Planter Boxes on a Budget

Monday, June 30, 2008

I suppose you could also call this the "budget box." These are unlike the main planter beds in my garden. Those 4X8 foot beds used two-inch thick redwood boards, and when you added in the cost of the lumber, support planks, screws, and stain, the cost comes out to about $150 a box. Those boxes are a big investment in both time and money, as they take several days to construct.

But, the box you see to your immediate left is both cheap and easy. I built two of these boxes over the weekend, and will probably wind up building another eight or nine for open spots against the fenceline.

And I have a lot of fenceline.

If you every played with Lincoln Logs as a child, building something like this will be a breeze. These logs are very similar to those plastic Lincoln Log parts we played with as kids. The tops and bottoms of these logs are shaved flat. The sides are round, but the flat bottom and top allows for easy stacking.

These logs are eight feet in length, and they are already pre-stained for your convenience. But, the most important part of the equation is this: these logs are CHEAP. You can often find them "on sale" for a $1.97 each. And, if you happen to miss the sale, don't get too bummed. The regular or "normal" price for one of these logs is $2.97, which is still a bargain. The box pictured above contains six logs.

And this is what the logs usually look like when I get them home. It's just a pile of lumber waiting for me to put it together. These logs are sold in the "garden" or "landscaping" area of Home Depot. I'm guessing that Lowe's also sells something similar, but I can't confirm that. There is no Lowe's in my neighborhood unfortunately, so I normally do most of my shopping at Home Depot.

You'll need to do a bit of searching through the lumber pile to get the best logs. These things aren't perfect. Some are bent, others are cracked and still others are shaved at odd angles. But hey, what do you expect for less than three bucks? Perfection? If that's what you want -- move down the aisle to the $45 redwood landscape boards. There -- you'll find perfection -- and a big hit to the wallet.

Once I've found the six or 12 of the most perfectly straight, uncracked, logs that I can find, I haul them into the lumber section of Home Depot. There, they will cut them for you (yes they will!), and I cut two feet off of each eight foot log. This will result in a box that is six feet long and two feet wide. After each log is cut and placed back on my cart, I then move over to hardware and buy corner brackets like you see to the right.

Each "section" of this box (there are three) will require four corner brackets. So, you will need 12 corner brackets for all three sections, and you should also purchase four metal straps to hold each section together, one for each side. I also purchase two, one-foot sections of reebar to hold the boxes into place (but that's just overkill on my part, you don't really need them).

Once I get the logs home I use the brackets to put them together, using 1 5/8th's gold screws (four per bracket). This is what a finished section should look like. Once I'm finished, I stand in the middle of this section, pick it up and carry it to the final spot where I'm going to put this box. The bottom section is very important. You must take steps to ensure that bottom section is level. Because, if it's not, that box is going to come out crooked, which doesn't help when it comes to irrigation. I also tee off the main drip line located against the fence at this point and run a drip line underneath the bottom section and into the box.

The next steps are pretty simple. I simply build another section, just like I built the first one, and stack it on top of the first section. Then I repeat the process with the third and final section -- build and stack. Since the tops and bottoms of these logs are shaved flat, stacking is a breeze. I make sure to line them up correctly -- sometimes they require a little nudge or kick to line them up, but it's fairly simple stuff. Once all three sections are stacked, I screw metal straps inside each box to bind all three sections of the box together. The front and back both get straps and the sides get them as well. Two screws for each section -- which means each strap will hold six screws. That binds them together pretty well.

Once I have the straps installed, I proceed to install drip irrigation using 1/2 drip line, 1/2 inch metal straps (originally used for electrical conduit) and one inch screws to hold the straps in place. This elevates the drip line to the top section of this box, but leaves it far enough below the surface that it's covered with dirt once the box is finished. Each box also contains its own shutoff valve, which is also buried about an inch below the surface. This allows me to turn off the water when the box isn't in use.

Each box gives you nearly a foot or more of depth for planting purposes, and this is what the finished project looks like. You can increase the depth by adding additional levels, but I don't think they're needed. A foot of raised bed gives plants a lot of room to grow and spread out. The cucumbers we planted earlier this spring certainly seem to enjoy their new home.


Ali said...

smart, smart, smart--will do this project with my nephew today. thanks for the great idea!

Bill Bird said...

One other comment? If Home Depot gives you any lip about not cutting the logs (the clueless new employees do this from time to time), tell them "fine" and that you're going to Lowes instead, because Lowes WILL cut them into any length you want. That normally spurs them into action, because they won't make a sale and the employee has to haul the logs back outside, which is usually at the other end of the store from where the saw is located.