We’re finally finished building our custom raised garden bed, and today we’re sharing our design and construction process.
Let’s get right to the specifics! We built the base of the raised bed from 2 x 10 untreated cedar boards. Cedar is a great choice for raised garden bed construction. It’s both food-safe (since we’ll be eating things from this garden) and very weather/rot-resistant.
Our local Menards had a great selection of cedar lumber, and we were able to get a lot of the boards cut down to the lengths we needed (and to fit in our car for the ride home).
We designed the box base to be 4 feet wide by 6 feet long by 10 inches deep. It’s just wide enough to let us reach the plants in the center from the long sides, and the 10-inch depth will allow us to grow root crops like carrots, radishes and turnips.
John built the box outside on the site we’d chosen, and made sure it was level before attaching the sides together.
We also attached a layer of galvanized wire mesh and landscape fabric to the underside of the box. This will help keep out weeds, any existing plants or bulbs we might have missed, and even potential tunneling rodents. We poked small holes in the fabric for drainage, and John drove stakes into the ground at the corners and screwed them into the base once it was in place for stability.
So far, so good! But ultimately we needed our raised bed to be more protected from the neighborhood wildlife (which includes squirrels, rabbits, birds, and even the occasional raccoon). We love having visitors in our backyard, but not when they eat our homegrown produce.
So we designed a custom “roof” to sit permanently on top of the box base to keep out critters. The roof is basically a frame of thin cedar boards, with galvanized wire mesh covering the open spaces.
The idea is to maximize sunlight, rainfall, air circulation, and beneficial insect access (like pollinating bees), while minimizing intrusion from anything larger (like pesky rabbits). John built the roof to be 3 feet high at the “peak” to accommodate plants that can grow that tall, like bush peas, beans and broccoli.
To give us easy access to the inside of the garden bed for planting, watering and harvesting, John created doors for the long sides of the roof that hinge open from the top. These are also made from thin cedar boards, to minimize shadows from incoming sunlight.
Once the raised bed and roof were constructed (and before we permanently attached the doors), I created a custom soil mixture to fill the box base, following the formula for Mel’s Mix. As outlined in Square Foot Gardening, Mel’s Mix is a combination of equal parts blended compost, perlite or vermiculite, and peat moss.
First, I got several bags of compost from different sources (such as mushroom compost, humus, manure, leaf, etc.) and mixed those together. Then I raked together equal amounts of the compost, perlite, and peat moss on a large tarp in our backyard until it was well combined.
As I mixed the soil and added it in batches to the raised bed, John stapled the wire mesh to the frame and doors.
To minimize the metallic glare of the wire mesh, we spray-painted it matte black (except for the north side against the fence, which we left as bare metal to function as a trellis for pea vines). The black color helps the mesh visually disappear and absorb sunlight. After attaching the mesh, John attached the doors to the frame with galvanized hinges.
I also picked up a couple of basic 5-gallon buckets from the home improvement store to use as deep planting containers, for growing additional edibles that are too tall for the raised bed (like tomatoes). I painted them deep green to cover up their utilitarian appearance and help them blend into the garden, put some styrofoam pieces in the bottoms for drainage, and filled them with my soil mix.
I also refreshed some old metal tomato cages from our garage with a quick coat of spray paint. Since we’re trying to keep costs low with this project, this was an easy (and inexpensive) way to give a new look to existing containers and materials.
To get the most from our available space in the raised garden bed, I marked out specific planting areas with jute twine and garden staples. Since I’m not following a strict square-foot gardening layout, these are mostly temporary guidelines just to help me organize and plant seeds and starts.
And with that, our custom covered raised garden bed is finished!
Now that spring is officially upon us, it’s time to actually start planting. In our next post, we’ll share what we’re doing with our indoor seedlings and how we’re direct-sowing outside as well.
Last week we introduced our new raised garden bed project, but what are we actually going to grow in it? Since we’re in Plant Hardiness Zone 6A, and our last spring frost date is around April 20, we did some indoor seed starting a couple of weeks ago to get a head start on the growing season. E and I filled a few plantable peat pots with seed starting mix on our dining nook table, and made DIY plant markers from wooden ice cream sticks.
I showed E how to sprinkle the seeds and cover them with a bit of the seed starting mix.
We sprayed carefully them with water (at this stage, it’s best not to disturb the seeds too much), set them out on our windowsill, and waited for the seeds to germinate. Within a few days, we had seedlings! Here’s what we planted:
Kale – Tuscan and Red Russian
Source: Nichols Garden Nursery
I bought two kinds of kale because we eat a lot of greens in our house. I’m planting it in our spring garden, and I’ll plant more in the fall and see if I can get it to overwinter. I’ve grown kale in containers before and it’s done pretty well.
Swiss chard – Neon
Source: Nichols Garden Nursery
John and I grew chard in our first container garden, and it was one of our great successes. It produced like gangbusters in both cool and hot weather, and we just kept cutting and eating it for months. Rainbow chard (also known as Bright Lights) is the most eye-catching, but this year I’m trying a variety called Neon which looks pretty much like the same thing.
Mizuna – Kyoto
Source: Johnny’s Selected Seeds
I’ve actually never eaten or grown mizuna before, but it was on sale for $1 at Johnny’s when I was ordering a few other things, so I decided to try it. It’s a member of the mustard greens family and used a lot in Asian cooking.
Lettuce – Midnight Ruffles (loose leaf)
Source: Nichols Garden Nursery
John loves lettuce and requested we grow it this year. The loose leaf varieties are nice because you can harvest the outer leaves and the inner ones keep growing (unlike head lettuces that you harvest all at once). We’ve done a few loose leaf lettuces in containers before, and this time I bought seeds for a dark burgundy variety called Midnight Ruffles. Can’t wait to see it grow!
Source: Seeds saved from last year’s plants
Arugula is another favorite green around our house. It’s slightly peppery and spicy, and it’s really good raw or cooked. I planted it in our window boxes last year and saved the seeds after it flowered, so those are what I planted this year. Arugula does well in cool temperatures and is great for a spring garden.
Broccoli – De Cicco
Source: Nichols Garden Nursery
After E grew her own broccoli plant last year (she brought a seedling home from school in a Styrofoam cup), we knew we’d have to grow more in our “official” garden this year. We’re starting it from seed indoors to give it time to grow large enough before the hot summer weather arrives (and it flowers). In addition to the broccoli crown, I like to use the plant leaves as edible greens.
As you can see, we ended up planting a whole lot of seeds in each pot (thanks to E’s enthusiasm and little fingers). I’ll thin them out later by snipping off the tops to keep the remaining seedlings healthy. When it comes time to direct seed into the raised garden bed, I’ll follow the Square Foot Gardening approach of only dropping 2-3 seeds in each location.
If I was doing this completely properly, we’d be using grow lights for more consistent growth. But that’s not something I want to invest in at this point, especially with all we’re spending on the materials for the actual raised garden bed. So for now, I’m using the very amateur DIY approach of natural early spring sunlight. And crossing my fingers.
We’ll plant the rest of our spring and early-summer edibles directly into the raised garden bed:
Sugar snap peas – Sugar Sprint (bush)
Source: Seed Needs via Amazon
I’ve never grown peas before, but I love sugar snap peas, so I’m giving it a try. And I got these seeds on Amazon! Peas shouldn’t be started indoors because it’s hard to transplant them (they don’t like being disturbed), but you can direct seed them just before the last spring frost date, so that’s what I’ll do. And even though I bought a bush variety instead of the vining type, I’m situating the plants along the north side of our raised bed where there’s a 2-3 foot tall chicken wire trellis for the short vines to climb if they so wish.
Radishes – Easter Egg
Source: Nichols Garden Nursery
Radishes are another vegetable I haven’t grown before, but they are supposed to be super easy. I’ll direct seed these in the raised garden bed before the last frost date and they should be ready to harvest in only a few weeks. I got the Easter Egg variety that produces a wide range of colors, thinking maybe E will try eating them because they look fun and pretty. And if she doesn’t, I will – I love radishes.
Carrots – Rainbow blend
Source: Nichols Garden Nursery
I’m excited about these. Although we haven’t grown carrots before, it’s a vegetable that E (usually) likes to eat, so I got a rainbow blend (orange, red, purple, yellow and white) to make it interesting. The seeds can’t be started indoors, so they’ll go directly into the raised garden bed along with the radishes. But carrots are more heat-tolerant than radishes, so hopefully we’ll be able to keep growing them into the summer.
We’ll be buying strawberry starter plants sometime later this spring, when they become available at our local nurseries. John and I grew strawberries in our first container garden, but the yield wasn’t that great (a few berries from each plant). Both kids love strawberries, so I hope we get a better harvest in the raised garden bed.
But before we can plant any of these things, we need to finish building the raised bed and filling it with a good growing mix. That should be done in the next week or so, depending on this crazy unpredictable March weather. Come on, spring!
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Today we’re introducing a new project that we’re really excited about: creating a raised garden bed in our backyard to grow vegetables and other edibles this summer!
We haven’t posted in a while because not much has been happening around here in terms of home improvement or DIY projects. But life’s still been busy! We’ve been working on getting our finances in a stronger place as well as chasing E (four years) and T (eighteen months) around. Typical family-with-young-children routine stuff, with the requisite amount of curveballs and laughter.
But with this long winter coming to an end, we’re definitely ready for a new fun project! We’ve been dreaming of creating a proper vegetable garden since we bought our house almost three years ago. If you remember, the previous owner had cultivated an extensive ornamental garden on the property, and we’ve been mostly maintaining the landscaping while making a few changes here and there. For this new raised garden bed project, we’ll be keeping most of the existing backyard foliage and flowers intact, but we’ve started to clear a 4-foot by 6-foot space in a sun-happy spot to grow our plot of edibles.
If you follow us on Instagram or Facebook, you may have noticed our recent backyard excavations. John has spent the last couple of weekends digging hostas, ferns, and bulbs out of the ground in this space on the north side of our yard between a tree stump and a dwarf Alberta spruce.
We’re definitely feeling ambitious this year with this plan to set up a dedicated raised garden bed. E has been getting more and more curious about EVERYTHING, so I thought it would be great to give her (and T) the experience of growing our own food year after year. Planting seeds and watching things grow will hopefully get the kids excited to consume more vegetables, and try things like purple carrots and cherry tomatoes and sugar snap peas and Tuscan kale.
In addition to being a fun family project, growing a small plot of our own food will help our aforementioned financial goals by reducing overall food costs. I look forward to bypassing sad-looking produce at the grocery store, and even being able to replace a lot of my usual summer farmers market purchases with food from our own garden. And although we’ll have to spend more this year in start-up costs to build the raised garden bed, we’ll benefit from it for years to come.
I’ve done a fair bit of edible gardening in the past, and several years ago when John and I were dating, we undertook an ambitious container garden on his condo’s porch balcony (with varying degrees of success).
We built cedar boxes and used 5-gallon containers and large pots to grow everything from broccoli to tomatoes to chard to strawberries. Most of it grew pretty well and we had a lot of fun learning along the way. But we had failures too – like killing much of our indoor seedlings by overwatering the peat pots (whoops!), and losing a lot of tomatoes to blossom-end rot. Overall though, it was a really rewarding experience. And we’ve container-gardened in each place we’ve lived since.
Since we bought our house, I’ve been growing herbs and greens in our window boxes, and last summer we transplanted a broccoli seedling that E brought home from school into a 5-gallon container. She loved watching it grow (and eating it)!
I highly recommend container gardening, especially if you’re new to growing or have limited space. Even something as simple as a windowsill herb garden can bring flavor into your life (pun intended!). I bought Bountiful Container: Create Container Gardens of Vegetables, Herbs, Fruits, and Edible Flowers when John and I were growing our balcony garden, and it’s a great guide that I still reference and read today.
As long as we’re talking gardening books, I also just got All New Square Foot Gardening and am so excited to read it. I’ve been playing around with diagrams of how I’d like to arrange each plant in the raised bed. We probably won’t follow a strict square-foot approach, but I definitely want to organize and maximize our 4-foot by 6-foot space.
So we’re just about finished clearing the space of existing plants, relocating them elsewhere in our yard, and leveling the soil surface. We’ve also got all our wood and supplies to build the raised bed, and I’ve ordered seeds and bought some soil amendments to fill the frame. It’s been a nice break from the last days of cold winter reality to research what kind of vegetables to plant for a summer harvest.
We’ll have lots more details and updates as this project gets underway!
(linked on Remodelaholic)
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Hey there! Remember that time our furnace died in the middle of an extreme winter, and we had to scramble to find, buy and install a new HVAC system before we turned into human icicles? We recently talked to Johnny and Joanna over at Our Freaking Budget about how having an emergency fund helped us get through that unexpected crisis with a lot less stress and worry. Read our interview with them here.
Thanks to Johnny and Joanna for featuring us (and this very important financial advice for homeowners)!
Last week, we talked about moving our treasured family nursery dresser into Baby T’s room, and shared our DIY plans to design a modern furniture look with the Ikea Tarva three-drawer dresser in Toddler E’s big-girl bedroom. Using dark wood stain and white paint, we wanted to create a sophisticated but classic design that would be timeless, and work with E’s evolving style and functionality needs over the next several years. (You can see some of our inspiration images for this project on our Pinterest board!)
So after buying the Tarva and bringing it home, we unpacked the individual dresser parts and set them up in our garage. John took on most of the work for this particular DIY furniture project (while I was busy painting the fabric drawers for the nursery), and he wanted to stain and paint the dresser parts in their unassembled state before putting the final piece together.
For the stain, we decided to try Minwax Polyshades. It’s got a built-in polyurethane coat to protect and make the surface more durable, which eliminates the need for a separate topcoat. Traditionally, wood staining involves rubbing the stain onto the surface with a soft cloth, wiping off any excess, and ending with a protective finish. But with a combination stain-polyurethane formula like Polyshades, you apply thin coats with a brush and let them dry without wiping off. We’d never used this one-step product before, but it sounded convenient and potentially time-saving. So we went ahead and bought a quart of the Espresso Satin finish, a nice dark color that looked like it would match the toddler’s bed frame. (According to the label, one quart covers 120-150 square feet – plenty for our little dresser project.)
To paint the drawer fronts, we wanted a soft paint color that would work well with the warm tones in the toddler’s bedroom. In order to keep our DIY costs low and stay within our total budget of $100, we surveyed our “leftover from previous projects” paint arsenal, and chose Swiss Coffee by Behr, a nice clean shade that’s bright but not blinding white.
With the materials assembled and the dresser pieces spread out and ready, John got to work. First, he focused on the parts to be stained: the dresser’s top, sides, legs and knobs. In order to get complete stain coverage on the small legs and knobs without touching them and making fingerprints during the staining process, he attached them to larger pieces of scrap wood. Then he sanded all the wood surfaces lightly and wiped them clean.
Next, he used a foam brush to apply wood conditioner to the unfinished pieces – an important pre-staining step that properly prepares the wood surface and helps the grain open up to absorb stain more evenly.
As you can see below, this really makes a difference when working with a soft wood variety like the Tarva’s white pine.
Once the wood conditioner was dry, John used a natural bristle brush to “paint” the Polyshades stain onto the conditioned wood in the direction of the grain.
Knowing he wouldn’t be able to wipe off any excess stain, John was careful to use long even brushstrokes. But he still found it difficult to cover the surfaces with a uniform layer of stain. Applying too much pressure on the brush created a thin streaky coat that let the bare wood show through more than we wanted. On the other hand, brushing with a lighter touch tended to deposit uneven patches of stain across the wood. It was a lot of trial and error to find a technique that worked – and even then, we weren’t able to eliminate every single brush mark.
The Espresso color was also not quite as dark as we wanted yet, which meant we’d need another coat of stain. So John left the first coat to dry for several hours, and in the meantime he moved on to painting the drawer fronts. For these, we wanted solid paint coverage that would still allow the texture of the wood grain to show through, something we knew we could achieve by doing multiple thinner layers of paint instead of one thick coat.
John brushed the first coat of Swiss Coffee on the three drawer fronts, thin enough that the knots in the pine were still visible.
With the first paint coat on the drawer fronts, John jumped back to the stained pieces (now dry), sanded them lightly, and wiped off the residue to prepare for another coat of Polyshades. The first coat still looked a little streaky, and we hoped that the second coat would be dark enough to camouflage the imperfections. But even though John had sanded between coats to give the surface better adhesion, the glossy polyurethane in the first coat still made it difficult to get a continuous finish with the second coat. He had to brush the stain on lightly to keep it from pooling, and it turned out to be even more tricky to apply than the first coat.
After finishing the second stain coat, John switched back again to the painted drawer fronts (also now dry), sanded them lightly, and painted on a second thin coat of Swiss Coffee. When that dried, he painted a third and final coat. Then he left both the stained and painted dresser pieces to dry overnight.
The next day, we brought everything up to E’s bedroom, and she and John went to work assembling the dresser.
And here’s the finished piece!
The dark stain with white drawers is a classic look with a modern twist – and just as we hoped, it fits perfectly with her decor without looking babyish or cutesy.
We love how this custom-finished dresser came out, and so does Toddler E. It’s the perfect size for her – she can reach all the drawers and pick out her own clothes each morning.
But would we use the Polyshades stain again? The pros: its Espresso color does look deep and rich, the streaks from the brushstrokes aren’t too noticeable, and the surface is well sealed and protected. The cons: it was a LOT trickier to apply than we thought it would be, and while it did save John the extra step of adding a separate protective topcoat, there was definitely a trade-off of extra effort and time as he attempted to create a smooth finish. So… we’re not sure if we’ll use this stain-plus-polyurethane product again, and we may go back to the traditional stain method for our next wood staining project.
But in the end, we’re very happy with our DIY kid-friendly Tarva project! And hopefully Toddler E will be using this dresser for many years to come.
We’re curious – have you ever used Polyshades before? What was your experience with it? Do you have any helpful tips or stories?