Build it: Raised Garden

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I was raised with a garden in my back yard and now that I’ve bought a house with The Boyfriend, I felt like it was time to get my own garden going. The problem? Bunnies.

Do any of you have the memory of your father leaning out of your childhood bedroom window with a BB gun, aiming at the voracious bunny munching on pea pods, tomato plants, and strawberries? Oh… yeah, me neither… (Don’t worry, the bunny wasn’t hurt and was released in the woods a few blocks away).

So you can see why bunnies were my first concern when planning a garden. I noticed that all of my new neighbors have gardens with 4-foot wire fences around them, some even doubled up with chicken wire at the bottom. That, and the two FAT bunnies who are in my new yard every morning when I go to work, lead me to believe that I needed to do some anti-bunny garden research.

Turns out, cottontail rabbits in the Midwest can’t jump higher than about 22 inches, unlike those crazy bouncing bunnies in Sweden. Since I’m not a fan of the whole wire fence aesthetic, I decided to build a raised garden planter over 2 feet tall (which in addition to being too tall for bunnies to jump, takes a long time for weeds to grow up through — a plus for a sometimes lazy gardener like myself). A quick email to my father (henceforth Handy Dad) revealed cedar as the best lumber option since it weathers well without being treated. Apparently most treated wood is toxic and leaches into your soil and veggies. I can just imagine my future self saying “No, honey, you can’t leave the table until you finish all your carrots… OF DEATH!”

After much Image searching on Google, I found the model for my planter. Immediately inspired, I made a late-night run to Home Depot — or as I like to call it, That Place I Go Three Times a Day. I ended up redoing my math 3 times as I sat on the floor of the store, since the listed dimensions of wood is usually ¾ inch larger than the actual wood itself.

What you’ll need:

  • Four 12” x 1” x 6’ for the long sides
  • Four 12” x 1” x 3’ for the short sides
  • Two 4” x 1” x 6’4” for the lip on the long sides
  • Two 4” x 1” x 3’4” for the lip on the short sides
  • Eight 2” angle brackets made of galvanized metal (so it won’t rust)
  • Four 3” straight brackets (also galvanized metal)
  • An ∞ of 5/8” screws
  • Ten 1 1/2” screws

By the time the weekend rolled around I had tricked some friends into helping me out and bringing a nail gun and a circular saw. And of course I had my trusty cordless drill. We began by building the first level with a nail gun, arranging the 3 foot boards so the 6 foot boards overlapped the ends. Then we added an angled bracket at each joint for added support.

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We then walked around the yard with this frame until we found the exact spot we wanted to place it, which ended up being in full sunlight, exactly centered between the two windows on our detached garage (if I’m going to look at this thing every day for the rest of my life [more like 3-5 years], it had better be exactly centered). A raised garden I had looked at online suggested laying a gravel base to increase drainage and deter weeds growing the two feet up into the new soil we’d be dumping there. So with our frame in place, we used a flat-edged shovel to trace/cut into the ground where the planter (and gravel) would be placed.

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While a friend worked on digging out 1-2 inches in that 6’ x 3’ rectangle (saving the grass to patch up our sad little patchy yard), The Boyfriend and I assembled the second layer on the planter and then affixed the two levels together with straight brackets.

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Then I used some “very precise” measurements to draw 45° lines on the 4” x 1” boards to create a nice angled fit for the corners of the lip. After a few strokes with the circular saw, we fitted the boards together and secured them with the nail gun. Then we placed it on top of the planter until it looked right and screwed it down (ten 1 1/2” screws). The man at That Place I Go Three Times a Day said to center a lip on the boards. If it hangs over too far and you lean on it, the lip will snap right off!

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Conveniently, the previous owners of our house had aspirations to be great landscapers, so they had left a small mountain of rocks in the alley next to our garage. This became our “gravel,” and we filled the entire 6’ x 3’ rectangle my friend had dug out until it was almost flush with the ground. We placed the planter on top and reveled in its beauty.

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This is when The Boyfriend pondered out loud whether or not bunnies can burrow through gravel — or at least from the side of the planter, since the gravel was flush with the ground. None of us knew the answer. He suggested we lay down some chicken wire, JUST IN CASE. So I picked up a 48” x 25’ roll of chicken wire and staple gun at That Place I Go Three Times a Day. We moved the planter off the gravel, unrolled the chicken wire on top of the gravel, and placed the planter back on top. Then we used wire cutters to trim the wire to 3 hole-lengths longer than the base of the planter on all sides and stapled it into place.

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Aaaand then we threw in some more rocks, because Mount Gravel in the alley wasn’t getting any smaller and it meant less soil to buy.

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The Boyfriend proceeded to make jokes about the planter looking like a coffin, and how it was such an obvious place to hide a body that the police would never bother to look there. Naturally, I climbed in to see if people fit, you know, just to keep our options open…

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BUT ANYWAY, Mr. Officer, did you know that chicken wire is kind of ugly? Fortunately, we had barely made a dent in Mount Gravel, so we used some as trimming around the base of the planter to cover the chicken wire and staples. We were finally all set to dump in the soil we had picked up during a thus far unlisted trip to That Place I Go Three Times a Day. We ended up using somewhere in the vicinity of 28 bags of topsoil, 12 bags of compost/manure, and one 1.5 cubic feet bag of fancy organic happy soil (dumped into the planter in that order). All in all, we made three trips to That Place I Go Three Times a Day solely for soil. Did you know that bags of soil are really heavy? So heavy that Sandy, my compact car, can only “safely” carry about 14 bags at once?

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Pretty sure the sun was starting to go down by the time we actually got around to planting the darn veggies. In went the much required sugar snap peas (my faves), followed by the habanero, cayenne, and jalapeno peppers. Then we filled the remaining space with green beans, broccoli, zucchini, cucumber, leeks, and cauliflower. And voila! A bunny-proof raised garden planter!

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A few things I would do differently:

  • Add brackets on the outside of the planter before putting in the soil (you can see them in the picture above). We added these brackets afterwards because the soil started pushing the boards apart. Eeeep! We also added them just below the lip at each corner, for a total of 12 exterior brackets.
  • OR, use smaller, thicker pieces of wood, like 4” x 4” x 6’ and 4” x 4” x 3’ because they are sturdier and can withstand the weight of the soil inside the planter. They would also be thin enough to use long deck screws or rebar to hold them together, instead of needing brackets.

The planter has been up for 10 days now and still no sign of bunnies. Hooray! If a super bunny does somehow burrow through gravel, chicken wire, more gravel, and 2 feet of dirt, he totally deserves it!

 

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