Practical Preppers Garden Chapter 4 – Construction
Practical Preppers Garden Chapter 4 – Construction
In my previous article, we decided what types of plants to grow in our practical preppers garden. With the ground work done, it’s time to get our hands dirty and actually build it. As with any project, planning is the first and most important step. In order to construct a garden that’s going to be productive and long-lasting, we need to evaluate the challenges we’re faced with. In my case, my property has relatively poor soil, with a high clay content. Additionally we’re dealing with some very competitive plants that will quickly dominate a communal growing area. Based on these facts I decided to build raised beds for each crop.
Some of the advantages of raised beds include separate growing areas, superior drainage, easier access for watering/harvesting, protection from certain types of pests, and the ability to maintain different soil types/conditions. In order to build raised beds of course, we’re going to need more materials, particularly wood, and soil. Lumber costs can add up quickly, as you’ll recall, one of the goals of this project was to keep costs as low as possible. For this reason I decided to use discarded shipping pallets. If you live in a decent-sized city and have access to a truck, you can find these free in many different places. As it happens, a good friend tipped me off about a local masonry outfit that was happy to be rid of them. Soil can be a bit trickier, however I lucked out in that my local municipality actually offers free soil and compost to residents willing to come get it. If you’re not as fortunate as I am, a number of construction companies will occasionally either give away or sell topsoil very cheaply as it has to be removed from lots before development can begin. Whatever you do, do NOT underestimate the cost of soil; by the time this project was done I used more than 240 cubic feet!
With the basic materials sourced it was time to start building. I began by selecting a good location. Several spots in my yard have great sun coverage, which made them a natural choice as they could easily meet the requirements of my different plants. Aside from sunlight, I also wanted to try and find an area that was relatively level, and accessible. Some spots I picked out were already perfect, others required me to clear some brush and level them off a bit using a shovel and hoe. If this sounds tedious, just remember that the extra work is worth it in the end when watering and harvesting.
Next I started disassembling the skids. One trick I learned very early on is that shipping pallets tend to be somewhat brittle. If you’re finding a lot of the boards splinter or break on you during disassembly, try leaving them out in the rain, or soaking them with a hose a few hours before starting. I found it made a huge difference both in ease of disassembly, and ensuring the boards remained intact. Actually taking them apart is more art than science; I found the easiest method was to cut the left and right ends off using a saws-all, and then pound them free from the center using a hammer or mallet.
With the skids disassembled it was time to measure and cut. My plan called for two different sizes of beds including a 7’x3′ and a 3’x3′, both about 18″ high, with 2′ foot tall posts. While it’s important to do a good job, bear in mind we’re not trying to build the Taj Mahal here, so things don’t have to be 100% perfect. To fasten the lumber together I used some standard 2 1/2″ wood screws I bought in a bulk pack. When spacing the beds apart, I also took the time to measure the width of my lawnmower, ensuring it could fit through the gaps between them. Little steps like this during the planning phase make a huge difference down the road when it’s time to maintain your property. I found the easiest way to get this right was to cut a pair of boards about 25% longer than the width of my mower. I then placed these spacers between each bed as I built it to ensure everything would fit well, removing them when complete. Since these beds weren’t actually anchored to the ground, adjusting their position was a snap. Obviously you’ll want to have all the positioning finalized before filling them, of course. Eventually I ended up staining the lumber to help preserve it from the elements and insects, though this is of course optional.
With the framing done, I proceeded to install a liner. The purpose of the liner is two-fold, to help keep the soil from drying out since it has far more surface area than a ground level garden would, and to protect the wood frames so they last longer. I happened to have some left-over foil faced insulation from a previous project which worked great for this, but there are all kinds of things you can use. Old pond liners, flooring underlay, even vapor barrier would probably do the trick. I like the insulation since it helps keep the garden bed warmer, and hopefully protect my plants come winter. Whatever you choose, a staple gun makes installation a snap. When lining the beds, make sure you consider the type of plants going into them before deciding whether to cover the bottoms, too. Plants requiring well-drained soil should be left with the bottom open to facilitate drainage. Conversely, plants that like damp or wet should should have lining on the bottoms, to help keep water in. Bottom liners are also very important if you’re working with potentially-invasive species like Sunchokes, which will spread unchecked without some kind of barrier. Before filling the beds with soil I also places some leftover pieces of lumber and junk wood I had lying around in the bottom. This will not only assist with soil drainage, but also help to discourage nuisance critters in search of tubers from burrowing underneath. Consequently it also reduces the amount of soil needed, which saved me a few trips in the car.
All said and done, I built six large beds, and four small ones for a total of 240 square feet of growing area. Not bad for a residential back yard. With a little bit of planning, and a lot of elbow-grease, we’ve built an entirely perennial garden that’s low-maintenance, long-term, and nutritionally complete. How did we do with our goal of keeping things low-cost? You’ll have to be the judge of that. By focusing on free and low-cost materials, we managed to keep the entire construction budget under $25– which includes the cost of the screws and staples. The plants of course cost substantially more. Wherever possible, I bought seeds and started them myself for only a few dollars. The tubers and fruit bushes were more expensive, coming to about $275CAD including shipping. All said and done this entire project came in at about $300CAD, roughly a month’s worth of groceries for me. Aside from the preparation value, I expect this garden will have paid for itself in savings alone within one season.
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