Before I finally started using raised beds, I was looking at trying to raise veggies in the ground, or simple pots. The ground around here is terrible for growing anything other than sandspurs, so that was out. To get an idea of what the local soil mostly consists of, take an hourglass and turn it over. That stuff that is dropping into the bottom is what we call “dirt” around here. Seriously. The REALLY bad stuff we call “sugar sand” and it can eat a car tire (ask me how I know this one) or 5 gallons of water with equal efficiency.
And since I’m horrible at remembering to water plants in containers, that didn’t work well either.
I noticed that the local grade school has a small section of the property assigned to an agricultural project. Initially, it was simply beds in the local soil. Nice. I wondered how they would get around the problems I had experienced.
It was no surprise when the school opted to try growing vegetables in bags of potting soil. A better option, but unsightly. Some folks prefer form over function. (Much to my wife’s annoyance, I’m not one of them.) Since they found it unsightly, a “better” option was found, Earthboxes. A great concept, and better yet, they work wonderfully. The school ramped up the Earthboxes, and showed great production in no time.
I was sold….
Until I realized that in order to plant everything I wanted, I’d need about twenty of them. At roughly $45 each (shipped), plus the cost of REAL soil, I’d have to shell out about $1,000.
NOT in my budget!
What to do? I started scouring the web for options on making my own, and finally found enough information to do it, learn what worked, then do it again.
Here is what I did.
Get a plastic “tote”. I’ve used various models, the thinner plastic ones tend to break down after several years though. Recently, I purchased a beefier model from Lowes, a “LLC 27-Gallon General Tote“, cost was $14-ish.
Cut the lid like this:
Be sure to cut around the outer edge, being sure to leave enough of the rim so that it will still latch to the top. This beefs up the outer edge, you’ll need the extra stiffness once it is loaded with water, soils, and plants.
Remove the cut out portion of the lid, and set it aside.
Get 5 old pots, the cheap plastic ones that plants come in are perfect. Make sure they are no taller than 4-6 inches. Cut them down if you need to. Alternatively, you can used 4-6 inch section of 4 inch drainage pipe. I’ve done it both ways, they work equally well. Set them in the bottom, spaced like this:
These set the depth of the soil, water will be beneath the height of the risers. At the height of the risers, poke a drainage hole in the side of the tote. This prevents the water from flooding the soil section.
Take a 3/4 or 1 inch section of PVC pipe, about 6 inches taller than the height of the tote you are modifying. Cut the bottom end at an angle, and possibly some slits in it to allow the water to free flow out of the pipe. This becomes the watering point to deliver water to the bottom reservoir.
Now take the insert cut from the lid, and cut out a corner section like this:
Set it upright in the corner. Soil tends to keep it in place just fine.
Add an additional pot into the center hole. This stiffens up the center section, and helps limit the amount of dirt that gets washed into the bottom.
Add soil. I opted to use this for soil, it was donated by a buddy that moved. Any good potting soil, or composted manure would work fine. I mixed it 50/50.
Fill it up! BE sure to shake it a bit to get the soil settled. Then water the soil well.
Then add water to the fill pipe until it starts to run out of the drain hole. Add seeds according to planting instructions. I then added loose hay as a mulch layer to help preserve some of the moisture.
And here it is, all finished, and growing some watermelon radishes!
It needs to be watered every week or so, added through the fill pipe, until water pours out of the overflow hole. You CAN add water to the soil, but eventually that washes it all down into the water area. I made three of them about two years ago, and they still are in use, though a bit worn. One of them holds my sugarcane
Total cost, if you go with what I have shown in my pics is $15. I scrounged all but the tote itself. With cheaper totes, and buying soil and drain pipe, you still keep the cost under $15.
Get started, take control of your life back, start a garden!
Also, be sure to read the follow up to this, Improving Soil.
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