An A-frame level is a simple tool that allows us to easily find contours on the land, enabling us to build garden beds that harvest rainwater and flow with the landscape. Building an A-frame level is easy, and can be done with scrap materials.

Get two long pieces of wood approximately the same length; any size will do, but 1×2″ seem to be the most ergonomic. Line up the bottoms so they are flush, and screw them together on the top. Measure up from the bottom the same length on both legs; closer to the ground for longer levels and closer to the pivot for smaller ones. Put a nail or screw at each marking for the level to rest on. If the level is very short, a third length of wood can rest between the pegs and the level can sit on the cross beam. That’s all there is to it!

Now that we have an A-frame level, it’s time to find contour. Place the A-frame on the ground and mark the foot of one leg with a flag. Rotate the other leg around until the frame reads level. Place a flag at this point. Now rotate the other leg around to find the next level point and mark that. Keep going as far in each direction as you like, marking each point, and connecting them with a smooth curve. This is your level contour. Mark contours approximately one foot apart along the entire lot you wish to plant. You can then make a scale map of the land and draw in the contour lines to aid in the design process.