There are many ways to go about this project--some more effective and some more expensive than others. I am sharing our build experience to illustrate how we handled this project based on our needs and resources. I'm not trying to preach on how to professionally prep soil or grow plants. Keep in mind that these boxes are NOT fancy like the other beautiful designs that you have seen in other articles on this site. Our 'ible is not intended to improve upon the other ideas either. Please keep the spirit of innovation alive by modifying anything necessary on your build to meet your own needs.
►How long will this project take to complete? The construction part of this project took just over 2 hours for my small family of 3. We enjoyed spending time together, working on a good yard project and digging in the dirt & poo. My son later told his friends that his dad and mom forced him into shoveling chicken poo for a whole evening.
THE GRAND OVERVIEW OF OUR RAISED-BED GARDEN BUILD:
¬ This project requires that plastic sheeting be placed in the boxes as a liner and container for our dirt mixture. This keeps weeds from growing up out of the ground into the boxes and it also helps retain sufficient moisture in the soil bed. The plastic liner can also help prevent environmental chemicals, toxins and nasty critters from finding their way up into the bed as well. Plastic also helps to make cleanup a breeze after the growing season is over. Later on in the article you will see that we introduce some strategic holes into the plastic to allow proper drainage. Some beds may require more holes than others--it all varies with your geographical location, elevation, weather, soil mixture and the types of plants you will use.
¬ Obviously, some kind of dirt is needed. You will need to choose your own dirt. Do your homework after you decide what plants you want to grow and get only the necessary dirt and nutrient mixture to grow those plants. If you don't do your homework or if you go overboard, then you're going to be guilty of killing plants, wasting time and bleeding money. So, first go scout and buy some plants at the store or nursery; research soil types and finally you can have some fun shoveling dirt and/or poo.
That's all there really is to this build. Let's go on with it....
Step 1: How Many Boxes Do We Need? Many other Q's...
- What do I want to grow and how much of those plants do I need to make room for?
- Based on the space & sun requirements, how many boxes do I need to make?
- How much room is in my yard, porch or sidewalk area?
- Do I want these garden boxes to stay in one place or will I move them after a few months? Is this going to be permanent?
- What kind of financial resources do I wish to put into this?
- Who will be helping me? Who can help me? Who's done this type of thing before that can give me great advice on growing the plants I want to grow?
- Should I buy materials in bulk from a nursery or landscaping business or should I shop from a home improvement store? If I buy from my local nursery, is there a minimum order or delivery charge?
These are all good questions and are worth taking the time to review.
My family wanted to grow 6 to 8 tomato plants, a half dozen melons and squash along with a few cucumbers and a select few other plants.
⇒ After doing all our math and speaking with specialists, we saw that we only needed three boxes, although we went ahead and built five. We sold the two unused garden boxes to offset the costs of the project and to fund our plants!!
.. How did we know?
Here's how to get started in figuring out what you need:
- We bought the plants we wanted.
- We then consulted the internet, garden supply shop specialists, and also checked the plastic insert that comes with the plants to determine the type of shade, spacing and soil requirements for each group of plants.
- We just did the math as best we could to determine space and volume of materials. Nursery personnel can help you figure this out in a jiffy if you just can't get it straight or need to confirm your efforts.
- Inexpensive 6' or 8' planks used in fencing (non treated wood). For the size I made, expect to buy 6 planks per box. We used two boards stacked horizontally (parallel) for each long side. Then, we cut the two remaining unused planks in half yielding four smaller, half-length pieces that we then used on the ends.
- Inexpensive 2" x 2"s or 2" x 4"s -- for corner supports and mid-length supports. 5 should do it.
- Brass 1.5" or 2" wood screws -- for fastening the boxes together. This makes it easier to assemble and disassemble-- all with a power drill.
- Plastic sheeting -- We used cheap 2-mil plastic drop cloths meant for painting. These aren't something that will last more than 1 season so keep this in mind. If you want this to be a more permanent installation, spend more money and get something heavy duty like a tarp.
Let's put it together...
Step 2: Build the Boxes...
For the long sides: Take two planks and lay them down on the sidewalk on top of and perpendicular to three or four short lengths of 2x2 or 2x4. Make sure everything is square and aligned. The planks should be slid down to one end of the support beams. Screw it all together. Repeat until you have two long side pieces.
For the short sides: Have someone hold the two long sides up as they would be in the final position for installation. Take two short lengths of planking and fasten them with screws to each end. When you are done you should have something that resembles my photo.
I chose to have the support beams extend upward to allow the use of string and fabric to protect and support my plants as they mature through various phases of their growing cycle.
Step 3: Line with Plastic...
¬ Position the boxes where you want them to be. Be mindful of the plants' requirements and position the boxes so that there will be sufficient shade, sun, and also check that each location is protected from wind and overhanging branches & roof lines. Rain from those overhanging features can devastate plants. Also leave room around each box for you to maintain the garden boxes and plants.
¬ Unfold the plastic sheeting and drape it across each box.
¬ Secure the ends of the plastic with staples, roofing nails, spare screws or weigh it down with dirt, stakes or bricks.
¬ Poke a few holes in the bottom or corner of each liner to enable water to runoff if sufficient build up occurs in each box. Some people drill holes at a predetermined "flood line" in their wooden boxes. We only poked holes in the bottom of the plastic with the garden hand shovels. We didn't do it quite so randomly though. As I mentioned in the comments section, we did take time to verify that we had proper drainage at this point and that it drained away from the raised beds in the yard. Certain plant types need more moisture in the soil than others, so you'll have to sort this step out for yourself according to your own needs. We've used plastic for a couple years now to retain more water due to the climate where we live.
We are now ready to fill this with soil...
Step 4: Fill with Proper Dirt & Fertilizer Layers/Mixture...
- Create a foundation layer of material on the bottom to allow drainage for excess moisture (usually sand or light weight material)
- We then layer our dirt and nutrient layers alternately (potting soil, garden soil, sand, nutrient mixes..etc.)
- We finally mix the soil layers (not foundation layer) by hand for proper consistency - DO NOT PACK the dirt until you plant your plants in the soil
Your dirt choices will vary based on what you are growing. Consult your research to see what type of soil and nutrients you need to use. Do your research and ask around. I am showing you a sample photo of some of the soil types we used for a few of our plants. We went with some store bought soils that were on sale to meet the requirements of a few of our particular plants. I also bought and used playground sand (not shown) to give plenty of volume where needed and to allow proper drainage to occur out of the bottom of the boxes.
We also had some chicken poo to use in areas where rich fertilization was needed. A little of this stuff goes a very, very, very long way... and I'm not just talking about the strength of the nutrients either--the smell is horrendous. Consider yourselves warned! This stuff is great if you don't get along with your neighbors.
NOTE 1: For the first layer (bottom of the container) we used playground sand in most of our boxes, but not all. This allows proper drainage and retention of moisture. For some of our plants, frequent watering was required, but not standing water or overly saturated soil. So for those plants and for their side of the box, we used plenty of sand on the bottom and also mixed some into the soil we chose for those plants. Your choices may differ from ours greatly. I've seen others use river rock, pebbles or the Styrofoam pellets to give proper growing environment the drainage foundation required for success. That slimy, white particulate that swells with water and slowly releases it into the soil over time is great stuff too.
NOTE 2: Most of local community colleges and universities will have agricultural specialists that can offer advice on soils, layering, planting locations, planting schedules and so.
Next...Plant the plants....
Step 5: Plant the Plants... (& Try to Keep Them Alive!)
► Anyhow, once you've completed this step, you should have something similar to the photos shown.
The tall end-posts allow you to brace and string up various supports for your plants when it rains and to hang fabric to protect them should the sun or weather be too variable or harsh. We left plenty of room around the plants as well so that support rods and sticks can be inserted as needed into the soil without damaging the roots and limbs.
HOW MUCH DID WE SPEND?
¬ Like I said earlier, we originally built 5 boxes and sold two of them to offset our costs for this project.
¬ I don't remember how much we spent on plants. Schools often have gardening clubs that sell plants to raise money for various causes. We got some plants that way. Try to support those if you can. You will get great plants at a great bargain and you will be benefiting the community's educational programs.
⇒ We also had a visitor and a snapshot of him is included (last photo).
Thanks for viewing and thanks to all of the other raised-bed gardeners who have inspired us to do this project. Ours doesn't even compare with the others when it comes to style, but we had so much fun.