Spring seems to be here a smidge early this year...the weather that closed out February was bright and warm. Perfect for germination. I've put in the early veggies and leafy greens - sprouts are emerging daily. Inside we have started tomatoes and eggplants and peppers to put out when it warms up a bit more.
Last year we built some raised beds on our porch. We rent, so we needed a solution to grow food without altering the environment much - the nomadic military lifestyle prohibits digging up lawns and the like. We also did not want to invest too much because we knew we would be leaving. We opted to build beds from found materials by foraging suburbia...also known as dumpster diving. Our only costs were for screws and seeds and soil - the mix of peat, vermiculite and compost came to around $100 which we easily recouped in homegrown spinach and tomatoes.
Building the beds was pretty simple and sizes could be easily manipulated based on materials collected. My attempt at a tutorial is below...
We started by collecting a few pallets. Josh was able to bring home some he found around his office. Be careful to look for untreated wood. Wood that has been pressure treated is toxic. It will have a greenish tint. We used the pallets as a base, rather than the porch itself, for drainage concerns and we wanted to avoid staining the concrete. They were the perfect size for a 4 x 4 bed. We were also able to cut one in half to make a long 2 x 8 bed to run along the house.
We scouted our surroundings for new houses being built. We would visit the site on Sundays to avoid getting in the way of workers...and I was a little nervous. It felt like stealing although the materials were headed for landfills. We learned the best times to go and bring home larger pieces of wood was while the structures were being framed. Again, look for untreated lumber and avoid plywood.
Once we collected for a few weeks and got it home, I laid everything out around each pallet and started piecing it together. It was a lot like a scrap quilt. We found a few longer 4 foot pieces but not enough, so we had to make do and use skinny boards to brace our smaller pieces.
Once I had it all arranged just so, I called in the one who uses power tools. It is entirely possible to complete this project using only a saw, hammer and nails. I built the first small bed that way...ALL BY MYSELF. But, a drill does make things go much quicker. If the bed did not have a whole 4 foot board, Josh took each side I had laid out and braced the smaller pieces together by drilling a 4 foot thin board across the group. Sometimes he braced it both at the top and the bottom, other times just one across the center.
This made 4 sections, or sides, ready to stand up on top of the palette. Once we postioned two sides on the edge of a palette, we drilled the corners...repeating for each side and all four corners. To anchor the walls to the palette, we just used the scraps we cut off the sides earlier and drilled them vertically accross the seam where the walls of the bed met the palette.
Covering the gaps of the pallet to become the floor of the bed was next. We had roll of wire material laying around and I used it for two beds. I used more wood scraps for the others. I just laid them in, leaving some gaps for drainage.
Soil was the big expense. I based my mixture on the recommendation of The Square Foot Gardening book: 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 coarse vermiculite and 1/3 compost from various sources. The peat moss was easy to find in large bales. I would have rather used coco fiber but I could not find anyone who sold it. The large quantity of vermiculite was a bit tougher to locate but a local yard and garden supply store had a massive bag for around $20.00. The compost was the fun hunt. It seems we found every sort of poop in bags known to man except for worm castings. Luckily, a Feed & Seed store outside of town directed me to a worm farm and bait distributor. It takes me about an hour to get there but the owner lets me come pick up his worm poop for free. And it is the best compost I have ever used! We used a large wooden storage box from the garage to create our soil mix but I have seen a mixing method using a large tarp that looks pretty simple.
We had two amazing growing seasons last year and hope to squeeze out some spring veggies before we move this summer. If you are in Columbia and would make good use of these beds, contact us! We want to give them to a good home when we move...