When I bought my house a few years ago, the back yard was one giant, water-sucking lawn. I immediately began plans to turn most of that lawn space into garden areas. I have dogs and kids, so I knew that raised beds would be the most practical solution for keeping little feet and paws from traipsing through freshly-planted areas. Not wanting to spend a ton of money to get the beds done, I looked around my property for materials I could repurpose. I found a few things that have worked wonders – old shelves, tires, and foam (yes, foam).
Wooden shelves as planters
Once I got around to exploring the attic of my house, I found it was full of heavy wooden packing crates from the previous owner, who was a soldier during WWII. He had his belongings shipped home from overseas in these, and they were just way too cool to throw out, so we repurposed several of them around the house as shelves, like this one in my kids’ play room.
I took one of these shelves, pulled the back boards off of it, laid it right over the grass, and filled it with a topsoil and compost mix. This one makes a good spot for strawberries and herbs, and in the two end slats I put vining plants that can hang over the edges, like pumpkins and watermelons.
These beds were also made from old shelves – some grungy wall shelves that I got from a nearby shop that was closing down. The shelves had a cheap plywood backing that I pulled off before placing them and filling them with dirt. From these, I was able to make two 4′ x 8′ beds and one 4′ x 4′ bed. Of course, these could be made easily out of 2″ x 6″ boards if you don’t have shelves available. The picture above shows them freshly planted this week for this summer’s garden…
…and this is how they looked late last summer. I was absolutely amazed at the amount of food I was able to grow in these beds.
Just for the fun of it, here’s another idea for what you can build out of old shelves. This is my (not very pretty but awesomely functional) compost bin made from wood pulled off of the old shipping crates in my attic. This is its third year in use. It works great!
Last summer I decided to try planting strawberries in tires as an experiment. Tires can be found just about anywhere for free, and they last pretty much forever, so why not plant stuff in them? I had a couple of them laying around my yard so I decided to give it a shot.
I know that strawberries are perennial, but I had serious doubts about whether or not these would survive our South Dakota winters in a tire. And this winter was cold. And long. And miserably COLD. Did I mention that it was cold? But not only did the strawberries I planted last year survive, they thrived and are doing amazing already this year, in full bloom with little berries starting to show up. So, I just added more strawberries in a tire next to the first one.
This might sound way out of the ordinary, but foam can actually make some really cool planters. I wouldn’t have come across this idea if my partner at the time didn’t have my yard half full of foam for construction. While not always readily available, if you know where to look, you can often find foam like this for free. It’s light enough that the beds are easy to move around (when not full of dirt, of course) but also durable enough to withstand weather and kids playing on them.
This planter is made with large blocks of foam that were taken off of a building in town. They were bound for the landfill, but we managed to get our hands on some. We pieced them together with spray foam and giant screws, then spread a thin layer of concrete over them to make them look like stone. They have held up surprisingly well considering the weather in this area and the considerable weight of the dirt. For the last two years I have used this for tomatoes, but this year I’m going to see how cucumbers do.
I used the same type of foam blocks to made these temporary raised flower beds in front of my house until I could get something more permanent in place. They were buried in the ground about 4 inches deep, and they looked like they were made of stone even though they were very lightweight. I was quite surprised at how well they held up. They were there for three years before I took them out to redo my siding.
Those are just a few of the materials I have found to use for garden beds, and there are tons of other great ideas out there. You really don’t have to spend a ton of money – or any money at all – to create beautiful, functional garden spaces.