Box Garden Fun
It’s that time of year when everyone is getting excited about their gardens. Be they vegetable, flowers, fruit trees, or a combination of them all, it is that time. For us, we’ve never done any real gardening. We managed to have one random carrot grow outside our apartment in Bremerton. In fact, I didn’t even know it was there until I started tilling soil for a few random flowers I picked up at Lowe’s. I was a bit shocked that it was there. It was a stub of a thing and honestly, I’m not sure I would have eaten it, given that it was pretty cruddy soil and I’m sure cats used it as a litter box. No thank you. But now that we have our own home and we have a huge backyard just aching for something worthwhile, it’s time we take the big plunge and try our hands at vegetable gardening.
However, we have a bit of a mole problem out this way. It seems our neighbors have it worse than we do, but we still have moles and those bastards can ruin anything. So boxed gardens/raised beds it is! Neither The Fellow™ nor I have ever built a box garden before this little endeavor, though they’re in no way difficult to piece together. Some quick tallying of materials while we were at Lowe’s, a couple cuts made by the Lowe’s employee, and voila! The makings of two 5’x3′ cedar box gardens shoved into the back end of a Kia Soul! I don’t even want to know how we would have managed if I still had the Mustang…
Our shopping list was small. Lucky for us, the dimensions we needed were available, albeit in longer pieces, and they cut down to the perfect sizes without any waste. For the long side of the box, we bought (2) 10’x6″x1″ boards and had them both cut twice to make the (4) 5′ pieces. For the short sides, we bought (1) 12’x6″x1″ board and had it cut four times in 3′ increments. Perfect! Now, we needed 4″x4″ posts to use as corner anchors. However, our Lowe’s didn’t have these available. The closest thing we could find were notched deck posts that would have cost us two or three times the amount of our other option, plus, as mentioned they were notched and would have been a huge waste of material. We ended up deciding on using a 2″x4″ and having the posts cut down to 1’4″ (that’s 16 inches).
Galvanized screws are recommended for using to attach everything, to keep them from rusting over time. 32 is all you need.
There’s speculation as to using the rebar. Why use them? Think about this: you have 5′ lengths and 3′ lengths of wood that are trying to contain a whole load of soil and vegetables or flowers. You’re constantly watering the flowers or vegetables. The wood is getting wet. The pressure of everything starts to make the wood bow. What do you think might happen? There’s no promise that anything will ever break or cause any problems, but better safe than sorry, right? Rebar isn’t too expensive and is readily available at Lowe’s (or Home Depot or your local hardware store).
This is a job better left for two people, though in a pinch you could do it on your own with basic shop tools and a bit of creativity.
The easiest way we found to build these suckers was to construct the 5′ lengths first. We set the 16″ posts down on the floor and set one 5′ piece on top of it, making sure the plank was flush against the edges of each of the posts. The Fellow™ put in two screws in each side and made sure he set them off center from each other in order to prevent them from causing any cracks or breakage. Some of the cedar we picked up had hairline fractures in the surface and if he was to put one hole right above the other, we might be facing an issue in the future. Knock on wood (har har) his method will keep this from happening.
Once those are secure, grab another 5′ length and match it flush against the in-place board and do the same as before. You’ll want to make two full panels of 5′ boards on the posts. That way all that’s left to do is attach the 3′ pieces and your structure is complete!
One thing to keep in mind is to build the boxes upside down. When you’re getting ready to add the 3′ boards, make sure the extra 4″ is pointing up at the ceiling, not down on the ground.
Since I suck at drawing three dimensional stuff, you get a top view of what we did for the 3′ sections. With the 5′ panels made and the posts sticking their little feet up in the air, they will stay put without any assistance, ready to take the newest attachments. Be sure when you’re screwing in the 3′ pieces to attach that you are pushing those screws into the POST and not the overlapping edge of the 5′ run. The posts are there to give support both for the box’s panels and to anchor them into the ground, so use ’em! Plus, you wouldn’t want to accidentally split the 1″ panels, what with them being so fragile and itty bitty compared to the big honkin’ 2″x4″ or 4″x4″ you have already acquired.
So plop those screws in place, again, remembering to off center them, and voila, you have yourself box garden. Pretty easy, huh? It probably was a no brainer and you probably didn’t need me or MY HIGH TECH DRAWINGS to show you the way. I’d like to believe I’ll give at least one person the proper insight to how to get’er done.
Once the box or boxes are complete and you’re ready to put them outside, be sure you’re placing them in the proper location. Plenty of sunshine, lots of space in between multiple boxes to allow for you to walk up and down the aisles or even crouch/kneel if needed, and within reasonable distance of a hose. Unless you plan on carrying a bucket up there to do all your watering. Dig out shallow holes for the posts to fit down into. They don’t need to be fancily dug or lined with anything special. They just need to be deep enough that those little feeties get a decent enough foothold and the box becomes flush with the ground.
When you’ve finished with that task, the final one you have is placing the rebar, if you’ve decided you won’t take the risk of the panels expanding and bowing and possibly causing issues at the end of summer. The little diagram to the right shows the best places to bang those metal stakes into the soil. Push them flush against the wood and make sure they’re in deep enough to be useful. You don’t want them sticking out over the lip of the box gardens. That could be dangerous!
Get those in place and you’re set.
From there, you can take a couple of different steps. If you’re placing the boxes directly on top of existing grass, you need to kill it off so it doesn’t infiltrate whatever you’re growing. Cardboard or black and white newspaper will do the trick. It also decomposes! For us, we used a bunch of cardboard cut down to size to fit inside and then lined the bottom with bricks (since we had an epic butt ton hanging around). You’ll want to line the bottom with some sort of mesh or fabric or other deterrent to keep moles out.
Now all you need is your manure, mulch, compost, topsoil, peat moss, vermiculite, or whatever combination of the above you use to make your flowers or vegetables thrive. We chose to go the route of 6 cubic feet of steer manure, 4 cubic feet of topsoil, 1 cubic foot of organic 5 blend compost, 16 dry quarts of peat moss, and 8 dry quarts of vermiculite, per box. If you’re not sure what you should be using, or how much, there are a lot of helpful guides in Internet Land, particularly Square Foot Gardening. Or you could always hit up your local bookstore or library and see what sort of information their books have to offer.
Let’s hope all our hard work up to this point yields us some delicious vegetables all summer long and for years to come!