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Last week we decided to double up on our garden space. We’ve planted a massive number of trees, but we only had 2 raised beds, an 8×4 and 12×4. It’s a good bit of space for the winter garden, which is largely greens, but when we plant the more diverse summer garden, it doesn’t leave enough space for everything we wanted to do. There was just enough room to add a 2nd row of beds between the pool and the other beds, so I spent my Saturday doubling our space with an identical 12×4 and 8×4.
Since I wasn’t writing when we did the initial build out, I thought I’d show how much time and money goes in to something like this. I know there are a lot of posts on how to build a garden bed for $20-40. This isn’t that. I tried that once and it came out flimsy and looked like crap. Maybe if you have better carpentry skills than me, you can make that work, but my beds aren’t the cheapest. They’re also 2 boards high, rather than 1 which adds to the cost. In retrospect I could have gone lower.
I headed to Home Depot and as you can see from the receipt on the right, it wasn’t cheap. I spent $238 on wood, with the $166 going toward our cedar boards for the sides and $52 on 4×4’s for corner and side posts for stability.
Getting HD to make cuts for you can be hit or miss when it come to 4×4’s. Technically they aren’t supposed to do so, but often times the guys are nice enough to make the cuts. I have a nice saw at home, but it will still take me 10x the time it takes them to use their giant table saw, so I went ahead and had them cut the 4×4’s in to 2 ft lengths (4 per 8 ft. post).
Once I got everything home, with no cuts necessary, it was a pretty quick process to put everything together. I used 4 4×4 posts per side for stability. On our previous beds I only used 3 and you can see the sides bulge a bit from weight, so I went with an extra post. I also leave extra length sticking below the bottom of the posts. I dig holes and bury these to create even more stability. These beds aren’t going anywhere. I used 2.5″ deck screws, 2 per board, per post.
Because of the height of my beds, it’s not very necessary to worry about grass. The height of the dirt should naturally kill most of it. I don’t fully trust this though, so there’s 2 ways to deal with the grass. You can cover it in cardboard or you can slice it out and flip it upside down, which will kill it.
I went ahead and just flipped the grass, which ended up being a real pain. Any bigger than those 2 beds and you should definitely go with cardboard.
I also had to dig out holes for the posts. If I could go back and start fresh, I wouldn’t have left quite so much height on the posts. An extra 4 inches would have sufficed. Trying to dig out holes in our clay to hold the extra 8 inches of 4×4 post was pretty miserable. Eventually I got the holes in the right spots at the right depth to get the bed to sit flush with the ground.
I’ve ordered dirt before and it’s either very cheap to pick up yourself (around $45 to fill up a pick up truck, or triple that to have delivered. I knew 1 load wouldn’t fill the entire bed so I tried to put as much extra volume in there as possible. I’ve been grabbing bags of leaves from our neighbors on Sunday and putting them on the side of the house. I filled both beds to the very top with leaves, assuming once I put some dirt on top that would compress them down, and then they would compress further as they breakdown in to soil.
A friend was nice enough to drive out with his pickup truck to a local soil place. We had them dump a yard of dirt in to the back of his truck (filling it completely). We brought it back and spent an hour or so moving the dirt from the truck to the beds by bucket. It’s not as much work as it sounds.
This compressed the leaves pretty far, and in the weeks since they’ve dropped quite a bit more with rain. I’ll need to top these beds off by end of summer. However, using the leaves let me keep it to 1 load, versus the 2 it took for the other 2 beds.
I already had laid drip line to the original beds, so it was a pretty simple task to put them in the new bed. The main line runs down the side of the beds, so I just had to tap that in a couple of spots to connect to the new beds and lay new drip line. I highly suggest doing this before ever planing anything. It’s much harder to lay the line if there are things growing everywhere. Drip line really is crucial in any environment to ensure regular watering. It uses much less water and hits all your plants more effectively. The best part though is you can set it and forget it. We have a timer than runs everyday and we can go out of town or just ignore things and know that the vegetables will be taken care of.
Gardening isn’t always cost saving the first year. In fact I’d say it’s a solid cost center for the first 2 years as you buy tools, equipment, wood, dirt, fertlizer, etc.. They may be the most expensive tomatoes you ever eat. For these 2 beds I spent $238 on wood plus $35 on dirt for a grand total of $273. I already had the drip line and screws from prior projects. I will probably do better than breakeven on that this summer (though I’ve never tried to add up individual vegetables at supermarket organic prices), but I know for sure, I’ll more than make my money back by end of winter.
However the real savings come over a 2-3 year period in which you spend very minimal amounts on seeds and fertilizer and you just keep getting healthy, organic vegetables right out of the backyard.
Timewise, it’s really not that big of a commitment. The trip to HD, building of the beds, trip for soil, and unloading could be done on a single Saturday. Once you’ve planted everything, time invested drops to very little, maybe 2 hours per week of weeding and maintenance, a lot of which is enjoyable.
I can’t think of a hobby that better mixes slow and steady exercise, sunshine, healthy eating, the satisfaction of working with your hands and creating something, and saving money. I encourage everybody to start now. Start small and just build over time. There’s no reason to get overwhelmed trying to picture all the things you need to do. 3 years ago we bought 5 fruit trees and built 2 garden beds. That seemed like too much at the time. We’ve now built this out to 22 (I think?) fruit trees, grape vines, and double the bed space. It’s better than wasting money on landscaping and mowing grass.
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