One of the best things about having one of us stay home is that we don’t always have to make decisions out of convenience but rather get to find ways to save money by putting in a little extra effort to make or reuse things ourselves. One way in which we have done so is by investing in a substantial garden from which we can pull fruits and veggies for at least four months of the year (I know four months probably sounds pathetic but this is Colorado, after all). This is nice because gardening also happens to be one of Mack’s life passions—something that he throws himself into fully without hesitation or reserve. Usually, we spend our summers embarking on our semi-annual pilgrimage to Kentucky, but with a few recent developments in our family’s living situation, we didn’t feel the need to do so this year. This has left our summer plans wide open in a way that we have yet to experience since moving to Colorado—in eight years, we had never really spent a full summer here. And because of that, a garden was something that we’d never really been able to achieve (since June is such a crucial month for growing here and that’s usually when we would be gone). As Colorado readers already know, the soil out here isn’t necessarily conducive to growing a lot of product in a short amount of time, and coaxing even a modest yield out of in-ground plants seems to take an amount diligence far surpassing that necessary even to get my toddler to eat. So it should go without saying that nothing requiring that much effort could possibly be worth it, and any respectable home-gardener around here will tell you that above-the-ground is the way to go. For my east-coast and southern friends out there, this means that here in Colorado, we buy our dirt at the store. We started by digging down about six inches below where we wanted the surrounding mulch to come up in the bed alongside where the boxes were going to go. Then, Mack hammered in the stakes for the four corners of the western-most box. Here is a picture where you can easily see the corner stakes that we hammered into the ground and then built everything else off of:
But we must have hit rock or something because the far southwestern stake got stuck with about three feet still sticking up in the air. After nearly an entire afternoon of frustrated pounding, Mack decided that a three-foot-tall garden box might not be such a bad idea, in terms of our tomato crop and maintaining his sanity. I personally thought it would look weird to have three-foot-tall garden box sticking up randomly in the air, and so the idea was born to build a second-level tier around the outside of the taller inner box, to make it all more proportional and Roman-looking; because the idea involved more planting, building, power tools, and general digging in the dirt, Mack took little convincing.
Here’s a picture of what the tiered corner looked like (never mind what is going on in the background):
Of course, our limited income makes the economic benefit of growing our own edible plants an added bonus, and it was important to us to maximize our return by spending as little as possible on the overhead. You see a lot of nice-looking and bountiful gardens that probably cost more than a whole summer of trips to Whole Foods (never mind a Costco membership) to get up and running. Once again, we decided that pallets were the way to go—they would provide cheap lumber, after all (and my definition of cheap is really free). Mack had to spend about 100 hours at the dump busting up pallets into their individual panels, which he loved. But after doing some research Mack realized that it can be very hard on the wood to sustain multiple waterings year in and year out, and he didn’t want to have to keep fortifying the thing over and over again, so we decided to go ahead and purchase some ¾” plywood, which we covered in plastic sheeting. This will prevent the side panels from bowing out from water damage after a couple of seasons, and instead allow the wood panels from the pallets to really serve as just a façade. This is basically what you are going for on the inside:
You can also see that there are horizontal braces running the length of the plywood. On the larger box we added an additional vertical post in the middle. All of this lumber came from the dump (read: free). The plastic sheeting was one of our larger expenses, at about $10 for the three-mile-long roll, but we will have plenty to use for slip-and-slides throughout the summer, so win-win-win, I think. In this picture, you can see the plastic sheeting covering the plywood panels on the inside a little more easily (Mack just used a staple gun and wrapped the plywood panels like a present):
For the southeastern corner we just made a single-tier box in line with the proportions of the larger western box (Roman, again). Then, Mack had the absolutely genius idea of finishing the edges, corners, and borders with 2” trim, which we purchased for about $7. This also allowed Mack to use the miter feature on his chop saw, which is always an event worth celebrating in the Holly household. Note his particularly fine craftsmanship here:
And here are some pictures of Mack looking hot and lining up the corners:
And here’s the finished version with the trim (you can see that this again is the smaller of the two):
We coated everything in a clear poly to protect against weathering, but the best part is that the inside is completely protected by the plastic sheeting so if any of the outermost panels become damaged all we have to do is replace them. Overall, we have planted flowers, tomatoes, and herbs in these boxes, which are south-facing and add a much-needed addition to our modest crop. It’s also kind of convenient and nice to just walk right out the front door and grab whatever herbs I need while I am cooking.
Because the backyard is so far away.
Happy gardening, everyone.