Since getting laid off in January I have been trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle, I always did recycle everything that I could, even down to pre-sorting my recycling to make it easier for the garbage men, but now for the first time ever I've started a compost heap in the back yard and a worm composting bin in the basement to cut down on my general garbage since we all throw away so much in peelings, cores, rotten vegetables, etc. that being able to do something productive with my families waste instead of paying someone to take it away each week just makes sense.
To that end I knew this year I wanted to get a vegetable garden going again, to have your own home grown vegetables cannot be beat, but based upon previous years I knew I couldn't just carry on doing what I did before. Ignoring the fact that I'd let the bed become just another part of the lawn, the ground itself while well draining is compacted, dense, and stony and has never grown good vegetables in the past. With this knowledge I knew the best way forward for a raised bed, but how to do it for minimal cost.
- Electric Drill with bits to suit your chosen screws
- Mitre/Circular/Hand or Table saw (you'll only need 1)
- Optionally a Lawn Edger and Rototiller
Step 1: Making Plans
Looking around my house I have quite a stock of old wood, some very well aged wood used as retaining walls for raised beds from the previous owners, some newer but still 4 or 5 year old left over 2x4's along with random other pieces. A quick assessment and I realised I had enough wood to build a 10' by 3' raised bed of approximately 10" height. This I knew would be perfect, a good 30 square feet to get me going and with 10" of height perfect for growing everything from simple roots like carrots to any other vegetable I could desire.
Sadly at the time I didn't think of making this an Instructable, indeed this is my very first, but I hope with pictures and my explanation you can see what I did. Being the normal guy that I am (much to my wifes chagrin) I have a huge collection of nuts, bolts, screws, etc. available to use, so dug out a large quantity of #10 2.5" deck screws, these are perfect as they come with an anti-corrosion coating so aren't going to rust any time soon. Next I took my mitre saw and cut my wood to length removing the rotten sections that offered no structural support any more, this left me with some pieces the full 10' in length which I used for the front of the bed and other pieces of approximately 8' in length.
Step 2: Assembly
The front was initially made from 2 pieces, one was a very old 2x6, and the second was an equally old 2x5, with their planed dimensions (5.5" and 4.5" respectively) making a combined 10" I was happy with this. With the ground it was going on having a slight slope the sides and back were going to be shorter so I cut two more pieces of the 2x6 in to 36" lengths along with a 36" piece of 2x4 for each side. The back meanwhile required more cutting and bracing pieces as I no longer had any full 10' length pieces, the longest remaining being 8'. This worked out well however and akin to brick work to make the back stronger I staggered the joints with each layer being an 8' and 2' piece joined together with a vertical 2x4 support.
With the front and back assembled I laid them top side down on the flat concrete pathway of my house and joined them together using the side pieces, screwing in to the corner 2x4 braces. These front braces were purposefully left approximately 8" longer than needed to enable them to be buried in the ground to act as support to stop the bed from moving.
Step 3: Change of Plan
While building to this stage I had been hoping to find the time and extra body to borrow my brother in laws rototiller to help level off the slope a little, sadly this didn't happen and so it was at this point I had a change of plan.Luckily I had one weathered 2x4 with a few weathered scraps and a spare 2x4 in the shed left over. Adding the weathered pieces to the front and the spare having two 37.5" lengths cut for the sides with the remaining 21" being split for 2 more braces I built up the height of the front and sides.
This necessitated now digging in to the ground a channel either side along with a shallow channel the length of the front for the box to sit in but left me with a bed approximately 9" high at the back and 12" high at the front. To mark out where I needed the channels cut I simple laid the box upside down on the ground and using the lawn edger marked out the front and sides before moving the box out of the way and digging with the spade.
For the front this was little more than removing the top inch to make it level across the front (not forgetting to dig deeper in the corners for the front "stakes") while for the sides I ultimately dug down about four inches. This is easiest if you simply go straight vertical with your flat edged spade along the marked lines down to the depth you need on both sides and then from the outside edge simply lever the sod out of the ground. Placing the box in to it's grooves now check for level and if all is good then any gaps you can back fill with the dirt you removed.
Of course this additional ground work may not apply to you and if not then you'll just need to dig holes for the "stakes" at the front.
Step 4: Prepping the Bed
My first step keeping this low cost was to lay out scrap corrugated cardboard as the first layer of bedding. In an ideal world you'd use biodegradable landscape fabric and/or hardware cloth (should burrowing animals be an issue in your area), but cardboard will do an equally okay job at suppressing the grass beneath long enough.
I then began filling the bed with cheap ($1.19+tax) bags of top soil from the local hardware store, it took a total of 32 bags ($43.03 total cost) in the end leaving an approximately 1" high gap from the top of the beams for a total of 640 cubic litres of soil. This was my only cost and could possibly be cheaper if you can find a company in your area that does bulk soil delivery (although most of them will only deliver a minimum 1 cubic yard which is about 100 litres more than was needed here) or check out Kijiji, lots of people in the cities building new properties often have adverts for you to come remove it for free!
Step 5: Finishing Up
Time to get planting! I also had this old wooden planter sitting alongside my house, given to us from my wife's aunt, which is going to see excellent use as a potato planter (something I've never grown before)!
I wish you luck in your growing endeavours, please leave a comment if you like this Instructable, it's my first and so any constructive criticism is gladly received.