyed building things, it always took longer to prepare wood to usable sizes and was harder to plan out the garden beds than I wished, because I never had exactly the hardware that I needed and my workspace wasn't set up to efficiently measure and process wood.
It's true, I often considered ordering one of the raised bed kits I saw online, but they generally seemed too flimsy, too expensive, and too...I guess you could say, cute. They just weren't our style.
It was great, however, that most of the kits available online or through one of the larger home and hardware outlets used cedar. I wasn't convinced that even with cedar's resistance to rot, the lumber would be strong enough to handle the real day-to-day of gardening, year-in and year-out. Those beds somehow seemed temporary or disposable. I stopped into various hardware stores and lumber yards to price out cedar boards I could use to build with, but unless I was ready to shell out a significant amount of money and wait for special orders to come in, I couldn't find suitable cedar at a reasonable enough price to justify going through all the trouble of choosing that route.
After all this exploration, in early 2016, I happened to hear a program on the radio talking about an initiative in Oregon build a market for Juniper wood, which it turns out has been studied for many years at Oregon State University and is known to be stronger, more durable, and more resistant to moisture and termites even than redwood and cedar. The central idea of the program to develop Juniper markets has both public and private elements, and is geared to having positive economic and job-creating benefits in eastern Oregon, while also conserving water and both protecting and restoring native habits. Juniper is a water hungry (when available) tree that continually spreads it range, taking over large swaths of the high desert plains, and crowding out other native organisms. It sounded great.
Following up with some online research, phone calls, and a meeting I found a lumber yard in Portland - Sustainable Northwest Wood - that is acting as the main distributor of Juniper in the Northwest. Through their efforts, small amounts of Juniper are available at lumber yards in 3-4 cities in the West. If you are able to get to one of these locations, and don't mind buying 8 ft sections of lumber to take home and cut to size, you can easily buiId your own raised beds with Juniper as I have done. Raised beds, at their most basic, are pretty easy to build - all you need are even lengths and right angles.
If you don't live close to one of the few West Coast outlets for Juniper, you don't have all the tools or skills to build your own raised beds, and you still want to use Juniper - because it is a great, unique-looking, and incredibly well-suited wood for raised beds and other outdoor applications - you have been...well...out of luck.
And this is the problem that Portland Raised Beds was founded to solve. To start with, we have a few simple designs for raised beds, and we do the work to cut, prep, package, and ship Juniper raised bed garden kits to your door. Because shipping anything over 48" by traditional carriers is usually cost prohibitive, our designs keep everything shorter than 48" and we have developed systems for building longer beds from 48" or less pieces. Because Juniper doesn't grow naturally in straight, thick, long spans, most Juniper boards are cut to 6 inches in width. Our designs are stackable and extendable, with some minor modifications. Kits come with exterior grade screws and a driver-bit. (Sorry, you need your own drill/driver for assembly. One of our top goals for the year is to complete designs for kits that do not require any tools for assembly. Let us know if you are interested in that type of solution and want to wait; the more people we know are waiting, the faster we can work to finish the designs.)
Look, our goal over time is to enable Americans nation-wide to have a hassle free way to build fantastic outdoor gardens and spaces using Juniper as their wood of choice. There are going to be unanticipated challenges we'll face, and you can be sure we'll be fighting the good fight the whole way along. If you are thinking about building a raised bed garden from Juniper, we hope you'll give us a shot, even knowing we are new to the business (in fact, as far as we know, we are the first business to offer complete Juniper raised bed kits online). If we're not the right ones to help you, you aren't sure Juniper is right for you, or if you would rather have full service help certainly there are contractors, landscaping firms and landscape designers who can help you or you can do it for yourself.
When you do decided to buy a Juniper raised bed kit (or many) from us, however, you'll be supporting what we like to think of as the essence of America - small business, local workers, American-made and American-sourced materials, and the environment. You'll also have a fantastic, long-lasting raised garden bed that you will find you like even more, simply because you played a part in its creation by assembling yourself in the space where you'll be gardening.
Thanks for your support. We're all about hearing your ideas, seeing your pictures, and getting your feedback. If something isn't working, contact us. We'll do our best to help, and to improve or fix anything that doesn't go quite right both for you and for the next person and all who follow as well.