Recycling a Deck into Standing Raised Bed
How to Build an Elevated Garden Planter
Not wanting to add to the landfill, I started drafting up ideas on how I could transform my dilapidated deck into a standing raised bed. It was perfect timing as I wanted to expand my vegetable gardening, which was limited to a back corner of my property due to my poultry. The traditional four-inch standing raised beds were surrounded by a necessary fence to protect the vegetables from my fowl. But on the south side of my house was a grassy area, not being used, with six hours of dappled light. That area would make the perfect potager garden if it weren’t for the chickens. The proximity to my kitchen would also be a welcomed addition to my homemade meals.
My solution was to build up. Four feet up to be exact. With this height, I would be able to check on the herbs and vegetables daily from my dining room window and it would be a breeze harvesting. No bending over! The height would also be tall enough to prevent my heavy Australorps and my flightless Frizzle from accessing the crops.
I did not want to fill the four-foot beds with soil, as that would be a waste, since most plants especially herbs and edible flowers, use the top 12 inches of soil or less for their root systems. I wanted to stick with upcycled materials for this project so I used free, food-grade 50-gallon barrels. I had seen several people around town, growing lettuce in containers using the barrels cut vertically.
I first researched plans for elevated planter boxes. I then modified the dimensions to fit the length of two and a half-cut barrels. After I tore down my deck, I piled the boards based on their length. Many of the boards from my deck where 12-feet long, which concealed the barrels flawlessly. Using a crow bar, I removed all the old deck nails. It was an easy task as the wood was old and soft. If the ends of the boards deteriorated, I trimmed an inch or two off. The largest boards where originally 144 x 6.5 x 1.5 inches. With the trimming due to the weathering, the boards were only slightly shorter.
Using 4 x 4-inch posts I had in storage, my dad dug six-inch holes and evenly spaced two posts in the front and two posts in the back. The posts were the most important part of this project as they were the foundation. The wood from the deck was primarily being used as a façade and their integrity wasn’t that significant. The width of the structure was 40 inches, which was the length of the barrels. Using one-inch deck screws, my dad wrapped one 40-inch board on each side to hold the structure up. We then wrapped the posts with the 12-foot-long boards. For extra support we cut a few of the long boards and drilled three of them on the outside. We then finished wrapping the ends.
Underneath where the barrels were going to be placed, my father installed one board from the deck for the barrels to sit on. We then learned that we had to frame the barrels in 2 x 4’s because they spread out when they were filled with organic soil. Because the bed is the exact width of the barrels, we screwed the barrels to the sides of the standing raised bed to keep them from rolling. Drainage is an important step for how to take care of potted plants. We drilled three 1-inch diameter holes in each barrel. Since I was working on another project, I ordered a dump truck of organic soil. Window screen was placed over the holes and the barrels were filled with soil. I placed pots of herbs around the standing raised bed to give it a look like it has always been there. We drilled boards on the top of the standing raised bed to give it a professional-looking ledge.
Since this standing raised bed installation, I have grown a few edible flowers, peppers, leafy vegetables, and herbs in the five barrels. The most prolific has been mitsuba (Chryptotaenia japonica) a Japanese herb known as wild parsley. The trefoil leaves are aromatic and taste mild. I add them to stir fry and salads as much as I can. I was growing them in one of the end barrels and they have since reseeded and have moved to the adjacent barrel as well. Since I want to grow as much food as I can, I am happily compliant aggressively growing crops that I can combat by harvesting, eating, or preserving.
Kenny Coogan is a food, farm, and flower columnist. Coogan leads workshops about owning chickens, vegetable gardening, animal training, and corporate team building on his homestead. His newest gardening book “99 ½ Homesteading Poems: A Backyard Guide to Raising Creatures, Growing Opportunity, and Cultivating Community” is now available at kennycoogan.com