Instructables

Backyard Garden Boxes - On the Cheap!

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My family decided to create some backyard, above-ground, garden boxes since the soil where we live is rock-hard and not easily manageable. We wanted to keep expenses on this project low so we chose materials and methods accordingly.

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:

¬ OUR MASTER GOAL is to make some type of sturdy four-sided box (square or rectangle) in which to place a liner and nutritious dirt for our little gardening needs.  The boxes that we will make do not need to be too tall or you will have difficulty managing them. Ours ended up being taller than they really needed to be, but we wanted to keep the neighborhood animals from digging around the edges of the plants. It worked nicely.  

¬ 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....
 
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legamin4 months ago

as someone with a bad back I had to go with raised bed gardens some time ago. Now with serious arthritis in hips knees and back I had to modify further and actually putting 30" 4"x4" legs up through the corners and a good sturdy 2"x4" cross members underneath to support the weight. I've used a design like yours with stilts! Mine are 3'x6' with a trellis on the southern facing side for beans and berries. My next project is a couple of basic concrete forms to have narrow paths for my gardening trolley. This way I sit high with a straight back able to do what I love.

You have renewed my excitement for Spring! I spent all Winter laid up with a shattered knee from my other love...my motorcycle..

M.Hawse (author)  legamin4 months ago

Thank you so much for taking the time to read the article and post a comment! I like your idea a lot better -- now I have got to try building one on stilts.

bbrown654 months ago
Great job! Raised garden beds are great for the backyard gardener.
M.Hawse (author)  bbrown654 months ago

Thanks for the comment!

7nflgirl4 months ago

Oh Please! Please! Please! Take out your plants and dirt and remove the plastic! Your plants will die if the water can't drain! Instead, lay down 4-5 layers of newsprint in newspapers or corrugated cardboard and then put you dirt in. The critters won't come up and earthworms love newspaper and the plants can drain!

about the newspaper, do I have to wrinkle it? or just put it?

Thanks to the originator who posted their instructable!! But I do have a question...Doesn't the plastic leach toxins into the soil you are trying to grow your veggies in? I'm asking because I LOVE LOVE LOVE!!!! the idea of using it, but i am leary of using plastic because I do not want the nasty chemicals released into my soil as it breaks down. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated! :)

M.Hawse (author)  eoellermann3 months ago

I don't leave the plastic in long enough to break down. I use this seasonally -- 5 months. My yard is way too small to have this space occupied all year. I use plastic sheeting because it's cheap, strong and retains moisture well for my purposes. It also makes cleaning the area up later nice since the dirt can be hauled back to a storage bin or compost heap.

You can use anything you want instead of the plastic. I've worked in landscaping for many years and there are tons of high quality plastics and other materials available--they just cost a good bit more. I have even known other guys to use various types of natural cloth and canvas, paper..etc. One even used a mixture of playground sand enriched with small chunks of homemade charcoal as his drainage layer (the lowest foundation layer). He grew some of the best watermelons I've seen.

If you are concerned about this and your beds will be more permanent than mine are intended to be, then you will want to ask some pros in your areas for what works best in your location. You may be able to achieve similar results simply by layering various soil types and moisture retaining materials and eliminating the plastic altogether.

Good luck!

legamin 7nflgirl4 months ago

in dry climates with sandy soil such as my home area the perforated plastic is essential! Water is our most wasted resource in America. We take it for granted. I use an inexpensive bagged compost soil, lay the perforated bags in flat and cut out the upper side. Stir in perlite to retain moisture for two to three days at a stable moisture release rate then plant. The same soil has served well in my above the ground boxes for three years running without water build up, plant rot or water waste.

M.Hawse (author)  7nflgirl4 months ago

Thanks for that good note 7nflgirl. I agree that newspaper is an excellent option and it's environmentally friendly. Most people already own some! I've used it plenty of times before in other places that I've lived and it's preferred. I didn't want to use it on this project this time around though. I used plastic last year too. I'm from the S.C. Low Country (@ sea level or below) and I can clearly see the point about having better drainage in many environments so that we don't kill the plants. Here in Northern California, I live at the top of a desert area nearly in the mountains. I switched to the plastic because it not only aids in cleanup when we move the bed after the growing season, but it is necessary to retain enough moisture in the bed to keep things living. It's just way too dry here, especially when there's drought conditions and water gets rationed. Without it, my beds dry out way too fast and I find that I end up wasting water and time trying to regulate it without further expense. My photos only show us putting a couple of holes in the bottom, but there's more than that. We carefully planned the drainage for each bed and my wife tested two of the beds. We took the third on faith. I guess I should have said something about that, my apologies. BUT it does drain well. Thanks for pointing out that everyone should verify that they have adequate water drainage and that there are choices for barrier material.

7nflgirl M.Hawse4 months ago

Oh thank you for easing my mind and I am so sorry for not noticing in your article that you had punched holes in the plastic....WHEW!!!!

Well then... carry on with my blessings as an avid gardener myself! I was brought in this world gardening and guess I'll leave it gardening!

M.Hawse (author)  7nflgirl4 months ago

Thanks again for looking out for us! Best wishes to you.

MrIlson174 months ago

Sorry but, does moisture get trapped under the plastic? Wont that rot the wood? I don't think you needed the plastic so-much, just some leftover "Non-Toxic" paint or stain you may have in the basement or shed. Also, I would be afraid of not receiving good drainage and aeration even with holes in the sheeting.

Just some friendly sudjestions from one gardener to another. Beautifel raised bed, BTW.

M.Hawse (author)  MrIlson174 months ago

I'm glad you enjoyed the project and thanks for taking the time to read it and comment!

Your comment about painting them sounds like a good idea to me. We should have done that. Coating the planks could extend the life of the boxes.

I constantly checked the drainage and moisture levels of the soil the very first year we tried this in California. We have done this for a couple of years now in this location and it works really well for us. The wood has shown no signs of mildew or rot. I don't recall the type of wood we used... perhaps that has something to do with it?

legamin M.Hawse4 months ago

I saw a great project that helped me determine the size of my beds. I first used my paint sprayer to spray every surface of wood including cracks with some oil based paint that was left over from the house. But paint has chemicals so I didn't want them in the soil above or below! Your instinct with the plastic is great! But I just bought bagged soil (still works great after three seasons), laid them flat in my boxes and cut the side panels of the bag out which were now the tops leaving me 8 inches of rich soil! The bags of this inexpensive brand of composted soil cost about $10.00 each so with wood and everything, about $25.00 per box on an annualized basis. But it appears they will last many more years with nothing more than a little in soil composting with shredded paper and used coffee grounds (so as not to attract flies and flying bugs). Stick with what works!

legamin legamin4 months ago

sorry...ps..the bags came perforated so the drainage problem never was an issue.

legamin M.Hawse4 months ago

I saw a great project that helped me determine the size of my beds. I first used my paint sprayer to spray every surface of wood including cracks with some oil based paint that was left over from the house. But paint has chemicals so I didn't want them in the soil above or below! Your instinct with the plastic is great! But I just bought bagged soil (still works great after three seasons), laid them flat in my boxes and cut the side panels of the bag out which were now the tops leaving me 8 inches of rich soil! The bags of this inexpensive brand of composted soil cost about $10.00 each so with wood and everything, about $25.00 per box on an annualized basis. But it appears they will last many more years with nothing more than a little in soil composting with shredded paper and used coffee grounds (so as not to attract flies and flying bugs). Stick with what works!

phoe4 months ago

I love the last picture - at least he didn't choose your new planter for digging :-)

billbillt4 months ago

my kind of project... minimalist...

calicove4 months ago
Great but don't use miracle grow or other manufacture soils ... Awful stuff in them... You can find recipes for organic soil making your own the best way to go... Find in your Area someone who makes worm casting ..! :)
M.Hawse (author) 4 months ago

Thank you!