Spring has sprung here in Victoria! The daffodils are blooming and it’s time to start planting some crops. This will be my third year of growing veggies in this location. I’m very lucky to have gardening space, although my landlords definitely gave us the least desirable spot; they have all the sun while I have mostly shade. Learning to grow veggies in this zone has been a challenge for me as all my previous growing zones were a lot hotter and dryer. Some of the things I was used to growing don’t do very well here, and learning to grow in the shade has it’s own set of challenges, but we have a lovely long growing season and I love growing my own food! I also have very limited space so I have to make every inch count!
This year I decided to try growing in a couple of raised beds. I’m hoping that raising the level of the plants will help them reach a bit more sunlight, as well as help keep the weeds more manageable. I don’t have a lot of money to spend however, so I decided to go the cheapest route possible.. cheap as in pretty much free! Lumber can get expensive if you are buying it all new, so I spent a few days researching where to find some for free. Usedvictoria.com has been a great resource, there are many places that are giving away free wooden pallets and many of them you don’t even have to contact them; just show up and load them and they are yours! Just make sure you are grabbing from the pile they specified. I also couldn’t make them to standing height because they would block my landlords’ plants from the sun, but you can make them as high as you want! If you make them higher I’d recommend adding a bottom railing for support. I also opted to make mine easily removable by using spikes for the walls instead of screwing everything together. If I owned my own property I’d probably make them more permanent, but as renters I figured it was a good idea to make them easy to remove or rearrange if needed. Plus doing it this way uses way less screws or nails, which is even cheaper.
A few things to note when you are looking at the pallets are:
~ Cracks in the wood. Make sure you look for damaged and cracked boards. You will have to apply quite a bit of pressure if you are pulling nails, and weak boards can easily crack and ruin the pieces.
~ Treated wood. If you are planning to use the beds for growing food make sure you don’t get the chemically treated pallets. Many times they are easy to spot as they are a blue or green colour.
~ Edge and corner nails. Look at the edge boards and see how they are nailed. If they have a lot of nails, skip them. I found this out the hard way by picking up some lovely looking pallets, only to find out they were ridiculously hard to deconstruct. Some of the edge boards had 5 or more nails which took forever to remove. The more nails there are the greater the chance you will wreck the edge boards. But if you don’t have a lot of options then it’s ok if the edge boards turn into firewood. What really matters are the inside boards.
~ Inside boards. The inside boards are the most valuable and easiest to remove. Make sure to look for good quality boards with as few splits and nails as possible. If there are over two nails on each nailed section on the inside boards you may want to pass on them.
~ Rusty nails. Another thing to look for are rusty nails. I learned this the hard way as well! If at all possible avoid really old looking pallets with rusty nails. Rust makes nails much harder to remove and can end up taking a lot of time. Also, rusty nails can be weaker, resulting in the head bending or folding when you try to pull it. Once the nail head is damaged it makes it nearly impossible to remove and will usually end up wrecking that board when you try to remove it.
Rusty nails often show some rust on the surrounding wood.
~ Spacing. If you are pulling nails the spacing between the slats is important. If they are too close it will be much harder to get your pry bar in between them. Look for pallets with enough space between the boards.
Notice how close the boards are, this one was hard to deconstruct!
I chose to pull the nails to get the full boards, however some people opt to just cut them free with a saw instead to save time. Either way is totally legit. Feel free to do it whichever way you want.
What you need
- Pry bar or nail puller. You can use almost any size, just make sure it has a nice flat end and a curved end.
- Measuring tape
- Extension cord (unless you have a plug close to where you are working)
- Circular saw aka skill saw
- Large level
- Nails or Screws
- Screw Gun (if using screws)
- Safety glasses
- Work gloves
- Wooden pallets
Make sure to wear your safety glasses and earplugs! Gloves are optional, but I’d highly recommend them if you don’t like sliver fingers.
The first step is to break down the pallets. If you are going the nail pulling route this can take a while, but it will be worth it in the end! I set up a camp chair and my mini speaker and enjoyed the day in the sun with some tunes. Just think of all of the good exercise you are getting! I first pulled the boards off then set them aside as a lot of them still had nails in them. After I had gotten the boards off of a pallet I then made sure to pull all the nails out and stack the boards according to size. If you are doing this in a yard make sure to watch for all those nails and pick them up right away! You don’t want to find them in the grass next time you are mowing the lawn!
Next I figured out how high I wanted the raised beds and the length and width. I got all my measurements and decided to make my posts 15″ (inches) high, including the few inches that are going in the dirt. I actually had a few scrap 2×4’s and a little bit of wood panelling left over from another project, so I made my posts out of the 2×4’s. Had I not had those though I would have just used the thicker pieces from the pallets. I figured out that I needed 6 posts and made them 15″ long. I then cut the ends into points. I wasn’t fussy about the points since they were going in the ground, so I just eyeballed them. Try to make them steep enough though so they will go into the ground easily.
Next create the 4 walls. I cut the top railings and screwed them to the posts, you can also use nails if you prefer. I didn’t make a bottom railing, but you can totally make one as well if you want it to be fancier. I found the dirt to be enough to keep them in place. I used the leftover wood panelling for this part just because it looks nice. Otherwise I would have just used regular pallet wood.
I then pounded the posts into the ground and attached the sides with screws, making sure to use the level to keep everything even. If one end was higher I just pounded it down with the hammer some more.
Next I measured how long I would need to cut the wall boards. I figured 13″ each would work for me. I made my measurements, usually getting 3 around pieces from each board, and then made my cuts. I made a couple of test spikes to make make sure they worked and pounded them into the ground.
Time to cut the spiked ends. After I made all my 13″ pieces I cut the ends into points. Again, I wasn’t being fussy and didn’t have to draw them out first, I just eyeballed it since they are going to be hidden anyways. I stuck a bucket underneath the edge of the sawhorse, so most of the little scraps fell right into the bucket for easy cleanup.
Almost finished! Next, I gathered them all up and then pushed them into the dirt. Starting at one corner I pushed them side by side into the dirt just behind the front railing. I then pounded them down with the hammer to make them even. I then spread the dirt around a bit to hold them up. Once the bed is full of dirt it will look much better and be nice and sturdy.
Voila! An awesome, free, and easily removable raised bed for the garden! Doing it this way will also make it super easy to do repairs if one of the pieces gets messed up. I wasn’t picky about the colours or pattern of the pieces, but you can be as creative as you like with it. I like the patchy rustic look, but you could do a little sanding and staining, or paint them different colours if you wanted.
The next step will be to fill it up with layers and dirt. I’m currently looking for some free garden materials to add in like seaweed, mulch, compost, manure, and soil. I’m also planning to create a second raised bed and then will possibly add some large rocks or wood to the aisles to keep the weeds down and make it look prettier and more even. I can’t wait until I get to start adding plants!
Gardening doesn’t have to be expensive and there are awesome ways to make it work even if you are renting and live in a city. I hope this inspires you to try something like this yourself!