This is my first instructable, so bear with me as I work through this. I decided to make these raised beds after my wife complained about her back hurting while weeding her strawberry patch. We decided to make wooden raised beds, but changed our minds after seeing a barrel cut in half lengthwise on the ground being used for plants. We use food grade barrels for rain catchment and I thought they would be perfect because they have sealed ends, with screw-in bungs.
I made eight of these raised beds with a total cost of under $100.00, the majority of the cost being the barrels. I used scrap lumber as much as I could, and even found the wider boards in the discounted scrap bin at Home Depot.
Step 1: Parts for the Project
So since we are making a raised barrel bed, it goes without saying, but I will anyway, that you need a barrel. I would recommend finding someone who has food grade barrels that did not contain anything you wouldn't put into your soup. Why, because you are going to grow vegetables that will be eaten. I found a local source for these by searching for "rain barrel" on Craigslist. We have been using a different type of food grade barrel that has a screw on lid for our rain catchment. While there, we noticed that they had some of these white barrels cut in half, laying on the ground, filled with dirt.
They told us that they grew flowers, and onions in these. That's what got me thinking about the raised beds using this type of barrel. They charged only $20 a piece for these, so I got four of them.
The only other parts you will need are 2"x4"x8' boards, and 2"x8"x24" boards You can do the math if you are making multiples as I did. Each of the four legs will be 24" long, then mitered a hair to stand flat on the ground. Each will have two pieces of 2"x8"x24" that you will cut a semi-circle in, and finally each will have two 2"x4"x30" for the cross pieces fitted to the legs for stability. lastly, you will need a lot of screws. I used 3" long screws, but you could use others, at least that long, or use bolts instead. Keep in mind that this setup will hold 120 pounds of dirt, and the weight will increase with added water and plants, so don't go under 3" screws.
Step 2: Making the Cut
To start, you will take the 2"x8"x24' boards and cut a semi-circle in them. I haven't figured out what to use the scraps for yet, but maybe something artistic will come out of them. You will have two of these for each bed. The cross piece that attaches the two cut out boards is 24" long. Attach the cross piece using two or three 3" screws. The weight of the bed will not be resting so much on the board, as it will the cut out boards.
To make the cut outs, I used a band saw and it went very quickly, but a jigsaw would work just as well. I took one of the 2"x8"x24" boards and used a barrel to trace the rough pattern of the barrel on the board. I then cut that out and used the first one as a pattern for the rest.
You will cut the barrels lengthwise using a reciprocating saw, which is what I used, or a jig saw. Make sure when you make your cut, that you are cutting it so the bung will be on what will be the bottom of the bed, if you cut it this way, you will have two halves that each have a bung on it. This is handy for draining, if needed. I actually just drilled a 1/2" hole in the bung and had that end on the downhill side of the bed.
Step 3: More Assembly
Once you have the ends and cross piece put together, then add your legs to it. I asked my wife how high she wanted the beds, and she gave me the "about this high" measurement. She stands about 5'4 so I went with the legs being 24" long. I cut all of them with my table saw, and then miter cut a little off each end to make the legs stand flatter on the ground. I did eight of these at one time so it was easier to do all of the measuring and cutting at the same time, then all I had to do was assemble everything. I predrilled the holes for the 3" screws and ran five screws in each leg to attach to the cut out boards.
Once the legs are attached, you will attach a cross piece to each side using two 2"x4"x30" pieces of wood. These add a great deal of stability to the whole thing.
Step 4: Finishing
You are now ready to start your planting, but you will first need to drill some drainage holes into the barrel. As I stated before, I drilled a 1/2" hole in the bung, and placed the barrel on the rack so the bung was on the downhill side of the yard. I also drilled six more holes in the barrel, three on each side about 2-3" from the center line. Do not drill your holes down the middle or you will have all of the water drain directly on your center 2"x4".
We added screening to the bottom of the barrel and put some rocks by the hole drilled into the bung to keep it cleared from dirt. Once the screen was laid out, we added three bags of soil, with each bag weighing 40 pounds. We also added vermiculite to aerate the soil some. We also added some compost to the soil. Finally we planted strawberry plants in the barrel.
I'm not the gardener, just a builder, but my wife, Janice, says other plants that work well in these types of beds are: lettuce, spinach, radishes, onions, herbs, and any other type of flower or vegetable that doesn't require a deep root system. You would not, for example, plant tomatoes in these as they root too deep.
Thanks for looking at this, and please give me feedback.