Easy Upcycled Raised Beds With Deer Screen

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I'm relatively new to gardening, this being my third year of gardening in my friend's 2 acre back yard. Last year I had terrible trouble with rabbits eating my broccoli and beans and I wanted to create some raised beds that would be easier to work than the typical, low-to-the-ground bed.

I purchased 8 file cabinets from New York government surplus for $50 over the winter and my first raised bed system was underway.

While file cabinets create a lovely height - 28.5" which is in the range of a typical counter - it's impractical to completely fill the cabinets with soil or organic fill. The trick to making this system work is to "fill" about half the cabinet with "space" reusing cabinet parts and other, inexpensive, found and reused materials.

Supplies:

Cost of materials:

  • 8 used commercial filing cabinets: $50
  • 10 1/2" Schedule 40 10' conduit ($2.16 each): $21.60
  • 100 8" wire ties: $3.99
  • 100' of 7' wide deer netting: $49.99
  • 16 used job buckets (free, no longer viable for maple sugaring)
  • Landscape fabric: $5
  • Scrap plywood (free)

Total cost of materials: $130.58

Step 1: Arranging the Cabinets

I wanted my cabinets to be set so I had an entrance end, be affordable, and allow humans to enter, but birds and deer cannnot enter. I also had to work with the cabinets I had. I had 2 tan cabinets which were the same, and I though 6 gray cabinets which were the same. It turned out two of the gray cabinets were wider than the other 4. All the cabinets were paired up for rows and I ended up with this E layout.

I had some old conduit kicking around to test my arch for vine plants and deer protection. In test fitting, this 10' span seemed to work ideally.

With the age of the conduit, I felt getting new conduit would be easier to work with and I didn't need the 1" conduit I had.

Step 2: Filling the Lower Space

Wanting to use as much of the cabinets as possible, I kept the sliders for the drawers. They were removed, turned on their side and placed in the cabinet in the middle as shown in the pictures with alternating the braced ends. The drawer slides didn't fill the now bottom of the cabinet completely. I found old Home Depot job buckets were about the same height so I put them on either end and covered them with appropriate size plywood. I have 3 different widths of cabinets in this system, but generally, they were 12"-20" wide by 20" long.

I overcut some garden fabric and placed it over the raised stuff, made sure I filled my corners first, then filled the rest of the container with dirt, pushing the dirt and fabric into all the corners.

I will probably not fill all the cabinets this year, and let this be a long-term investment.

Step 3: Deer Netting System

The file cabinets are sufficient to keep the rabbits and groundhogs out of my plants, but I still have plenty of deer, bear, and birds who eat my garden.

The frame is made of ten 10' pieces of 1/2" conduit.

Each arch is two pieces of conduit stuck together with friction - no glue required. Three arches were required - one on each end and one in the middle.

To keep the arches spaced properly and to give good attachment points for my netting I also put in 3 purlins - one on either side at shoulder height, and one at the peak. As everyone's file cabinet setup will be different, know that 5-drawer file cabinets (which these are) are about 5' tall (or in planter form 5' long). I also have the width of the cabinets at the end, making my overall depth of this raised bed area about 12.5' which is slightly longer than one piece of conduit. I friction fit the purlins and cut the pair to length using my circular saw. I had enough left over to make a header for my entrance.

I used my 8" wire ties to secure the pieces of conduit at the joints and then wrapped them with duct tape to make them smooth.

My deer netting is 8' wide. I ran it from side to side over my arch with the seam of the two pieces at the middle arch which made connecting them with wire ties also connecting both pieces to the center arch with wire ties. It was easy to leave the roll loose on one side and then pull it over the top purlin with a ladder and then the rest of the way down the other side from the ground.

I also used wire ties to secure the netting to the cabinets at the cross bars which would go between the original drawers.

Step 4: Planting

After the filler is in the bottom of the cabinet, there's about 14" of depth for dirt, potting soil, or gardening soil. I have a mix of dirt from the yard, and then about 2 cubic feet of garden soil or potting soil on top.

I've planted beans on the exterior so they have the netting to grow on. In the future, I'll only plant beans or climbing plants on the north side of the structure. As they grow, they cast a LOT of shade.

I've temporarily added the seed packets and some popsicle sticks to mark my planting. In the future, I'll likely make laminated signs to attach to the sides with magnets.

Step 5: Future Plans

  • I plan to close the far end and make deer netting curtains that hang from the header and hook with magnetic hooks to "enclose" the whole system in netting.
  • By fall, I plan to paint the cabinets with leftover and auction-purchased paint so they're darker and absorb light to help my spring planting.
  • Right now I'm using anti-fatigue mats over the empty dirt bags to keep grass down in the rows between my cabinets, but I also have some scrap rubber sheet that I'm likely going to replace that with.
  • I will likely add more cabinets every year until I take up a full side of my garden.
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    17 Discussions

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    CptPikachu

    Question 5 days ago

    This is great but my concern is the corroding metal leaching into the plants.

    1 answer
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    tomboysawyerCptPikachu

    Answer 4 days ago

    Iron isn't bad for plants, but the cabinets are painted and there's cloth between the soil and the cabinets. Everything drains well.

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    tomboysawyer

    Tip 4 days ago on Step 1

    The bottoms of filing cabinets are fairly open (and not attractive). By pairing my cabinets, I was able to butt two bottoms together so they are not visible once everything is installed. With the open bottoms, the cabinets drain quite freely.

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    JustinM97

    5 days ago

    I really like the basic idea, shows great creativity. I'd have done a couple things a bit differently but hey if it works that's what counts :-)

    I'd have put the cabinets up on some scavenged cement blocks or bricks to get them off the ground and prevent or slow the rusting while bringing them up just a bit higher. And drilled a bunch of drainage holes in the bottom (back) for less rust issues too.

    Then I'd have looked for some plastic tubs with lips, that would sit inside the frame and hang from the sides for my actual planting beds, again drilling drainage holes of course.

    Finally, the roof might support some clear plastic sheet in the spring to create a small greenhouse and get a jump on the short growing season here. Might be an idea for you or others too, if you aren't all considering it already :-)

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    tomboysawyerJustinM97

    Reply 4 days ago

    The (original) bottoms are open, so they drain well. Being commercial cabinets, it will probably be 5-7 years before the part on the ground rusts enough to cause any concern and, at that point, I'll probably build some wood bases. I'm not a fan of using any more plastic than I have to - but I know some people love to do their plants that way. That's a great idea for those who love it and I do love your greenhouse idea :) I have a lot of clear plastic available.

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    WayneS123

    5 days ago

    What happens when it rusts? Won’t that leach into the soil and the plants aka food? Also drainage?

    2 replies
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    catesjaorWayneS123

    Reply 5 days ago

    was going to comment about the rust issue, however, iron (a.k.a. rust) would not affect plants, and would benefit them in a small way. The issue I would see with rust, would be stability of the planters. The better way would be smaller cabinets, with a raised footing underneath to allow for drainage.

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    tomboysawyerWayneS123

    Reply 5 days ago

    The soil is separate from the sides with cloth and the bottom, where it's likely to rust, is more than a foot away. The original bottoms of the cabinets are open. Since I butted the bottoms to each other, you don't see the draining part.

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    george57

    5 days ago

    And presumably the removed drawers will make useful seed trays? ;-)
    Though I'd be concerned about the bottoms of the cabinets rusting out and when, one day, the sides rust out and all need replacing, removing it all from the soil may be a challenge.
    Not sure if it is feasible but I'd have considered removing the backs/bottoms and burying the frame a few inches to avoid the need to fill with 'rubbish' (much of which will also rust out eventually) but then the sides would just rust faster.
    How's the drainage, with the false plywood bottoms?
    I might try this with a full above-ground (on slabs or bricks) cabinet to create an asparagus bed.

    1 reply
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    tomboysawyergeorge57

    Reply 5 days ago

    Yes, already using the drawers! See a number of the pictures, there are two off to the eft at the moment. I drilled holes in the down-slope ends for drainage, but the (original) bottoms already drain. Burying is a nice idea and would save/recover soil. I like the height. When these start to rust, I'll add wood support at first. I don't see the fill material rusting. It doesn't stay wet.

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    DeanneS2

    5 days ago

    What agreat solution for raised bed gardening- old file cabinets are abundant and impossible to sell- great upcycle and inexpensive!! Love it!

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    paulbpac

    5 days ago

    Great repurposing idea! I didn’t see any drainage provisions and in general wondered about rust prevention.

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    sparkleponytx

    8 days ago

    This is ingenious! I love it!

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    melissagjames65

    10 days ago

    I love this idea!! It sure would be good for no weeds. I plan on making a raised cabinet garden.

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    TheDNR

    10 days ago

    Love this idea! I may try this.