Thursday, May 1, 2014

Our Big Fun Project

On my last post, I mentioned that I was hoping to show you the finished project we started on last weekend.  It’s something that I’ve really wanted to do for a long time, but it’s a little bit of an investment.  I documented this pretty intensively, on the off chance that anyone out there is considering making something similar.  I was very curious beforehand about just how to design and build something like this, so I am sharing how we put ours together, step by step.

Like most of our projects, it started at the big box home improvement store.  We had a lot of very long ingredients to load into Miss Chef’s mighty mini Kia.

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I have to say, I learned a lot on this project.  The first thing I learned is how darn heavy a ten-foot piece of wood is!  After we hauled everything to the patio behind the house, I started measuring and Miss Chef started cutting.

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These were the short ends.  Once we had all the planks cut, we laid out the first couple pieces…

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…and drilled and screwed together the bottom of the unit.

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Yes, it’s going to be a planter box!  Because it’s pretty high, we were concerned about making it strong enough to stand up to the weight of the dirt inside.  So we reinforced each corner with oak 1”x1”s, as well as a set along the long sides.

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We screwed each corner to the posts, as well as to the other planks.  That was one extra trip to the box store…we ran out of screws.  Also, I learned that it’s surprisingly easy to break drill bits.  Ahem.

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This was about as far as we got before we ran out of daylight.  Of course, before we were able to get time to work on it again, McKenna had to inspect everything.

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Fortunately, we passed on the first try!  Ok, our next step was to cut off the posts that were a few inches too long.  That was something else I learned—a 2”x10” board doesn’t actually measure two inches by ten inches.  There’s a reason, but I didn’t learn that part.  Anyway, our posts were too long…

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…and the circular saw only cut through so far, so we had to finish them off by hand with a hack saw.  Good workout!

Now we were able to flip it over and staple hardware cloth to the bottom. 

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Normally this is to prevent burrowing critters from finding their way in, but since our box is going on our patio, this was mostly to allow us to move it, if such a need should arise.  I have no idea how we’d have the strength to move it, but…

Miss Chef put brackets on each corner, to help keep things from coming apart at the seams.

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We didn’t want the metal of the hardware cloth and brackets to sit directly on the patio and create rust stains, so we covered that with several layers of tough plastic sheeting.

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Now our box is complete!  Just as I was thinking, “I’ll never see the bottom of this again, better take a picture…

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…Miss Chef remembered we had another step before we could fill it with dirt.  We had to install lengths of 1” pvc pipe as sockets for our cover hoops.  She had to get ready for work, so this is where I learned how to use a circular saw!  I cut the pipes to length, then used two brackets on each one to secure it to the sides of the coffin box.

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Next I had to cut 1/2” pvc tubing to use for the actual hoops.  Each end slides right into the attached 1” pipes on the sides to serve as a frame for a row cover.

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As you can see, I’m undecided on how long I want my hoops to be.  I cut one pipe to three times the width of the box (that’s the hoop in front), but I kind of like the option of more height.  We have several months to decide, so I left the long ones intact for the time being.  (Yes, that’s Rosie in the background, watching the neighbors’ neighbors’ dogs.)

Once I removed the hoops (and covered the open ends of the 1” pipe “sockets” to keep them clear), it was finally time to put in the dirt!  I think we ended up using 20 cubic feet of soil, plus a bag of compost just for good measure.  I also added some lime, since I was putting a tomato plant in here.

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That sure is a lot of dirt!  But I like having plenty of room for taproots, and the sheer mass of soil will help keep it from drying out really fast in hot weather.  Now, I just had to add a few plants (and get inspected again), and voila!

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“Instant” garden.  Ha!  It took about a day and a half of the two of us, plus another half day of just me, to put together this simple wooden box.  But now I can sit on my lounge chair and enjoy watching everything grow.

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Oh, and case you were curious, there’s a cherry tomato plant in the back with a neighboring basil, and the rest is all hot peppers.  Miss Chef wants to make her own hot sauce this year.  That’s a heckuva lot of work for some hot sauce, lemme tell you…but I am very excited to have this handy, easy-to-cover bed ready for fall and early spring planting!

Rosie, on the other hand, couldn’t care less.

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She just wanted to know if it was dinner time yet.


  1. Oh thank goodness. I thought you were building little caskets. I can't wait to see what you grow! Perhaps you could install Bellagio-type fountain atop this. I would be willing to come and sing as you coordinate the water flow.

    1. Can we build it out of wood and PVC?

  2. Lesbians with tools.... A good mix

  3. What a nice project; you worked hard but it is well worth it. It is a real satisfaction when we do things ourselves...And, hum, is it bottles I see in that blue tub??? Are they waiting to get drink? Ha! Ha!

    1. Yes...actually, they've been waiting a long time. Long story...

  4. Replies
    1. Thank you. It seems much easier in hindsight.

  5. Nice job, you two. Is there drainage or is that what the cover is going to be for, to keep out excess rain? Or do you have quite spare rainfall in your area? Or does the heat balance things out? Oh, the questions!

    1. P. S. Love the pet photos! And the one of the planter where we can see your hand/camera shadow!

    2. We drilled weep holes on the side toward the lawn, as the patio is graded to slope in that direction. Plus, the plastic on the bottom is not a watertight seal. For the moment, though, drainage is the least of our worries!

  6. I guessed it only because the picture had soil next to it.

    1. I was kind of hoping that would help. :)


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