Having your own version of a raised garden does not have to break your budget. Many frugal options exist for creating such beds. Raised beds make yearly maintenance easier, increase potential drainage, circumvent many poor soil issues and provide greater access to your plants for tending and harvesting.
Use reclaimed or found lumber to construct raised beds. Old barn sites, construction sites, local advertisements and auction sales are good sources of unused spare wood or leftover materials like brick or stone. According to the University of Missouri Extension, arsenic in treated lumber has been found to be less of an issue than was once assumed. The extension office does express a concern with old railroad ties, which may be coated in creosote, because chemicals on the wood can damage plants.
Scavenge old construction materials, like large sections of pipe or concrete cylinders, to use as oversized planters. Raised beds do not have to be made from lumber. Any type of material capable of holding soil above ground level will do. These containers do not degrade easily and keep their appearance over time. Because they can be quite heavy and difficult to move, careful consideration should be undertaken before their placement. Ensure that you have sufficient space to work around them, that your plants will receive enough sunlight and that you can reach them for watering before you arrange to have these large items delivered or put in place.
Look into recyclable materials like old bales of hay or straw for an inexpensive frame to your bed. These will decay rapidly and likely need to be replaced each year, but sometimes a good deal can be made with a local farmer who has damaged, excess or leftover crops and a need to move them. As these organic materials break down, they can be added to the compost pile or used to mulch your plants.
A collection of containers, such as repurposed vessels or pots and planters, can be used in unison to create a raised bed effect without having to build an actual bed.
Soil bag gardening is another option. Although plastic bags may not create the most attractive garden layout, you have the ability to control the space, arranging the number you need in the area you have available. The bags are simple to install and easy to move, if that becomes necessary. This is a good option for trying out a space. When the bags degrade at the end of the growing season, the soil can be mixed into the ground or a frame can be added and a bed formed in their place.
To save time as well as money, gardeners can add good soil directly on top of the area needing improvement. Mixing the good soil above with problem soil below may not improve the full volume of soil sufficiently to give your plants the best start. Instead, skip the digging and tilling and save the labor and fuel. Construct your bed directly over the area where drainage is poor, the soil is compacted or the soil is too clayey or sandy. The frame can be added later, or the berm can be used as-is.