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The easiest garden box ever!

Background:

  • About a year ago I went into the garden department of one of those ‘home improvement stores‘ looking to get a nice vegetable garden box kit.
  • However, when I looked the price tag for the pre-made garden box, I was totally alarmed!  Small garden box kits cost $>60 to >$100!
  • For that price I figured there must be something very special in that boxed kit; (Perhaps it came with some special starter seeds, a magic bean, a golden egg, or a golden ticket).   So of course I opened the box in the store.   The only dramatic thing I found was the price tag.  The wood was very thin cedar, the cuts were very basic and the overall size was small.
  • As I closed up the box, my initial alarm changed to a growing annoyance.  Within a few more moments I literally became offended.  I hate the idea someone getting ripped off, and these kits are a total rip off.

 

The plan:

  • As a result of this experience, (and a bit out of spite), I hatched a plan.
  • I was going to create the best and cheapest garden box that I could.
  • and then I was going to tell everyone how to do it.
  • I wanted the garden box to be radically cheaper, significantly bigger, built with better materials and what the heck; I also wanted it to be easier to put together than their expensive kit.

 

Here’s how to do it:

Basic materials for your 6 foot x 3 foot garden box:

  • Three 6 foot long fence planks/pickets (you can get these just about anywhere that sells wood and they cost about $ 2 each)
  • One 2×4 or 4×4 (You only need a short one and it should cost around $4)
  • Wood screws or deck screws (You probably already have the 16 screws needed lying around somewhere)
  • Optional: Wire cloth/staple gun (price varies)

Note: at the very end of this post I go into greater detail about these garden box supplies.  I put the added details at the very end of this post because the level of information (and my ramblings) may be more than is needed.

This is really all you need, (and the mesh is optional)

This is really all you need,
(and the mesh is optional)

Step 1 (cut the plank):

  • Cut the dog-eared part off of one of the wood planks.
    • (In the picture below I cut off about a 1 and 1/2 inch but I would suggest that you cut off about 2 inches off just to be safe- this is an important measurement factor if you are going to add in gopher cloth protection at the end of the build).
  • Then cut the remainder of that plank in to two equal lengths.
    • (Cut the plank so that you get two separate  2 foot 11 inch planks out of it).
    • You don’t have to make any cuts to the other two planks-just leave them be for now.
Cut off the dog ear

Cut off the dog ear

Step 2 (cut the supports):

  • Cut the 2×4 or 4×4 into four separate pieces.
    • The 2×4 or 4×4 pieces should be cut to be as long as the planks are wide (in this case 5 1/2 inches).
      • In the photos you will see that I used a 4x4s for this part.  I did this because I had some extra 4x4s lying around the garage from a previous project.
      • For the sake of simplicity, in the rest of these directions ill just refer to this component of the project as a 4×4… although a 2×4 will also work just fine and will be a bit cheaper.

 

Step 3 (This part of the build is just to reinforce the corners of the garden box):

  • Attach the recently cut (short) planks to the cut 4×4 (See picture below).
  • Use 2 wood screws to attach the planks to the 4×4.

    • (I recommend that you drill a pilot hole first to prevent the wood from splitting).
The short sides of the garden box are built and ready for the next step

The short sides of the garden box are built and ready for the next step.

 

Step 4 (attach the long sides):

  • Attach the uncut 6 foot long planks to the wood pieces that you just created in step 3.
  • Bring the wood pieces together so that the 4x4s are in the inside of the rectangle shaped garden box that you are creating.
Attach the long ends so that the 4x4s are on the inside of the box.

Attach the long ends so that the 4x4s are on the inside of the box.

Step 5 (that’s it):

  • That was easy, your done… Unless you want to add some gopher protection.

 

Step 5 (optional):

  • Consider using gloves so that you don’t cut yourself on the wire cloth/wire mesh.
  • Align the wire cloth carefully so the squares of the mesh are parallel to the wood frame of the garden box.
    • Note: If the mesh and wood are not in great alignment at this beginning stage, then as you reach the other end of the box… the mesh and wood may not line up.  This would leave a gap and you would have to start over.
  • Use your staple gun to attach the cloth.   Unroll the wire as you staple.
Line up the mesh and wood to staple.

Line up the mesh and wood to staple.

Step 6 (attach the wire cloth-continued):

  • Once the box is covered with the wire cloth, cut end to fit the garden box frame.
  • Now you are really done building the garden box.  Rest assured that by taking the extra step, you have prevented a lot of gopher headaches in the future.
Since we made the width the same size as the mesh roll, there is only one wire cut to make.

Since we made the width of the garden box the same size as the mesh roll (3ft), there is only one wire cloth cut to make at the end of the project.

Garden Box complete

Garden Box complete; mesh on top in this picture. Just turn the box over for garden installation.

Finding a home for the garden box:

  • Dig out an area to place your garden box and make the box relatively level.
  • As you can see, I have built 3 garden boxes using this method and I have lined them up for easy access.
  • Note the Martian like native soil that would be challenging to grow any crop in (without the help of a garden box).
Garden Boxes in place. Note the rocky Martian like soil of Southern California

Garden Boxes in place. Note the rocky Martian like soil of Southern California

Fill the boxes with rich soil:

Fill with soil and water down

Fill with soil and water down

Extra thoughts:

  • Roll on some weed cloth before planting if you want to save on future weeding labor and water bills.
  • Add wood bark mulch around the boxes for weed control and erosion control.
  • Install a protective electric snail fence if you would like to protect your fresh little seedlings from those ravenous mollusks.

 

Enjoy:

  • Plant, grow, and enjoy for years to come.
  • As an example; these pole beans (in the picture below) grew amazingly well in a short amount of time in one of these garden boxes.
Some pole bean that quickly grew in these garden boxes

Some pole beans that quickly grew in these garden boxes

 

More specific details on the list of supplies:

Fence planks/pickets:

  • These planks commonly come in the size: 11/16 in. x 5 1/2 in. x 6 ft.
    • That size will work great and it is the size that I used for the garden boxes that I created here.
  • I recommend that you get untreated cedar or redwood.
    • You can also get pressure treated wood which will last longer.  However, I am sure that all of those wood preservative chemicals will leach out over time.  If the toxins escape the wood they will get into your soil and perhaps into your veggies.  No one wants that.
  • The redwood planks costs a little bit more than the cedar but who cares, there both so cheap.  The last time I checked, each redwood plank goes for about $2.10 and the cedar planks are a bit less than $2 each.
  • If you don’t have a Miter saw (chop saw) at your home then you can have the store help you out.  Most places that sell wood will often cut some of it for you if needed.  For example, most of these home improvement stores have staff who can operate the saws in the lumber department and they will often make a few wood cuts for free.

 

2×4 or 4×4 brackets:

  • Get the ‘rough cut’ wood option if you can. It will be cheaper and there is really no need to have polished looking wood here.
  • Again, if you don’t have a Miter saw at home, then have them cut the wood at the store for you.  Specifically, for the materials used in this discussion, have the wood cut into four separate 5 1/2 in lengths (if that is the width of the plank you bought).
    • If you are not sure of the width of the plank, look to see if it is on the tag on the end of the wood.
    • If you don’t see the size on the tag then just tell the staff what you want and they should be able to help.
  • As a side, if you are considering getting a Miter saw (for this and for future projects), I highly recommend the DEWALT DW713 10-Inch Compound Miter Saw.  I got mine through Amazon and it has been awesome.   I have used is for lots of home improvement tasks and I keep finding more uses for it. It also has a lot of extra options that work great.

 

Wood or deck screws:

  • Really for this project just about any standard wood screw that is 2-3x longer than the thickness of the plank will work (in this example the plank thickness is 11/16 in).
  • You only need 16 screws for this project.
  • If anyone in the house has done any woodworking, then you probably have some screws lying around that will work.  On the other hand, if you do end up having to buy a box of screws, then you will have supplies for your next projects.

 

Wire cloth (optional):

  • Note: wire cloth does not come in the expensive garden box kits that I mentioned at the beginning of this post.  Therefore, if you are using this gopher prevention technique, then you are going ‘above and beyond.”  Good work, you will sleep better for it.
  • Specifically, get a wire mesh roll that has ½ or 1/4 inch square holes and that is 3 feet tall.  For the dimensions of the garden box described here, a 3 foot tall wire mesh spool will conveniently cover the bottom of your finished garden box with little effort.
  • Although this is also probably the most expensive ingredient of the project, I have seen some decent prices online.  Here’s an option through Amazon.com.
  • For more garden uses of your wire mesh, check out my gopher protection techniques and how to build a gopher cage.

 

Some additional (optional) items for this project:

  • If you are going with the gopher proof wire mesh option then you will need to buy or burrow a staple gun.
  • Using an electric staple gun, will be lot easier than using a nonelectric stapler.
  • Note, electric staple guns can also be used for all kinds of other cool projects such as upholstery, home repair and crafts.  FYI: here’s a fun list of 8 other uses of an electric staple gun.
  • Finally, everyone should have a cordless drill at home. I like the Black & Decker 18v Cordless Drill because the their cordless products have been good to me and the battery is interchangeable with the other Black & Decker tools that I have.

 

About Thomas Osborne, MD

Dr. Osborne is a Harvard trained Radiologist and Neuroradiologist who loves to share his insight about medicine and gardening.

7 comments

  1. Hi,
    First I want to say thank you . I want to grow dragon fruit & found your post by luck. You are amazing.
    Thanks for your time, effort , and all the good thoughts you try to share .
    I’m from Viet Nam & I miss a lot of fruit from my country.
    I want to try if I can grow them here.
    My house is in Poway (green valley ) 92064.
    If you don’t mind ,please let me know which kind of trees I can plant & where to get them.
    Here are my dream list :
    1. Ambarella (june plum)
    2. Atemoya
    3. Caimito
    4. Jack fruit.
    5. Longan
    6.Lichi
    7.sapodilla
    8.Mango
    9.Kiwi
    10. Lansium domesticum
    11. Rambutan
    12. carambola
    13. Nalpighia glabra
    14. Artocarpus altillis
    15. Yellow dragon & dark pink dragon fruit.
    I’m very new in gardening. I want to learn & try to find out what I can grow in my back yard.
    If you can give me some suggestion, I’m really appreciated.
    Thanks for your help.
    Ha Nguyen

    • Hi, Ha Nguyen

      Thanks for the great questions.

      These points that you bring up are a major reason why I started this website to begin with.
      It also sounds like we both have very similar tastes in tropical fruit.

      So overall, I have some good news for you and some bad news for you:
      The good news is that many of the fruits that you mentioned can be grown here in San Diego.
      The bad news is that some of them are rather tricky to grow here and some are just too tropical to survive our chilly winter.

      More good news:
      I have been going through my own personal list of favorite fruit trees and working on techniques for growing them in our area (San Diego). On the website, I have only written about the fruit trees that I have successfully gotten to fruit. Therefore, if you see an article on this site about a particular fruit tree then it will also grow/fruit in Poway. Just follow the steps that I have outlined in the specific article.

      In regards to your specific dream list.. It is also my dream list. I have been working on growing most of the trees on your list. Most of them need winter frost protection. Anyhow, when I get them to fruit I will create a complete article about the tricks to make that particular tree fruit. Until then, here’s a brief overview of where things are at.

      1. Ambarella: I am currently successfully growing an Ambarella (June plum). However, I clipped off the developing fruit this year and last year so the tree could concentrate on getting established first.
      2. Atemoya is growing very well. There is an article about Atemoya on this website.
      3. Caimito: Died due to chilly weather
      4. Jack fruit is currently growing, but it is being rather fickle at the moment.
      5. Longan: I have 3 Longan trees growing and doing very well. However, I clipped off the developing fruit this year and last year so the tree could concentrate on getting established first.
      6.Lichi: I have multiple varieties of lychee growing, but those are tricky to get established. Longman has proven to be much more care-free.
      7.Sapodilla is growing very slow, but I started with a small tree. If I get another one I will start with a bigger one.
      8.Mango: I have a Manila Mango that has been growing very well for the last 2 years. The Manila Mango seems to be one of the best suited for the San Diego climate. Some reports say you really have to clip the fruits for the first 7 years so they can be strong enough to survive the winter. I am on my 3rd year now. Only 4 more years to go… sigh.
      9.Kiwi. I am not growing kiwi. It is probably not worth growing them because you can get them so easy in the store and they are a pain to grow and most need about a male and female plant to produce fruit.
      10. Lansium domesticum: Will likely not survive our winters even if protected with frost cloth.
      11. Rambutan: They wont make it through our winters. Perhaps in a heated greenhouse.
      12. Carambola: There are some cold tolerant varieties that have been said to work in SD. I haven’t tried yet but it is on my list.
      13. Nalpighia glabra: Malpighia glabra should do fine here though I haven’t tried yet. Surinam Cherry (Eugenia uniflora) looks rather similar. I have several that are fruiting all the time. I have an article about them on this website.
      14. Artocarpus altillis: If Jackfruit will grow in San Diego I would think that Breadfruit will also fruit in San Diego but I haven’t tried it myself.
      15. Yellow dragon & dark pink dragon fruit. I am successfully growing purple dragon fruit. I would think that the other colors would grow about the same. I have several articles about dragon fruit in this website.

      All that being said, if you are new to gardening, I would definitely start with the less challenging plants. The trial and error of attempting to grow these fickle and expensive specialty plants is rather costly.
      I would start with Clausen Nursery (I wrote about them in this website). They carry a large selection of plants that will do very well in San Diego.

      When you are ready to move up to the trees that need a lot of babying (most of the trees on your list), check out Ong Nursery. The owner is very nice and knowledgeable and I think he is also Vietnamese. They carry a lot of rare tropical fruit trees at a (relatively) decent price… it’s still expensive. However, keep in mind that just because they sell the plants there doesn’t mean they will easily grow in San Diego. For example, got a Purple Mangosteen there on an impulse buy (I love Mangosteen), and the poor tree died of the cold in the Fall season. I later discovered that Mangosteen will not tolerate even slightly chilly weather, or extremes in any temperature and it hates direct sunlight. Anyhow, the point is don’t get a plant like a Mangosteen there because it will just die unless you have a heated controlled-temperature greenhouse.

      In the mean time, You can find a lot of the fresh tropical fruit you mentioned for sale at The Fruit Shop.

      Good luck!

      • Thanks for all the good advise in your email.
        I did order a lot of trees from one of Florida nurseries last night.
        I will try all the plants on your web too.
        Thanks for your help.
        Ha Nguyen

  2. WOW!!! I just found you! Thank you so much for all these info. I lived in San Juan Capistrano ( Orange County) and was looking at how to grow dragon fruit.
    Your site is amazing!!! I am from the Philippines and I do miss all the tropical fruits. I have a persimmon tree that finally gave the first 20 fruits this year after 4 yrs of growing.
    where can i buy this dragon fruit plant??
    best regards,
    Mary Kelly

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Hi Marry
      Thank you for the note. Its awesome to hear that you like the site so much. It has taken a bit of work, but it is a labor of love.
      And congrats on your Persimmon tree.

      Regarding where to buy the Dragon Fruit Plant.
      These cactus grow so fast, it doesn’t seem fair that they cost as much as a similar sized potted plant. From my experience, I often stumble upon them hiding in areas that I wouldn’t expect. Another words, I tend to find them when I am not looking for them. I have seen them at random nurseries, road side stands, farmers markets etc. I have even occasionally seen them in the garden section of big box home improvement stores. Sometimes at the big box stores you may see a part of a dragon fruit cactus used to graft another cactus onto which results in a novelty exotic looking windowsill plant.

      These dragon fruit cactus vines should also grow great in San Juan Capistrano. Therefore, I would expect that at least a few places should be carrying them in your area. However, the best bet might be to get a branch cutting from a kind friend.

      Best of luck,
      T

  3. That’s an apt answer to an inesiettrng question

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