Introduction: Kitchen Herb-Garden Shelving Unit
Build a two-tier corner shelving unit for growing small plants, complete with foil-lined grow-light canopies and plastic-lined shelves that drain automatically to make watering easy. Better yet, it doesn't require any terribly fancy tools or skills and all the materials for the whole project cost only $90.
Step 1: Gather Supplies
You'll need the stuff pictured, all of which can be bought at Home Depot.
- 2 five-inch hood work light fixtures. You won't use the metal hoods so buy the smallest ones to save money.
- 2 compact fluorescent grow light bulbs, standard socket size
- 1 mechanical lamp timer
- 1 roll of 3' wide clear plastic sheeting (you need two 24" x 24" squares.)
In addition, you'll need other stuff I didn't explicitly photograph. All of it can be purchased at Home Depot, also, with the possible exception of the tinfoil.
- 1 "handy panel" sized piece of 1/2" birch plywood (handy panel = 24" x 48", easy to move in a car.)
- a 14" x 14" square of some other 1/2" thick plywood, can be lousy quality
- two strips of 1/8" plywood for the canopies; each strip should be 5 11/16" wide and about 35" long.
- standard white multi-plug extension cord (to plug both lights into)
- white duct tape, or something similar, to cover up the cords for aesthetics
- two 1/4" x 1/4" x 2" sticks of scrap plywood or MDF or something (for mounting the lights to the canopies)
- two 8" x 10" white basic shelving brackets
- four 3" x 5" white basic shelving brackets
- one of the special wide rolls of Reynolds Heavy-Duty Aluminum Foil
- about a 50" length of 1/2" PVC electrical conduit or other lightweight, small plastic tube, for drainage
- A bunch of screws and two finishing nails.
You will need the following tools:
- Wood saw of some kind. I used a miter saw & circular saw, but you could use a hand saw, there's not much cutting to do.
- Hot glue gun
- Staple Gun
Step 2: Plan
Get a feel for what the finished unit will be like. There are a few main components.
Check out the first image, the renderings of the finished shelving, to get an idea for what it looks like in 3D. In that image, the top shots are colorized by part:
Purple is the shelves
Orange is the top canopy plywood cap
Dark and light blue are the canopy plywood
Yellow are shelf brackets
Green is the drainage tubes
Transparent gray is the bare foil lining the backs of the canopies.
The other photo is a sketch of the wood pieces and the various cuts needed. The pieces are labeled by letter.
A, B, and C: the front pieces of the canopy. Made out of the 1/8" plywood. (Blue in the rendering)
D: the backs of the canopies. This will just be tinfoil, since you can't really see it, no need to use wood. (Transparent Gray in the rendering)
E: the top canopy cap. (Orange in the rendering)
F: the actual shelves (Purple in the rendering)
The third image shows the layout of the wood (colorized similarly to the first image, lettered corresponding to the second) and how I cut it. The canopy pieces A, B, and C conveniently fit together for cutting out of the strips of plywood.
Step 3: Cut the Wood
Use the measurements from that final colorized image in the last step (I also added it to this one for reference), and cut the wood.
You need two of A, B, C, and F, and only one E.
A, B, and C should be cut out of the thin, 1/8" plywood. F should be cut out of the nice birch plywood. E should be cut out of the ugly scrap plywood, because you don't see it in the finished product.
In the image of the cut wood, E is at the top, the A/B/C pairs are next down, and both F are at the bottom.
Step 4: Glue the Canopies Onto the Shelf & Cap
You do this step twice, effectively, since there are two canopies. The process is about the same for both.
Image 1: Start by laying the canopy pieces out as they'll fit together, and masking-tape them together on the front. Leave a small gap between each piece so you can fold them backwards into the canopy shape without stretching the tape.
Image 2: Place the canopies where they're going to go, and use duct tape to secure them temporarily.. One of them (pictured here) goes on the bottom of one of the shelves. The other (you can see it just off the right side of the image) will mount to the front edge of the canopy cap (you want the front edge instead of mounting it on the underside of the plywood so you can't see that raw plywood edge when you hang it up.)
Image 3: For the canopy going on the bottom of the shelf, make sure it has enough clearance that the pointy edge of the canopy won't hit the wall when you hang it up.
Image 4: Hot glue the canopy on. Because the canopy wood is thin and light, the hot glue holds it quite firmly, so make sure it's where you want it before you glue it; it's hard to remove and fix the placement afterwards.
Once the glue is dry, remove the duct & masking tape.
Step 5: Mount the Lights Under the Canopies
Remove the metal hoods and squeeze-clamps from the lights but leave the metal clamp piece with the wingnut on.
Fasten a small scrap of plywood or MDF or something to the back corner of each canopy with a couple screws. It should be about 1/4" x 1/4" x 2". The important part is that the clamp on the light be able to open wide enough to fit around it.
For the canopy on the underside of the shelf, make sure the piece of scrap wood is far enough in from the corner that the back of the light socket and the power cord will fit. For the top canopy, it's less important, because the corner of that piece of plywood doesn't come to the corner of the wall, so you can put the scrap piece of wood right at the corner.
Screw the clamps on. It won't be the strongest grip, but it should be enough to hold the light on the underside of the canopy.
Step 6: Line the Canopies With Foil
Using the hot glue again, line the undersides of the canopies with foil. Make sure to put the foil shinier-side facing out. Make sure to get it cut and placed correctly first, because tinfoil binds instantaneously to the hot glue, and you won't be able to get it off.
Step 7: Mount the Drainage Tubes
Cut two pieces of PVC conduit for the drainage. The length depends on how you want to mount the shelves on the wall.
I started with the bottom shelf 45" off the ground (to keep my cats from being able to easily leap onto it) and put the next shelf 20" above it. For that setup, I cut one piece of PVC pipe to 19" and the other to about 37". The idea is that the top shelf will drain directly onto the bottom shelf, and the bottom shelf drains into some kind of container you put on the floor. So you want the pipe slightly shorter than the distance down to the shelf or floor, but not by a ton.
OK, pipes cut? Now, use a jigsaw or hand saw or whatever you've got to cut curves out of the back corner of each shelf that fit the pipe as close as possible -- the more surface area in contact, the stronger the bond when you glue them.
Smear the pipe and wood with hot glue and quickly press them together and hold for a minute or so, then gently wrap a strip of duct tape around the outside to help hold them on. This will never be a very strong bond, but just treat it gingerly from now on and never pull on the PVC pipe once you're done and it's all mounted on the wall, and it should be fine.
Step 8: Line the Shelves With Plastic Sheeting
For both shelves, cut the plastic sheeting to make a piece a bit larger than the shelf. It should fit on the front edge of the shelf, but hang over by about 2" on the two back sides of the shelf that contact the wall. That's so you can fold those up when you attach the shelf to the wall and make a kind of drainage backstop to keep the water from just running off the back of the shelf and down the wall.
Put a few staples in along the front (see image) just to hold it in roughly the right place. Don't put staples anywhere other than the front edge of the shelves, or else water running down the plastic will be able to leak through to the wood through the holes punched by the staples. (The shelves are mounted to the wall tipped back a bit, so no water will run towards the front edge.)
Step 9: Seal the Plastic Sheeting to the PVC Tube
For both shelves, lift the plastic sheeting in the back where the PVC pipe is. Use some hobby cement or something, an adhesive that can bond plastic to plastic, but don't use the hot glue, it'll dry too fast. Smear some of the cement down on the inside of the tube about 1/2" down, and then smear some around the top rim of the tube, too.
Press the plastic sheeting down so it fully seals against the cement on the top rim of the tube. Then, use a knife to carefully cut slits in the plastic sheeting over the hole in the PVC, so you end up with little triangular flaps that you can push down into the tube and press against the cement.
You want to end up with an open hole from the plastic into the tube, but it needs to be watertight, or drainage water can leak under onto the wood and down the wall.
This step takes some patience and a steady hand, but luckily since it'll be in the back, it doesn't matter if it looks messy when you're done.
Step 10: Iron Wrinkles Out of Plastic
Run an iron on the lowest heat setting (I used "acrylic") very briefly over any seams in the plastic that are sticking up and might prevent drainage. Don't iron it too much as it'll stretch the plastic out and introduce warping and bumps that will inhibit drainage more.
Step 11: Mount the Shelving on the Wall
Starting with the top canopy, mount all three sections to the wall.
Use a stud finder to find the studs in the corner. Unless your house was built by aliens, there should be one on each facing wall close enough to the corner to support the shelves and canopy.
For the canopy, use the 8" x 10" shelf brackets, because it needs to be 4" away from the wall so you want the larger brackets for stability.
For the other two shelves, use the 3" x 5" brackets. As you mount the shelves, make sure the overhanging plastic sheeting goes up the wall to form a drainage backstop instead of getting pinned down behind the shelf.
Also, route the light cords so they run down the back alongside the drainage tubes.
The two shelves need to be tipped down in the back for the drainage to work, so as you are mounting each, once you have screwed the shelf into the shelf brackets, then do the following:
- Drill a small pilot hole for a finishing nail on the underside of the shelf, near the back, angled so it's going into the wall.
- Press a nail into that pilot hole and hold it there with one hand.
- With the other hand, reach up and over to the top of the shelf and press the back corner down so it bends down. You want it about 1" lower to the ground than the front of the shelf.
- When it's in the right position, hold it there with that hand and with the other, pound the nail into the drywall to tack the shelf in place.
Once you are done, you can put the tinfoil in for the backs of the canopies. You can see in the last photo, with all the shelving up, where I've added strips of tinfoil along the back to complete the top canopy. It's just free-hanging, tacked up there with a few dabs of hot glue. It doesn't need to be sturdy, it just needs to reflect light.
Step 12: Finishing Touches
Run the white duct tape, or whatever you're using, down over the light cords so they don't stand out so much.
Plug the two lights into the extension cord. Run the extension cord into the Lamp Timer and plug it into the nearest outlet. Tack the extension cord down with the staple gun to route it along the baseboard or some other unobtrusive route, and use more duct tape or staples or whatever to tack any excess cord up under the bottom shelf so there isn't electrical cord dangling all over the place.
Put a container under the bottom drainage pipe so when you water your plants the drainage doesn't go all over the floor.
Program the light timer to turn the lights on for some period of time during the day. I'm not a very good gardener, so I'll leave that decision up to you.
Pour some water on both shelves and make sure it drains correctly down the tubes, doesn't leak, doesn't spill off the front, etc.
Put plants on the shelves and enjoy!
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