Introduction: Tiered Garden Bed

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Tiered garden beds are great for adding visual interest to a garden while also helping segregate different plants. This instructable goes through the step by step creation of my garden bed, but please take the basic ideas and expand. The design I used is fairly simple and symmetric but the same steps could be used to make an intricate abstract masterpiece. I didn't need a back to the boxes since it was up against a fence, but it would be easy enough to add those if needed.

While I have a decent amount of tools, there are certainly tools that would make this easier (a bandsaw could notch the ends with 10% of the work). Again, modify these directions to work best for you.

One last note is if you could get your hands on some old railroad ties, they would work great for this project as well. They'd add a nice green touch while slashing the costs of the project. Unfortunately, I couldn't get my hands on any.

The materials I used are:
11x Pressure treating landscape logs ($4 each at Lowes)
2x 10ft pieces of 3/8" rebar ($4.50 each)
Lots of dirt.

Tools:
Miter saw
Table saw
Reciprocating saw (with metal and wood blades)
Hammer
Chisel
Tamper
Shovel
Drill with 1/2" Spade bit

Step 1: Cutting the Wood to Size

Picture of Cutting the Wood to Size

Each of the 4 main boxes is 28" long, 40" wide, and two logs high. I chose these because each 8 ft log cuts into exactly two 28" and one 40" section. I recommend waiting until you have the larger boxes set before cutting the connecting logs as this allows for minor changes in placement later on.

Step 2: Notching the Ends

Picture of Notching the Ends

Rather than butting the logs up against each other, notching the ends lets you stack them on top of each other and drive a single support through 4 logs at once. Given that the logs are 4" x 2.5", each notch should be 4" x 1 3/8." Making it slightly deeper than half of the log height will give more freedom when placing them. If you have a band saw you can ignore these details and just use that, otherwise I made due without.

You need to cut each each 40" piece on both ends and each 28" piece only one end. To set the blade depth of the saw take a scrap piece of wood and mark it at 13/8." Run each log through 4" from the end. Then set the table saw to max height and 1 3/8" from the fence. Run each log through vertically. You should have about 1" left that you will need to finish off with a reciprocating saw.

Step 3: Notching the Middle

Picture of Notching the Middle

Each of the bottom 28" logs (except for the two outermost) needs to have a second notch for the connecting logs. I did this by setting the table saw again to 1 3/8" high and cutting two slits slightly more than 4" apart. If you cut them exactly 4" you will have a really tight fit. Once the two slits are cut I set the table saw to 45 degrees and cut V's in between the slits. Finally, a chisel and hammer were the best bet to remove the rest of the notch.

I made the notches exactly halfway down the beams because I originally planned on planting the ground level. After getting everything finished I'm just going to let the grass grow right up to it, so if I had to do it again I would make the notches close to the end of the logs.

Step 4: Test Fit the Pieces

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It's not a bad idea to test fit the pieces at this point. Once everything is all set you should have:

8x 40" pieces with notches at either end
6x 28" pieces with end and middle notches
10x 28" pieces with just an end notch

I actually mis-counted and put a middle notch in one two many logs, so I just screwed an extra block of wood back into the space.

Step 5: Cut the Rebar

Picture of Cut the Rebar

The rebar needs to be cut into smaller pieces. You'll need 16 pieces and I made them about 14" each. You can also buy smaller pieces, but it's cheaper to just cut down large ones

Step 6: Prepping the Site

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Two two boxes on either end get set first. You may need to roughly level the whole area if it's not already. You should also tamp down the dirt directly underneath the logs. It's easy enough to do the tamping as you go along.

Step 7: Setting Up the Boxes

Picture of Setting Up the Boxes

Lay all the pieces on top of each other as they'll wind up. With all the logs in place drill a 1/2" hole in each front corner and on each side over the middle notch. Drill deep enough that the bit marks the lower level of logs, remove the top logs, and finish the rest of the hole. Set the rebar into the holes, but don't hammer it in yet.

Step 8: Set the Spacing for the Inner Boxes

Picture of Set the Spacing for the Inner Boxes

Rather than measuring from the beginning, I just measured the proper spacing of the inner boxes once the outer ones were set. This is why I hadn't cut the connecting logs yet. Once you've got the placement set, setup the boxes just as in the previous step.

Step 9: Adding the Connecting Logs

Picture of Adding the Connecting Logs

Cut the 8' logs to the proper length and notch either end as before. Place the upper pieces back in place and use the existing hole as a guide to drill through the ends. Set everything back in place, insert all the rebar, and hammer it flush with the logs.

Step 10: Finishing Up

Picture of Finishing Up

The only thing left now is to fill the tiers with dirt. If you need to buy dirt, ripped bags at Lowes are 50% off. It took 20+ 40lb bags to fill everything in as a frame of reference. It's still a little early to plant here in Buffalo, but hopefully I should get things going within a couple weeks.

Comments

mpikas (author)2010-01-28

It looks nice, but isn't it a pain to mow around?

mpikas (author)2010-01-28

Next time leave the blade straight up and down and make a cut every 1/4" or so between your 2 side cuts.

You end up with a bunch of thin pieces that you can knock out with a hammer very quickly, and then if you care you can clean up the bottom of the cut with a chisel, plane or even a sander, since usually they break off pretty much flush with the bottom of the saw cuts.

kathynv (author)2009-09-15

Again, another nice instructable! I had the same thought as the previous writer, that you would need a liner to prevent leaching of chemicals into the soil and I also wondered if the fence is yours or belongs to a neighbor. If the fence is yours, a good heavy-duty liner will protect both the soil and the fence. If the fence belongs to your neighbor, you might want to think about putting a back on those planting beds before adding a liner. That way, you won't be held responsible for your neighbor's fence when it rots. Thinking of Buffalo, you might want to add a bracket or two to your planting beds, so that they can hold an old window frame (usually available free from people who are buying new windows). That will make the beds into cold frames, which will enable you to plant a good month before the last frost in Buffalo.

MrBippers (author)kathynv2009-09-21

I had the concern at first about the leeching. I did some research and seeing as how modern pressure treating is done with the more mild copper sulfate rather than the arsenic that used to be the standard, the consensus seemed to be it was okay.

As for the fences, it's a bit of a story. I guess the neighbors didn't like the old owners and put up a fence but had the finished side facing their yard. The old owners got really upset and after being told by the town that they didn't have to have the finish side facing out, it was just a common courtesy, built a second stretch of fence facing the opposite direction. Now there's two fences each facing the wrong way. Anything that rots through would only expose the 8" buffer zone between the fences. Still if I find a scrap of something that would work well as a liner, I might put it in.

The cold frame is a good idea. I actually built a greenhouse from old windows like this one so I'm looking forward to getting things started sooner next year.

scmtngirl (author)2009-05-15

Nice! My only concern would be planting vegetables or herbs in beds made with pressure-treated lumber. You would probably want to stick to ornamental plants only. Also, you might want to put some sort of liner between the fence and the dirt to avoid rotting the fence.

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Bio: I'm a PhD candidate in Pharmaceutical Sciences living the dream with my wife, two dogs, and a basement that overfloweth with homebrew.
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