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Jun 07, 2011

How To: Make an Awesome Small Footprint, Can't Fail Garden

created at: 06/07/2011

This is my backyard. All of it. A roughly 4 x 4 1/2 ' patch of gravel and clay.

I think even the most blackest of thumbs can recognize that nothing's gonna grow in that soil. But, that's not okay with me. I want a garden. I want to be able to just walk out of my door, and grab fresh herbs, greens, and produce when I'm preparing meals. I want to participate in my food. I wanna weed, water, and scare away all those dang chipmunks that nibble at my plants.

So, as my first project for the True Value Blog Squad, I built a garden that allows my plants to thrive regardless of the soil condition, or the fact that the space is smaller than me.

And you can too! Here's how:  

Materials and Tools

  • (2x) 2x8" x 8', pine (less expensive) or cedar/redwood (lasts longer, pricey)
    • Don't use pressure treated lumber here. You don't want those chemicals in your food
  • 3" galvanized or outdoor screws
  • (9x) pieces wood lath (in the fence section)
  • Short galvanized bolts with round heads (3/8" or so)
  • Electric drill and drill bits
  • Saw (optional)

created at: 06/07/2011

1. I measured my space and realized it was just over 4 x 4', so in order to maximize my plants and keep everything in nice square numbers, i decided to make my bed exactly four by four feet. Luckily, your neighborhood hardware store sells dimensional lumber in eight foot lengths, so it's easy to just grab two and cut them in half.

Then, I recalled something I'd read online about "Square-Foot Gardening." I found the book at the library, and knew that was just the ticket to have a productive garden in such a small space.

created at: 06/07/2011

2. Cut, or have cut (though this is super easy with a $10 handsaw, which everyone should own), the 2x8"s in half, to get four lengths of (more or less) 48". Place these together by staggering the joints, so that it forms a perfect square. (All end grain pieces will butt against side grain).

Use a square to keep 90° corners, and drill pilot holes for three of the 3" screws, then screw everything together. Your 2x8"s will likely not be straight, so take the time to keep everything square.

created at: 06/07/2011

3. Then, fill it up! I went with the 1:1:1 mix from the Square Foot Gardening method, which is equal parts peat moss, vermiculite, and blended compost. I grabbed two bags of peat moss and a large bale of vermiculite from True Value, then used the treasures from my compost bin that I've been tending to all year. Use a rake and a hoe to level everything out.

created at: 06/07/2011

4. The SFG method really recommends a rigid means to divide up the square plots. I agree. I used the recommended wood lath, which is super inexpensive. 

When marking out your rows, be sure to measure each length individually. In theory, they should all be 49 1/2", but wood moves, and angles get off, and its best to measure and cut each piece individually.

To attach them, screw them into the top of the 2x8"s at 3/4" from the edge, to prevent cracking.

Then, drill a hole at the cross points, and just inset the bolts to keep everything in place.

created at: 06/07/2011

Ta-da! Next week, I'll show you some of the extra items I built to keep out pests, support climbing plants, as well as some current photos with everything full of green!

Update: Check out the completed garden here!

Thanks to True Value! And be sure to follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

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Sean on Jun 10, 2011:

I love yardens and have been doing it for years.  I'm lucky this year.  My yarden is 170 square feet!  That's a ton of food plants.  Looking forward to see what you do with your space.


Suzanne on Jun 08, 2011:

4X4 is a perfect size because you can reach into the center from any spot on the outside. Raised beds work best when at least one part of length or width is 4 feet across with access on both sides for the gardener.