DIY Savings: Building a Vegetable Garden

Here at home we tend to buy a lot of veggies now that we’re eating healthier and slimming down. One of our favorite snacks is a little homemade salsa and chips. But it’s a pain in the butt to run to the grocery store to get a little cilantro or a single jalapeno, and buying more of them just leaves us with rotted veggies from not using it all quickly enough. Plus we’ve received herb gardens as gifts, and we’ve been interested in starting our own tomatoes, peppers, beans and other veggies. It certainly helps considering the costs of tomatoes are getting pretty high around here. So, we’ve decided to build a vegetable garden. I thought I’d share the process, things I found, and also break down the cost. This is more of a hobby pursuit so we’re not really expecting to come out ahead financially – though maybe I’ll do a retrospective and see over time. In any case, the largest costs will be the upfront cost of supplies and labor in getting the garden set up.

The Plan

We’ve decided to try and build two 4’ x 8’ raised garden beds, which will give us 64 sq. ft. of planting area. How did we come up with that number? Well, I found a neat little website called smartgardener.com that lets you lay out garden plots, pick plants that make sense for your climate and even will arrange a recommended garden plan based on the available area and chosen plants. We’re setting up our garden for next year’s Spring/Summer season, so I haven’t had an opportunity to try out the website for week-to-week usage, but they offer a nice calendar of TODOs to guide you through the timings for germinating, hardening, transplanting, readying soil, etc. for each of the plants you’ve added to your garden.

We’re not sure, but we may end up with too large a garden for the amount of plants we plan to put in, but I’d rather that than too many plans and nowhere to put them. The biggest space-taker will be the two rhubarb plants we already have in-ground near the house. We ran into these guys when we started doing landscaping after buying the house. Neither of us had ever even had rhubarb before, so we decided to give them a chance to stick around based on whether they passed a taste test. I cut the stalks off and my wife made a strawberry rhubarb pie using our rhubarb and some strawberries from my mother’s garden. It was an easy decision to keep them!

We’ll be placing the two beds along the south-east edge of our backyard for maximum sun since we live in a cooler climate with a shorter growing season.

The Materials

We did quite a bit of landscaping in our yard already so we know a couple important things in starting our garden:
1. The soil is full of rocks and has quite a bit of clay
2. We have a lot of moss in our yard and a lot of pine trees. Our soil is pretty acidic as a result.

So we made the easier decision to just create some raised beds using landscaping timbers and fill it in with a fresh base of soil using topsoil, peat moss, compost, manure, and a under-layer of drainage rocks.

The landscape timbers come in 8’ lengths and are roughly 2.5” thick. So we’ll be stacking them three-high to get our 6”+ of soil.

materials

The set of soil materials used to fill the raised bed.

Here’s the material listing for one of the two beds:

  • 9x 8’ Landscape timbers
  • 12x 40# bags of topsoil
  • 5x 0.5 cu.ft. bags of Drainage rocks
  • 5x 40# bags of manure/compost
  • 1x 3 cu.ft. bag of Peat Moss
  • 12x 2’ long 1/2” dia. steel rebar
  • drill (ideally cordless with backup battery packs)
  • 5/8” wood drill bit
  • sledgehammer
  • wheelbarrow/cart
  • a newspaper, cardboard or other paper

The Work

Let me start off by saying that we set up two raised beds, so I made some changes from lessons learned on my second attempt.

First, I cut three of the timbers in half length-wise to use for the 4’ sides. I used a standard circular saw and it made for quick work.

Next, we laid out the 4’ x 8’ plots. You can do this casually like I did, where I just placed the timbers where they were to go to form the rectangle and then used an edger to get it started. Many sites recommend using stakes and string to mark it off, but that seemed like overkill to me.

One of the changes I made from the first bed to the second was skipping the next step of removing the sod. It was a bear to do the first time, and I’m not sure it was worth the effort and sore back it gave me. But if you’re a masochist, soldier on with the grunt work of removing the grass/sod. I chose a brute force approach of using our edger to cut the top couple inches of grass/roots away from the soil by thrusting it nearly horizontal into the sod once I got an edge started. We tried jamming the edger down vertically like it’s typically used and cut up roughly 1 sq. ft. squares into the sod, but it didn’t come up any easier and ended up cutting down too deeply so we ended up with 5” deep areas when we wanted to really minimize what we took out to just the grass and roots (not the soil/dirt).

2_overlapped_ends

My second attempt came out much better. Properly overlapped.3_drilled_first_layer Drilling through the layers, rolling timbers out to remember the order/setup.8_rebar_in_holesRebar in the holes ready for the sledgehammer.

Once we had removed the grass and trucked it out, came the step of getting the timbers in place. I made the rookie mistake on our first bed of simply butting the pieces up against one another which can lead to the sides getting pushed outwards from the soil a bit. There are a ton of ways to set them up, but I’d probably lean towards simply overlapping the ends differently on each layer+copy.jpg). In any case, I can always clean up the first bed by just using some long screws to pull them back together.

Once you’ve got them dry-fit together, you’ll want to drill holes down through all the layers to drive the rebar through. This will keep the wood together and secured to the ground in place. I used a 5/8” bit and drove down through all three layers in steps. It helps to have a partner here, because it can be difficult doing this alone. I’d drill through the top layer down slightly into the next for each hole, then we’d remove the top layer and continue drilling the second layer using the started hole until we got through all layers. Then we stacked them all back up, and stuck the rebar in by hand. Next, we started at opposite corners and used the sledgehammer to drive the rebar all the way down until the top was flush with the top of the timber, eventually driving all 10 down in.

After that it’s simply a matter of filling the raised bed with your paper, rocks, and soil (in that order). We took a newspaper and laid down a thin layer of paper. Next we poured the five bags of drainage rocks. Lastly we poured a mixture of the peat moss, topsoil and manure/compost over top, using a metal rake to mix and spread (we don’t have a hoe).

9_cardboard_down10_drainage_rock11_soil_moss_manure

The End Result

All told, each bed set us back $108.48 including taxes and a 5% discount, for a grand total of $216.96.

12_all_done

3 thoughts on “DIY Savings: Building a Vegetable Garden

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