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.
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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