Because Josh and I are trying our best to be less reliant on grocery stores, the government and outside services in general, a clear choice in becoming more self-sufficient was to start a garden. We honestly weren’t sure how we were going to do with this challenge because neither one of us really has much experience with gardening, but we decided to go big or go home. I’m not sure that I would recommend this to everyone as we’ve put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into our gardening with somewhat little reward so far, but the future is looking brighter and more promising with every day! In this article, I’ll explain how we built our raised garden bed basically for free, some things we learned while building it and what we’ve done with it (complete with pictures of each stage!).
- Wood (any size that works best for you will work just fine)(treated wood will last longer and will not rot out as quick) We used two 2”x6” at 8’ long and two 2”x6” at 16’ long
- 4-8 “L” brackets (4 for inside corners and 4 for outside edges)
- Nails (large enough to go through the wood and hold the pieces together)
- Weed barrier
- Chicken wire or some other type of fencing to line the garden bed
- Enough soil to fill in the garden bed (the amount will depend on how big of a bed you make)
- Wood pallets
The first thing you’re going to want to do is find a place to put your garden bed. You’ll want to find a location that has a good mix of full sun and some shade because your different plants are going to need different types of sun exposure. You will also want to consider the wind factor. Our house gets a lot of wind so we wanted to make sure that we were going to provide our plants with some natural and created wind protection (see further explanation below). And lastly, it’s nice to find a location that’s already bug and critter free and close to a water hose spigot for easy watering. In our backyard, we had a couple of red ant hills and we have a TON of prairie dogs, so we put our garden in a location that is free from both of those pesky critters.
After finding a good location, you’ll want to decide how large you want your raised garden bed. This is one of the things that I would probably redo in the future if we ever decided to build another garden bed. We ended up making an 8’x16’x6” garden, which in hindsight probably would have been better to split into two smaller garden beds for easier access and use. But of course hindsight is 20/20 and one of the reasons we wanted to write this article was to share our experiences and hope to help others avoid our mistakes in the future. Also, the main reason we did what we did without thinking too much about it was because we had all of this free wood in those measurements FREE in our backyard! That’s right—FREE! You really can’t go too wrong with free.
Finding the wood to make the raised garden bed of your dreams is the next step. We found 2”x6”x8’, as well as 2”x6”x16’ so that seemed to make the most logical sense. We have seen other garden beds that are raised higher than ours and that may be a great idea for some, but we didn’t see any reason to make ours higher than 6”(also remember the higher it is the more soil you will need). Again, you’ll want to cater to whatever your needs are and what makes most sense to you. We were lucky (“lucky” might be stretching it a bit…) enough to have purchased a house with all kinds of junk everywhere, but if you’re not that lucky, I would recommend looking into some cheaper options for finding your wood than going to your local Home Depot or building supply store. For instance, there are tons of Facebook groups available these days for people trying to get rid of stuff they don’t need any more. If you belong to any of those groups in your town, ask those people if they have any wood pieces lying around that they no longer need. If that doesn’t work out, try some used building supply stores. We are lucky (for real this time) to have some really great stores in our town that sell left over building supplies at a fraction of the cost.
Once you have all of your supplies, start building! You’re going to want to lay out all four pieces on the ground near where you’re finished product is going to go so that you don’t have to move it too far to its final location. We put the two 8’ pieces on the inside of the 16’ pieces and hammered each corner together until all four pieces were connected with nails. Then came the “L” brackets, in which we screwed to each inside corner and also along the outside corners. After that, the frame itself was done and it was super simple!
Next, we built our wind barriers. This was the most difficult part of the project because it entailed taking apart the wood pallets and putting them back together in a way that made them less heavy on the raised garden bed frame. We took the back (or front depending on which way you look at it) off of 4 wood pallets, took the wood beams in between them off and then re-hammered them in so that they fit onto the frame better. See pictures for finished product. This could have been done easier by using trellis instead of wood pallets, but after visiting Home Depot and seeing that each trellis was about $20-$30 each and that we were going to need 2-3 of them, I thought to myself, I bet we can make our own trellis out of the wood pallets we have! Now, this option is not the prettiest option ever, but it saved us a good amount of money, and contributed even more to the garden being practically free.
After the frame and homemade trellis were complete, we moved the frame to exactly where we wanted the garden to be. In order to make it lay flat, we dug a trench for the frame to sit in until it was as flat to the ground as possible, and pushed the rest of the dirt into place so that it sat in the ground around an inch or two deep. From there, we hammered the trellis into the side that we know gets the most wind, and voila, we had the bare bones for our raised garden bed.
We knew that we had a few steps left before filling in the rest with soil and more dirt, so our next step was to dig the garden up a bit so that it would be deep enough to lay down the hardware cloth, chicken wire and cloth weed barrier, which is what we did next. We covered the garden with chicken wire and other random pieces of hardware cloth we had lying around in attempt at keeping the moles and prairie dogs out of the garden. We had heard from neighbors that this works best in our area. We then put the cloth weed barrier over the chicken wire and hardware cloth. And lastly, we filled the garden bed with soil, dirt and mulch. Our last and final step other than planting the seeds was to build a fence around the garden to keep our dog out of the area. We weren’t sure if he would run around in the garden or not, so we decided to err on the side of caution and build a fence around it. We had some t-posts in the back yard that weren’t being used for anything so we pulled them up out of the ground, put them at each corner of the garden, and wrapped 4’ fencing on the 16’ area and 3’ fencing on the 8’ sides(as this is what we had at the house). We were fortunate to have found some fencing in our yard, but we had also been stocking up on fencing at yard sales, from Facebook groups and from the building supply stores here in town. Again, this was probably not the prettiest option available for our garden, but it serves its purpose just fine.
We spent a total of $76 on all of the items we actually purchased for this project, which is a steal for such a big project. We bought three bags of mulch, which were on sale for $10 total, 12 bags of soil for $40 (also stocked up on that when it was on sale), 150 sq. ft. of weed barrier for $10, random bits of fencing for probably a total of $8 at yard sales and “L” brackets for $8. We got the wood, the pallets, the chicken wire and a whole bunch of extra dirt from a neighbor all for the low price of free. When you give yourself an idea of what you want to make and how much you want to spend, you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to stick to your budget when you think outside of the box.
If we were to do this project again, there are a few things we would do differently. As I already explained above, I would have preferred to make two separate garden beds instead of one giant one because it makes access much easier. What Josh would have done instead is put a 2”x4”x8’ cross brace in the middle of the 16’ pieces to keep it from bowing (as ours did a bit because it was older wood). It would also have been nice to use treated wood if we had had that instead. If I had given myself a larger budget, I would have preferred to make a nice fence surrounding the area and I most likely would have painted the wood pallet trellis we made to make it look a little nicer. I can of course still do that, but at this point in time, with the project finished, I don’t see myself doing that.
In the long run, I think our first practically free raised garden bed turned out pretty well! So far, it is serving its purpose, holding strong and fitting in really nicely in our back yard. We hope that you are able to learn from our experience and continue your journey to becoming more self-sufficient by building your own raised garden bed. If you have any helpful tips to share, we’d love to hear them!