In this article...
We love cooking and cooking with fresh ingredients makes everything taste so much better. Of all the ingredients that tastes best when fresh, herbs would have to be near the top of that list.
In the past, we've used an AeroGarden to grow herbs in the RV - specifically the AeroGarden Harvest Elite that runs on 12V, perfect for when we're off-grid.
But now we're stationary on our property in Vermont, we can grow outside. I did some research online and inspired by several posts, came up with a design that I liked. My goal was a design that fulfilled several criteria:
- Simple to build with basic tools and fasteners
- Large enough for several different plants
- Uses low cost materials, preferably wood we have already
- Portable so we can move it with the tractor
- Durable enough to last a few years (but not trying to last forever)
The design I came up with offers an internal planting area of exactly 24" by 36" (2ft by 3ft) so we can easily split it up into a grid for square foot gardening. My design uses full-dimension boards and is about 10" deep from the base to the bottom-side of the top rail - plenty for the herbs we're planning to grow.
While it'll be too large and heavy to move by hand when full of soil and plants (even empty, it's really a two-person job to move it), it's easy to pick up with our tractor when we want to reposition it.
This design would be easy to adapt to whatever materials you have, but in our case I used a mix of things, depending on what I had available.
The legs I chose to build from 2x4s we had milled from pine logs last year. I only need this planter to last a couple of years so I didn't bother treating the legs, but a coat of stain or paint would make these last much longer. I also stole a few 1" x 1" stickers to use for the project too - I used these for the base supports.
For the sides and base I used hemlock 1x4s from a nearby sawmill. I stumbled across Wright's Mill in White River Junction, VT a week or so prior. They sell green, rough-sawn hemlock in pre-cut boards - either 4/4 (1" thick) or 8/4 (2" thick) - or you can custom order some. We bought seven 8ft long 1x4 boards for $23, although only ended up using six in the final build - always good to have a little extra material though!
I debated whether or not to put a top rail on, but eventually decided to use some wood from pallets I disassembled recently. It's not a perfect fit, and the wood itself is not without a few flaws - nail holes, cracks and discoloration. But, it's heat treated and free, so there's nothing to lose!
Last, although probably not strictly necessary, I chose to use landscape fabric (sometimes called weed barrier) on the bottom and around the sides. You can find this at your local hardware store, garden supply store or online.
Tools & Fasteners
Except for the miter cuts in the top rail (which you could do as square cuts if you wanted), this build requires nothing but square cuts. You could easily do this with a hand saw or circular saw if that's all you have, but I used our Dewalt Flexvolt battery-powered miter saw which made quick work of all the cuts.
Pro Tip: Be extra careful cutting green lumber on a miter saw as it can bind on the blade.
As with the lumber, I just used whatever fasteners I could find. Fortunately I had a bunch of exterior-grade screws lying around so I used those, but I was lacking some really long screws so used nails in a few places for extra strength.
Even though this is a rough-and-ready piece of garden furniture, it's still worth taking the time to make sure things are square - a large rafter square is perfect for the job.
Part | Dimensions | Quantity ---|---|---|--- Leg | 2" x 4" x 28" | 8 Side (Short) | 1" x 4" x 26" * | 6 Side (Long) | 1" x 4" x 36" | 6 Base Slats | 1" x 4" x 24" | 8 * Base Rail (Short) | 1" x 1" x 12" | 2 Base Rail (Long) | 1" x 1" x 36" | 2
Note: If you're using nominal-dimension lumber (i.e. 2x4s that are really 1½" x 3½" then you'll want to cut the short side pieces to 25" instead of 26" to account for the reduced thickness of the long side pieces. You'll also want to cut 9 base slats, not 8.
If you want to add the top rails then you'll need to cut these too. I recommend measuring these at the very end to get the miters are tight as possible.
With all the pieces cut to length, I began assembling.
First up, I built the legs. These are a simple L-shaped assembly made from two 2x4s. Ideally I'd recommend some 3½" screws but I only had 2" screws so I countersunk them. I actually came back at the end and added some long nails for additional strength.
With the legs built, I moved onto the short end assemblies. Each end consists of three 1x4 boards sandwiched between two legs. I kept all the boards on the inside of the legs to maximize the growing space - and I quite like the aesthetic too! Make sure to fasten the 1x4 boards to the shorter side of the L in the leg, to give yourself plenty of space to put the longer boards on the longer side later.
I used my rafter square to get everything lined up nice and square, and used a spare 1x4 board at the bottom of each leg to keep things parallel while I was assembling. The top board should be flush with the top of the legs, and I spaced each subsequent board by about 1/8-inch - I used a couple of roofing nails for the spacing. This is partly for aesthetics, and partly to allow for any wood movement.
Each board is fastened to the leg assembly with two screws at either end to make the entire assembly really rigid. You may find a couple of clamps make the assembly a little easier if you're working alone like I was.
Once I had both short ends completed, I stood them up and repeated the process with the longer 1x4 boards to assemble the long ends. Again, use your rafter square to keep everything square as you go, and those clamps will come in useful again!
Top Tip: Wherever you build this, make sure the floor is flat otherwise you'll end up with a wonky planter!
The only difference with the long sides is that I used four screws in each end of the bottom board as this will be taking all the weight of the soil and plants. Make sure these screws sink deep into the leg assemblies.
To maximize the depth of the planter, I used 1x1s to build the base supports. The longer supports go on the longer sides, and the shorter supports go on the shorter sides - these probably aren't strictly necessary, but seemed like cheap insurance to add a little more strength.
Top Tip: Be sure to fasten these with plenty of screws, but don't split the wood - pre-drill if necessary.
With the base supports securely in place, I laid out the 8 base slats, each made from 1x4 material. The slats have a combined total width of 32", which means leaving a gap of about 4/7" between each one. That's not an easy number to measure (it's about 18/32" if you want to try) so I just laid them out by eye.
It doesn't matter too much as they'll only be visible from underneath in the finished planter. Each base slat is secured in place with a single screw.
If, like me, you choose to add landscaping fabric, now is the time. I figured that by using it, it would stop soil falling through the gaps in the base slats, and keep everything looking tidy around the top too. If you do add the it though, you'll probably also want to add the top rail to keep things looking neat.
I ran a single piece of 3ft wide landscaping fabric down one long side, across the bottom and up the other side, fastening it in place with a staple gun and some T50 staples. For the short sides, I cut pieces to length but kept them 3ft wide - I just folded the excess in as I stapled them in place.
Ideally you'd use 1x3 boards for this, but all I had available was pallet lumber which is just a little over 3" wide - although each piece varies a little. Rather than worrying too much about it, I cut the pieces to length, taking care to ensure the miters were as tight as I could get them on the outside corner, and letting the inside corners be off a little if the boards were different widths.
Given the wood will no doubt warp, twist and expand a little as it's exposed to the elements, I wasn't looking for a cabinet-grade fit here! If I were to do this again, I'd probably use pocket screws from underneath as the screws didn't like biting into the end-grain on the legs.
Building this simple planter took just a couple of hours, while the end result is sturdy and practical. It's not complex and while it may not have the elegance of a more elaborate design, it serves its purpose for now.
I'm deliberately leaving the wood untreated as an experiment to see how long it lasts. Hemlock offers some natural rot-resistance and while not as much as species like cedar or redwood, it's more readily available (and cheaper) around here.
In fact, by creating a design that used materials we already had available, this planter cost a total of around $20 in materials - just the hemlock 1x4 boards and a small amount of landscape fabric. We do have hemlock trees on site here (some of which need to be felled soon anyway to clear the house site) so once we get the sawmill up and running again this year, we'll be able to make more of these for practically nothing!
Here in our part of Vermont we're in USDA Zone 4b and our final frost date isn't until early May, so it's a few more weeks until we can start planting outside. But now that the planter is assembled, the real fun can begin - deciding what to plant in it!
If you enjoyed this simple, no-frills DIY elevated planter build then leave a comment below and let me know!