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Ant Smith
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Woodworking

Pallet Wood Raised Bed Planters

This project builds raised-bed planters for the garden, largely from recycled pallet-wood and consequently at a pretty low cost. Here you will find:

  • Build plans (including cut and shopping lists)

  • The as-built 3D model

  • My narrative on creating these.

Everybody says raised beds are great for growing stuff and there's ample that t'internet has to say on the subject. For us the key practical drivers were two-fold: pestilence and attention.

Our garden clearly wasn't attended to at all for many years before we moved in and it is now a dense web of creeper weeds, many of which are the stinging variety, that demand constant attention to keep them at bay. The front isn't quite so bad - but then that gets regular heavy handed mowing all through the growing season. Keeping strips of land clear in the back for growing is an actual battle, and my interest in gardening (well growing stuff) did not spring out of a desire to go to war. I just want to eat some leaves I've grown! There's also plenty of neighbourhood cats that love to dig in the naked soil, that is, they love to dig up over night whatever we may have planted the afternoon before. Plus, further up the garden we go, there are swarms of something that devour every shred of tasty leaf available afore we get to harvest a thing... pests and pestilence abound. Surely, raised beds will offer all kinds of solutions?

But there's more to it than that. I don't want to 'wrought the land', I don't want to impose my will on the face of the planet, as if and as though I could possibly know better than nature itself. Fighting against nature, whether that of the planet or that of oneself, never ends well. It felt to me not only that we may have greater success with raised-bedding planters but that we may also have more joy. I can let the garden do what it will, directing my attention to a small contained space of my own devising in which I can hopefully cultivate, rather than embattle.

So I made 3 planters, 2 for ourselves and one for a friend, whose birthday it happened to be.

As ever, before starting I took a skeg about to see what's available in the marketplace; partly to get some design ideas, and partly to set an expectation around budget. If you follow my woodworking articles you'll know how exacerbated I am by the cost of wood - and how difficult it seems to be to make anything cheaper than the marketplace. Ah, the power of mass production.

I settled on a trough-style design - akin to what you can buy from 'vegtrug'. I won't include a link here, you can find them easily enough and I don't want to give them the oxygen of publicity. If you want to spend £170 and an afternoon of self-assembly feel free; or read on here to see how you can build something similar in a day or so but for no more than £30. Or ask me to make you one - if you were paying me I'd be happy to do so!

The trough style design, with inward sloping long walls, halves the amount of material needed to fill the planter. That's not only cheaper but it also halves the weight - less chance of the thing sinking in the mud, especially as I didn't want to lay down a hard surface for it to stand on. In fact I can just about manage to lift one of these even when filled.

Of course they're pretty shallow at the edges, but then many things just don't need much depth to grow successfully. Sure carrots and potatoes do, but they can be planted down the centre where there is a maximum depth of around 45cm which should be ample.

Many Thanks

The Green Onion Landscaping Team

The Green Onion Landscaping Team sorted out a whole stack of pallets for me. Our mate IanR also donated one from his garage, driving over to the Green Onion site to drop it off for me to make my collection even easier. Many, many thanks guys. Oh, and if you need some landscape gardening services in the Teesside area do check out green-onion.co.uk

The planter provides just under 1m2 of planting area, at 100cm by 85cm, and stands at just over 80cm tall. At this height it's easy to reach fully across the planter (front to back) and you can do all of your planting without the need to bend or kneel down. I included a lower shelf, but if you want (or need) to do your gardening seated that can be omitted to allow closer working. The version I made for my friend was also slightly lower (70cm tall) - so it would fit in the car to be delivered fully assembled.

The design is very fexible regards dimensions; if it were to be much more than 1m wide an additional pair of (central) legs would probably make sense. I settled on 1m wide in order to make best use of pallet wood, since the Pallets I had found were of varying sizes.

And speaking of which, there seems to be a common misconception that pallets abound a plenty. Well actually, they probably do, but laying your hands on free pallets just when you want them is an utter nightmare. I asked at a garden centre where there was a really healthy stack of empty pallets just at the exit - but oh no, apparently all of theirs 'get sent back' and they couldn't possibly spare one or two. Mind they were selling extremely expensive raised-bed planters so they probably just didn't want to be helpful. At one point I saw dozens piled up at the end of someone's garden. So COVID masked-up I pounded politely on the door, only to be told "oh no, they're not for sale, it seems I'm storing them for my brother..." Well that was fine, I didn't want to buy them anyway. Ultimately the hive-mind of facebook came to my aid. There were lots of helpful suggestions as to where one ought to be able to get pallets, but none quite as helpful as them that said 'our place, we've got loads'. Which was quite refreshing, especially considering how mean the local garden centre had been...

The planters are about 80% reclaimed pallet wood, but I was keen to ensure the basic framework would be strong so I pourchased 38 x 87mm carcassing wood for that part - the 4 legs, 2 side braces and 1 long cross brace; about 6m per planter in total.

Other costs came to a total of around £30, but much of these you likely already have on-hand:

  • £15 - 6m 38x87mm carcassing wood

  • £2 - third of a can of plasti-kote spray paint

  • £5 - 1L Ducksback paint

  • £1 - 4 x M6 coach bolt, nut and washer

  • £4 - 100 35 x 3.5mm wood screws

  • £1 - 10 60mm decking screws

  • £1 - landscape fabric lining

  • A strip of stapels

  • Some splodges of wood glue

  • slug repelling copper tape

Bear in mind it took a couple of hours to split each pallet apart using crowbar and chisel; I'm going to invest in a denailer for the next project (~£40) in the hope that speeds things up and improves the yield. Depending on the state of the pallet in question, you can get a lot of split/ruined pieces even when working slowly and carefully. With about 30m of pallet wood needed, each planter consumed 2 pallets. So trhat's an afternoon's work even before construction begins.

Although I have made a 3D model to demonstrate the construction, this is my first project where I decided to 'wing it'. It seemed like a simple design so I set about cutting up wood with ne'er a plan in sight. Why? I'm not sure, maybe just not wanting to make a mountain out of a molehill. There's little opportunity to over design a thing if you cut back on the whole design process! I think the approach worked on this occassion. The only thing I did work-out first was the cut of the top of the legs, to accomodate the incline of the walls. Of course I used my favourite right-angle triangle calculator to work this out. The tops of the legs were mitre cut at 50o. This meant tha the braces for the long walls were also mitre at 50o atthe top, but then 40o at the bottom - as they form a right-angle triangle with all internal angles summing to 180o. If you make your planter narrower or wider front-to-back yu'll need to adjust these angles.

Apart from that the cuts are pretty straightforward, and here's the full cut-plan:

Planter materials cut plan.

The frame was glued together with long decking screws securing the cross-brace and the long-wall angled braces in place. M6 coach bolts secure the legs to the side=braces. All of the planking was then fixed in place with 35x3.5mm wood screws. Because the pallet wood isn't the finest material around, pilot holes were drilled for all screws to prevent splitting. Well, that's true for planters 2 & 3 - I'm not in the habit of using pilot holes because I use really good screws as a rule, but I found with pallet wood pilot holes were needed. I used 3cm spacing between planks to provide for ample drainage. This also reduces the amount of wood needed, and the final weight of the planter.

A fully constructed planter, prior to finishing.

For finsihing the entire thing got 2 coats of ducksback inside and out. The interior will be subject to plenty of moisture so I thought a thorough coating was needed. I lined it with pretty cheap landscape fabric (tacked in place with staples). This might not last but I think the contents of the planter will compact well enough that it doesn't leak its contents even in a year or so when this fabric is well rotted... we'll see! Caps were added around the top of theplanter to hold the lining in place.

I used a bag of 20mm pea gravel to fill the deepest part of the planter, to further encourage good drainage.

Planter in-situ, painted & lined with gravel bottom.

The rest of the planter was filled with 230L of soil/compost. The feet had been sprayed with plasti-kote paint so that the planter can stand directly on grass, just above that I added strips of copper tape around each leg, to discourage some of the 'pests' from partying over much in my beds.

Planter No. 3

However, before we actually planted anything, we did give young Dan a ferret around...

Dan in Planter No. 3

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