Upcycle a Discarded Grill/Smoker to a Fun Planter Box(updated)




About: I am finishing my MS in Marine Biology and have a lovely wife and 3 cats. I'm just learning and making and trying to find my way. Eco-toxicology is my main focus but I love microbiology and ethnic foods as...

So basically, one day I was driving past the dumpster for my building complex and I saw a perfectly good rusted out smoker.  I immediately knew it must be mine.  So I parked my car and walked over and drug it the block or so to my home.  It stayed on my porch for about a month until spring sprung.  Then  I was inspired to make something out of it.  So what better thing to make than something i can eat?  I decided to make a Planter Box out of it and grow some food.  I expected it to be a pain but really it was pretty easy and quick to do.  Not to mention extremely rewarding.

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Step 1: Searching for the Goods

This is the most exciting part of the process because it is the most open ended.  I personally have always enjoyed a good dumpster dive.  I get the neatest, free-est, most random stuff that I can not live without from the garbage of others.  Dumpsters near apartments near the end of the month yield lots of furniture and old stuff people who are moving don't want to take with them so sometimes I will scan my city's apartment/places lots of people who rent units dumpsters at that time and sometimes the yields are epic (*cough* LA-Z-Boy leather recliner and more DVDs and CDs than I care to admit *cough*)  Usually the things aren't even actually in the dumpster, and when they are it is usually right on top and easy as cake to get to.  I found a semi rust covered smoker, but you could use a grill or old buckets or whatever you think dirt would go in and could have holes preexisting or easily added.  

Step 2: Clean Up and Spruce Up.

Since my grill was a little rusty(and discarded near a dumpster) I needed to clean it up a little before I could even think of planting anything in it.  Here is what I needed:

1)  Wire Brush for getting rust off of the metal(and all of the paint at that).
2)  Dish Soap 
3) Water 
4) Spray on Enamel

Once it was all cleaned I spray painted it with a protective enamel that was black, so it would draw as much light as possible and look as much like a smoker as it is.  You however could do whatever you like.  Paint a picture or scene on it or make it rainbow colored, it is up to you.  This project should be about creation of what you envision.  There is no wrong choice.  I would also suggest if you have not cleaned your rusty, dirty whatever you are using, you should definitely put some plastic covering or something over the entire inside before you proceed to the next step to prevent anything horrid from leaching into your plants and soil.

Clean it and let it dry.  Then spray the enamel and again, let it dry.  These were my steps, your could be the same or vary.

Step 3: Planting Materials

Now you should be ready to set up your planter box.  I used the following items for this step:

1)  A bag of stones,rocks, pebbles, etc. that was used to help with drainage and ensure my soil didn't stagnate.
2)  A spade or implement that you can use to situate the soil(or you can get your hands dirty, your choice!)
3)  Soil
      *This is a tricky issue. What you want to grow will be up to you.  However the stuff you grow will have its own preference as to the type of soil you will need for growing.  You should decide what you want to grow before making any hasty decisions on soil.  I assure you, if you are buying it, it costs real money and you might need more than one bag.  You should also try to know what kind of additives(such as fertilizers and nutrients, as well as your decided pest control method...) you will need and pick it up from a local nursery in one fell swoop.
4)  Knife to open stuff
5) Plants  

I had originally chosen strawberries to plant(I did this at the beginning of spring in South Florida) but they didn't turn out to be so great in this application and I transplanted them into a different pot where they were fine.  Maybe later I will go outside and take a more current photo of the garden we have going.  We choose to grow food to help offset costs and frankly because we grow yummy food.  Okra, peppers, squash, whatever you desire you can generally grow in a small space and with a little work you can grow a fun and delicious pass time.  Plus it can teach you a little about the world around you while you watch your crop come to fruition.  Ultimately what you grow is up to you as stated before.  What do you think is pretty?  What smells would you prefer to have when you are near it?  Think about what you grow so you can gain the maximum benefits out of the things you will invest your time in to growing.

Step 4: Planting and Enjoying(w/ Update and New Photos)

Before you start the process ensure you have a drainage system set up in your planter of choice.  If not your plants won't like it and could not grow as well or even die.  So cut or drill holes into the thing you have.  You don't need to Swiss cheese it or anything, but you can add 4 or 5 small holes in the bottom and the same amount around the sides to be super safe if you'd like.  

Now you can just open the bag(s) of rocks and pour some into the smoker until you have a uniform amount on the bottom about 3 to 6 inches deep, depending on how large your planter box is of course the amount needed will vary.  Just use your best judgement, it doesn't have to be an exact science.

After your rocks are in, throw the soil on and put your plants or seed right in.  the exact method will depend on, again, what you grow.  Then its all a waiting game.  Wait and see what goes wrong first and fix it.  Then wait some more till the next issue comes and fix it too.  Repeat as needed and ENJOY!

Update:  Well, This instructable got featured so thanks to whoever chose me for that honor.  As I had said I would update this with more pictures and was bestowed honor from the original, I actually went out and took some photos.  Currently we have a jalapeno and a poblano pepper plant in it, as well as what I can only assume is the most cilantro ever privately cultivated...

Now if you know anything about cilantro you know that when it bolts(flowers) it renders it bitter and not very tasty.  However the seeds that will drop from the cilantro are actually coriander, so we are just waiting till it seeds and will start again and have some fresh spice at that.  

I also took a photo(the last one on this page) of the morning glory that we planted at the feet of the newly minted plant box, which promptly grew up all four legs.  So just for reference if you are interested, you can plant ivy, morning glory, or any other climbing plant or vine up the legs or base of whatever you are making for another natural but beautiful effect.

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    12 Discussions


    7 years ago on Introduction

    This is awesome! We have actually been looking into getting a new grill and I never would have thought of this. Thanks for the idea. ^___^

    1 reply

    7 years ago on Introduction

    I had the same idea yesterday. Got it all put together, then I saw your instructable last night! Great minds........

    2 replies

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Nice! What did you plant in there? Those are very pretty flowers. Once they settle in and grow out a bit I bet that it will look really really cool. I opted for an edible theme, yours are decorative mostly I assume?


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    I used a coleus and a few mystery flowers. I asked the plant guy what would work in a shady area and just bought what he recommended. We have a lot of potted plants around our patio and have them all set up on an automatic drip irrigation system. Guess I'll need to extend this system another 30 feet to reach the old grill.

    I especially like that it came with built-in potting shelves.

    In our neighborhood, we have Big Trash day on the first Monday of the month. A fleet of metal recyclers and swap-meet pickers will roam through the neighborhood scooping up whatever they can use - recycling at its best. I've gotten some good stuff this way and re-homed objects as well.

    3 replies

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    people throw away some really good stuff, from clothes with store tags still attached, unopened boxes of pots and pans to only slightly used childrens toys, even some of the "scrap" metal is actually useable outdoor furniture or in one recent case an almost new stainless steel gas barbeque that had a small dent in its lid


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    I have discarded some items that I knew would get a good home, saving the trouble of lugging it to the thrift store. At our old house, we did not have a bulk trash day, but if you had something good that wouldn't fit in the moving truck, placing it on the curb with a FREE sign would get picked up pretty quick.

    When you are in the middle of moving, sometimes the stress and lack of time makes people just set out stuff in the hopes that someone will take it. My MIL brought us a carload of stuff just before we moved when I already did not have enough room in the truck. Aaugh!

    What bothers me is when they bury good stuff IN the dumpster so it cannot be retrieved.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    A large pile on the curb is often a real honey hole for curb miners, it's unfortunate that the economy makes them more prevalent lately. A lot of people know when they are throwing away something still useful and set it either prominently on top of the trash cans as if to say "take me" or in a position that it can be seen clearly outside the cans. In the past couple of weeks I've grabbed an almost new slow cooker, a kids bike and a razor scooter, from on top of trash cans, the wheels on the scooter weren't even scuffed! One of my strangest recent finds was a 14" survival knife that the handle and half the sheath was sticking up out of the can, it's not a high quality knife and the "gear" inside the handle was gone but it appeared brand new. I can almost picture the parent saying.. NO WAY you're keeping THAT!


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you very much. It was one of those projects where you don't know you want to do it, but then you realized it was something you desperately did want to do.