I am 99% finished with a weekend home improvement project and it is only Thursday! Just don’t ask what weekend I started on. 😉
Shae and I have been talking for a while about building some kind of raised garden/flower bed in our backyard. I wanted something tall but affordable. Shae wanted low maintenance. Here is the almost finished product that has been erected in our backyard.
A view from the inside of the ‘L’
From the Beginning
Every project of ours starts with a written plan. We often go through several iterations of a design before settling on ‘the one’. The first proposal was a simple rectangle and the site location for it was a completely different part of our backyard. It was only about a foot tall and made entirely from cedar.
Of course that didn’t really meet any of our specs. Cedar is an expensive wood, at least when compared to pine. The planter was only a foot tall and it wasn’t self watering. There had to be a design that would meet all of our requirements and eventually we started toying with an L shaped hybrid design that incorporated low cost treated, stained pine with galvanized sheet metal.
Several revisions later and we had our bill of materials.
Menards was running an 11% rebate sale, that we took advantage of. We also rented one of their trucks ($22.50) for 75 minutes from when you leave the outdoor yard.
We unloaded all of the material minus the dirt into our garage for the evening. I posted the below picture to Facebook and asked friends to guess what I was building. People were very creative in their guesses, although most were spot on that it had to do with gardening. That night I started building the frame in the garage.
Saturday morning, Shae helped me drag the frame out of the garage and put it next to its final resting place. It was a bit taller than either of us anticipated!
Due to its weight, we decided that I would build the rest of it in place, so we marked out where it would go on the grass.
Then dug out and leveled the ground so the planter would sit evenly.
After dragging the skeleton into place and leveling it, I started fitting the metal panels.
After fitting the first panel, I instantly knew there was a serious design flaw. My intention was to have the panel hold the dirt in, but with it only being secured at the top and bottom, it was far too ‘bendy’ and easily bowed in and out with the slightest amount of pressure. To resolve this, I bought three additional stained and treated 2x4s to brace the panels on the outside. I also had to buy an additional four regular treated 2x4s to replace the ones that had to be used for bracing.
Being able to screw the sides of each panel added much needed rigidity.
With the panels in place, I turned my attention to the inside of the planter. Instead of filling the entire planter with dirt, an expensive and back breaking proposition, we opted to instead build a raised internal floor. I secured treated 2×4 joists to the vertical 4x4s.
Treated 1x6s were cut to size and installed as planking. Frugal Boy enjoyed cruising along the inside.
Once all of the floorboards were installed, I grabbed some left over heavy duty plastic from when we lined one of our crawlspaces and carefully placed it into the planter to make a liner.
With the liner stapled to the top of the planter, I cut 3″ corrugated, perforated drainage tube to fit the bottom.
These tubes act as a water reservoir and form a critical part of the ‘self watering’ aspect of the planter. Of course, you need a way to add water to the reservoir and that is where this handy fill tube comes into play.
We also needed an overflow drainage pipe. I used a scrap piece of pvc and drilled a bunch of holes into it.
I cut a hole in the planter side just above the corrugated pipe
and inserted the overflow pipe.
The overflow is on the far side of the fill tube.
All of the piping gets wrapped in landscape fabric to prevent dirt from falling in and filling/clogging up the watering system.
Then it was time to add dirt! I started with some sand along the sides of the corrugated piping. I read somewhere that top dirt sitting in water will begin to stink as anaerobic bacteria goes to town.
With the dirt added, the only major thing left was to add the edge cap. I used treated and stained 2x6s and secured them with screws from the underside to leave an unmarred top surface.
Besides sowing seeds, something that will have to wait until it gets a bit warmer, the only big item left to complete the project is to add gravel along the perimeter like so.
I am putting down landscape fabric to keep weeds from popping up next to the planter. Holding that in place is river rock because it is cheap and attractive. I have to go back to the store for a few more bags of rock. I also need a PVC cap for the supply tube so mosquitos cannot breed in the underground reservoir.
So there you have it! Hopefully the self watering system will work by wicking moisture from the reservoir to the root systems. We should only have to water once a week even during the hottest days of summer.
Shae has been deciding what she wants to plant and already has a few ideas.
Leave a comment with what you would plant! Who knows, maybe we’ll try it out ourselves.
Nice project. I think this is something we will try too!
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[…] and I really like our raised garden beds. They keep the rabbits out of our produce, and are dead simple to weed. Our vertically […]
very interesting. pictures are excellent. gives you a complete thought of the entire design.
How has your raised bed worked for you the last 2 summers? What did you plant in it? Were you pleased with the self-watering aspects and would you make any changes if you built another one? Post some pictures of what you grew, if you have them! Thanks so much for sharing your design plans.
We have really enjoyed the raised garden bed. So much in fact, that we built a second matching bed to increase our gardening space.
On the first ‘L’ shaped bed, I do not think we got the liner just right, because it never seems to fill up properly with water. With the newer simpler shaped bed, the self watering does seem to work. The reservoir is probably oversized because it takes quite a while to fill up, but eventually the overflow drain will start gushing. One of the nicer things about the straight rectangle design, is that it makes it easier to fabricate a ‘hoop house’ using scrap pieces of PEX tubing and clear plastic.
Last spring we were able to start broccoli plants under the hoop house and had some magnificently sized plants early in the season. Unfortunately, I think I spaced them too close together and they never produced nice heads but that was just my beginner’s mistake.
We have had great luck with carrots, lettuce, spinach, and other veggies that rabbits normally eat up. Squirrels can still get into the beds, but they mainly like to dig around instead of eating.
When you say you didn’t get the plastic quite right what do you think was the trouble? Did you do anything different with placing the plastic in the second one?
How have the beds been holding up since you have installed them?
This is a great project and I’d like to do something like this. The photos are great, but I honestly cannot make sense of the corrugated setup. I don’t follow how they’re being filled with water and how water is escaping those pipes with no holes. They’re not connected and there’s only one fill pipe. I keep going over these photos over and over, but can’t make sense of the fill, store, drain process. Could you help me a bit to understand.
The black pipe with yellow stripe has slits cut into it at every rib (valley). It comes this way from the store. You can see it in one of the pictures where they are placed in the bed if you zoom in on the right most one. They don’t have to be connected to one another because functionally they are just like gravel. Water can flow freely between them because of all the slits.
Great design and work Andrew! How long does it take for the plants to pick up water from the reservoir?
Is there any need to irrigate them from above after planting to get them started?
I was wondering about that.
Was the raised bed idea partly about avoiding tree roots?
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How deep is the top soil/ compost mix . Thanks
I read through it a couple time and maybe I still missed it, but how far was it from the top of the 4×4 to the 1×6 that was the bottom of your garden. 18 inches?
What happened to the dead space at the bottom, to me it’s wasted space then.
Great project! Going to try it myself.
Thank you for the inspiration .
What does “self- watering” mean? Are you pouring water down that PVC chimney and it flows to the bottom? Not sure what the concept is.
Thank you! This is the best set of step-by-step instructions I’ve seen so far. Looking forward to implementing them.
Nicely done project!
This might work well for me. I have very sandy soil and can’t afford to waste water. I like the self watering feature to potentially reduce watering frequency. I even like the idea of a ‘greenhouse’ cover.
Fix the pictures pls : )