A Tiny + Modern Garden Storage System

September 05, 2017   //  Posted in: DIY, Gardening, Organized   //  By: Emily   //  Leave a comment

Alt title: The Thing the Woodpecker Nibbled Before it Could Be Photographed

Alt-Alt title: The Thing that Wasps Found Before I Could Finish This Post

Dry storage space in the garden wasn’t really an issue until this house, where most of our hand tools are stored nowhere near our garden and either forgotten and left in the rain, or unused; for years, I’ve wanted a small container that would keep my hand tools and assorted necessities out of the rain–or just a shelter, that would have worked too–so once the fence itself was built, I whipped this up one weekend, a simple cabinet with hinged door, to satisfy what we were missing. As the above alt-titles suggest, I’m not sure how long it’ll last before the woodpeckers smash it to bits, and the wasps definitely made a nest in one of my gardening glove fingertips, but those details aside, this tiny storage unit fits right into our space.

DIY garden storage to keep tools and accessories dry.

I installed it on the inside of one of the posts of our garden fence. No, there’s no plan to follow (it’s in my head), and no, definitely not a work of art, but simple and effective and I love what it does, and does so well.

It’s size is 10″w x 8″d x 24″h, and it’s mostly constructed out of some remaining cedar from when I built shelves inside my closet. Another scrap board for the roof, too. Design-wise, I kept it super simple, and assembled it only with wood glue and some small nails because it wouldn’t be holding anything too hefty. Inside, I added in a small shelf to vertically divide the space (and also to mildly prevent those long side boards from warping after rain and snow show their stuff).

Building storage for the garden using cedar boards.

The hinged door was a straight-forward design–the width of the door and the back panel are the same, so it made sense to have the door fit right into the cabinet. It was the fewer-cut route too, always a popular one for the DIYer embracing convenience, and I figured it would also be less inclined to flop around in the wind. Speaking of lazy, I briefly planned on it having a plexi window on the door, but decided plexi wasn’t worth an extra trip to the store and more time/money. Simple narrow hinges were the only item I purchased.

Narrow hinges for our garden storage door.

I used a router in two ways for this project: with a straight bit to etch out spaces for the hinges;

Our DIY garden storage shed made of cedar boards.

And a rounded bit to ease off the inside edge of the door so that the door would open more easily without a “square” inside left edge.

How to make a small cedar garden storage shed.

The roofline needed to be nothing more than a piece of wood to protect the interior from excessive moisture, and before attaching it with 4 finishing nails, I cut the top of the roofline to be flush with the vertical board on the backside (you’ll see what I mean in a photo lower down the post).

Anyone else remember the beetle knobs that I picked up from Anthropologie in 2012? Throwback. They lived on bifold doors in the old house, and I reused one of them here. (Also, Potatoes in containers. We harvested them already.)

Hardware attached to the garden storage container.

I used the same natural vinegar + steel wool stain that I use for all of the things, and obviously it worked perfectly, that’s why I love it so much. Upon application this is what it looked like, but remember at the top of the post (and in the next few photos) you’ll see that it darkens with time.

Using DIY vinegar stain on our garden storage cabinet.

I installed it on the post in the garden not long after the previous photo was taken, and added a few nails to the inside back wall to serve as hooks, too.

In addition to a pair of gloves and a few simple hand tools, it was nice to have spare seeds stored out there for extra plantings (except that the aforementioned wasps knocked the cukes into a spinach container garden sitting beneath the cabinet, and now we have a bunch of rogue plants doing their thing).

DIY garden storage to keep tools and accessories dry.

Garden 2017 is killing it. If you want to see how we built that fence, check out this post. And just for fun, here’s a tutorial showing how I made my favorite-ever raised beds. And because the evolution of the garden has been fun to see, check out 2013 (crushed by a tree), 20142015, and 2016.

Modern garden storage idea to keep tools and extra seeds and gardening gloves dry.


How to Make Easy Raised Planter Boxes

August 05, 2017   //  Posted in: Backyard, DIY, Gardening   //  By: Emily   //  Leave a comment

Ready to make some raised planters that’ll hold up really, really well? No bolts, no screws, simple design. After you make the cuts they assemble securely with pieces of rebar.

The interlocking design shown way back when on an episode of Desperate Landscapes on DIY Network was both pretty and a little different, appealing to me because it meant that the exposed edges would be free of bolts and screws holding the assemblage whole. By bolting downwards through the corners, the team had achieved a clean-lined look, and that, I liked. Real snapshot from the TV on my phone for future reference? Sure:

Jason Cameron does planter boxes right.

We decided that using pieces of 1/2″ x 18″ rebar straight through the wood into the ground might be a less-expensive alternative, and also help to anchor the planters into the ground a little bit. This sweet little artwork was designed on Paper.

Planning the planting boxes, thanks to Paper.

Having priced out some of these planter options at a range of places from hardware stores to places like Williams-Sonoma, I knew they could run upwards in price really quickly, especially with a name brand or specific high-quality lumber attached to it. I considered making mine out of cedar to withstand the test of time a little longer than pine, but pricing is always a consideration and for the amount of lumber I decidedly wanted, I still hoped to keep the whole construction under $50.

Here’s what I picked up:

  • Four 2x8x8′ pine boards ($2.90/each)
  • Four 2x4x8′ pine boards ($6.44/each)
  • 8 pieces of 1/2″x18″ rebar ($1.57/each)

A few notes:

  • I considered going low-rise with just one 2×8 height board, but I worried about the dog overstepping his boundaries. And a dog who oversteps boundaries will be peeing in my tomatoes.
  • Two 8″ boards felt a little tall when I stacked them as a visual in Lowe’s. And would have cost me an extra $15.
  • One 2×12 board felt thick and heavy and just too monstrous. You know how those boards just look like they’re designed with withstand 10,000 pounds of pressure and will require you to find two extra sets of hands to load them into your Jeep? That’s too much weight for something light and veggie-filled in the backyard.
  • The combination of a sturdy 2×8 combined with a lighter 2×4 for accent and a slight rise in wall height felt like the right balance in the end, less heavy than if it were a solid 12″ board.
  • And of course if you’re doing this at home, do what’s right for your situation. Change the specs, make it taller, shorter, whatever works for you.

I cut the boards in half into 48″ pieces, because to keep things simple, developing a set of 4’x4′ boxes would be easy and efficient. In sets of four (representing each box) I clamped the wood together tightly, and marked off where it would need to be cut on each end to fit in an interlocked pattern. Binding the pieces together just made my cuts happen a little more efficiently than if I were doing singular cuts on the deck with the circular saw.

Clamped together, ready for cutting.

For the 2×8 boards, I used a speed square to measure and mark the notches at 1-1/2″ x 3-1/2″. That’s exactly the board width x half of the real board height.

Notched and ready for cuts.

When it comes to making these cuts, pay attention to the depth of your circular saw blade. For the shallow cuts, I was able to set the circular saw to 1.5″ deep, but with the deeper cut I was only able to go up to 2.5″ deep.

Set the circular saw blade to only cut to a certain depth.

Which is why I was left to cut through the rest of the way by handsaw and multitool with a cutter attachment. Pete promptly reminded me this morning that we have a sawzall for jobs like this, I forgot, and my triceps are making me pay for it.

Set the circular saw blade to only cut to a certain depth, and then cut the rest of the way by hand or by using a sawzall.

My cuts were nowhere near as smooth as what I saw on TV. And that’s why I’m not on TV.

Notching out the planter boxes.

Just to note: In notching both ends of each board, both the 2×8’s and the 2×4’s, I notched on the same side of each board, so the notches when facing upward were all facing the sun, not one side facing the sun and one side facing the ground. Know what I’m trying to say? Probably not. They fit together as a puzzle easily as you’ll see, but an easy puzzle. An ages 3+ puzzle.

Assembling the puzzle was easy enough too. I started by predrilling the holes for the rebar to extend through in each corner, using some cinder blocks as convenient anchors. Using the electric drill gave me a lot of power consistently through all of the boards, and a 5/8″ paddle bit widened a path for the 1/2″ rebar to glide through with not-too-much-and-just-enough friction.

Cinderblocks. Always handy for anchoring lumber in place.

Cinderblocks. Always handy for anchoring lumber in place.By then hauling them out into the lawn, the 4 sides came together quite easily; once one piece of rebar was in, the structure stayed upright and made configuring the other three corners a snap.

Pinning rebar into the corner of the box planter.

When the planters are positioned, each piece of rebar will receive some clean thwaps to hammer them into the soft ground. When they’re level with the top piece of wood, there’ll be no chance of dog and kid injuries while we play and romp in the backyard.

Stepping back and looking at the set wholly, they’re pretty cool. And bigger than I expected 16-sq.ft. pieces to be. Not as nice as the ones I saw crafted on TV, mostly because I’m no first-rate craftsman, but they’ll be great to house tomatoes and flowers in the backyard this summer.

 New set of planter boxes.

There’s still more work to be done – you can read more here about how I dug a bed for them to sit over, brought in potting soil and fertilizer, and created a nice garden environment in the backyard.

Garden 2017: The Biggest Yet

July 05, 2017   //  Posted in: Backyard, DIY, Gardening   //  By: Emily   //  3 responses

I’ve written a little bit every year to track the evolution of our backyard garden. If you want to go through those stories, feel free to do so here: 2013 (crushed by a tree), 2014, 2015, 2016

Those archives will prove that starting a garden isn’t something done in a single year. In fact, I’m totally sure there’s no end in sight if you’re set on optimizing and finessing the space for new crops or challenges. Trying to find our way and build upon our vision is fun though, and this has been the best season yet in that respect. Every year brings new ideas, and this year’s #gardengoals were bigger than ever before – it’s the year we set out to install a permanent fence.

Our big, backyard fenced-in garden. 500 sq. ft.

Our deer-trafficked yard requires a strictly fenced-in space, but while every neighbor and expert I’ve encountered suggests no shorter than 8′ fencing if you’re going to keep those creatures out of your crops, our trial years 2013-2016 only used a 4′ fence, and we had no issues with deer jumping in. Maybe they did bound around in there and I didn’t know, but we still haven’t witnessed trampled plants or tipped trellises. I think their avoidance has to do with the fact that we’re outdoors a lot more in the spring and summer, leaving human scents and traces of our presence and a whole lot more dog pee around the back hill that scare deer into keeping their distance. Plus, there’s a ton of foliage for them to eat, so no shortage of food for that four-legged crew.

That’s all to say, when we set out to take our garden from a simple 4′-temporary-metal-fence style to a more permanent design, we did decide to make a little taller using 6′ fencing (more accessible at local stores than 8′ fence, too), and applied wisdom from our own learnings by burying some of that height to beef up the bottom of the fence to discourage diggers and smaller wildlife from entering down low. So the fence is actually about 12″ buried, and 5′ high above ground.

This is what we were starting with (that broken leaning tree in the background came down all by itself a few days after I snapped this, FYI):

Garden Fence, before it was replaced with a permanent structure.

And here’s where we are today:

Garden 2017, with a brand new wooden fence.

The new garden is just a little bigger than the old one; it’s sized 16′ x 32′ (512 sq. ft.), rectangular, not oval. We sunk 4x4x8′ posts down 2.5′ into the ground in cement, leaving 5.5′ atop so that we could attach fencing. There’s an actual gate too (as opposed to an opening that we snagged and squeezed through in the old fence).

Pete digging holes for our new garden fence posts.

One thing we really have working for us is the fact that our soil has a lot of sand in it; we hit the occasional root, but no rocks and no dense clay. I mean, look at this. Post holes are never easy, but we couldn’t have it easier.

If you’re curious, we did price this project in cedar. I did it while standing in the lumber section at Lowe’s, its prices right in front of me, thinking maybe I would pay a little more for cedar lumber, only to be told over the phone by the guy at the local lumberyard that it was, like, $90 per 4×4 in cedar, and in a moment of complete shock exclaimed – mouth-agape, high-pitched voice – “That’s great, lemme think about how many I’ll need and I’ll stop by later.” Not. Cedar would have made this project 8x more expensive, and all-in, as it was I think we spent about $500 on lumber and cement and fencing.

The posts are regular, untreated pine. We should have gotten pressure-treated, at the very least, but without having done a lot of research on how much the treatment would leach into the soil, I instinctively went the safe route. (Would come to learn that PT isn’t terribly bad for soil these days; it allegedly would kill the plants before harming the edible fruit, and we’ll just have to deal with rotting posts sooner as a result of not using them). We did use PT for the horizontal pieces along the front and top of the fence, as neither come in contact with the ground.

Prior to installing the posts, I stained them using what is still my *absolute favorite* stain, a natural solution of dissolved steel wool in apple cider vinegar. The stain I used for these posts had been sitting in the basement for a few years untouched, and man-oh-man was it concentrated. Normally it takes a few months to achieve a dark stain using this finish, but within a day of application the posts looked fantastic.

Natural stain for exterior use made of steel wool and vinegar – best DIY stain ever.

Our ground isn’t level, so there was some level of complexity with respect to getting a fence that looks level. After we got all 13 posts secured in cement, what worked really well for us to ensure that the metal fencing would all be an even height and not angled to be equidistant from the ground was to decide on the height of the fence and mark it at one post, and then run a horizontal board along to all of the other posts, one at a time, using a level to be certain that the same height marking was transferred all of the way around. For all intents and purposes, the height of the finished fence is between 50″-60″, varying slightly because of the unevenness of the underlying ground but looking visually straight along the top.

Originally, I thought we would just wrap the entire length of steel fencing around the new posts in one long sheet; we eventually surrendered to that idea when we realized we were inviting the process to turn into a damn wrestling match, and instead trimmed 8′ lengths of fencing so that they could be attached individually, post-to-post-to-post. I singlehandedly cut and installed 12 steel fence panels in about a half-day, using metal snips to cut and a pneumatic stapler to attach the fencing at the height we previously marked. Most aspects of this project were easily done solo, but would go a lot faster with a partner or crew, which is probably nice for you to keep in mind.

Installing steel fencing panel by panel for our new garden.

Trimming the fence into 8-foot lengths made it a lot easier to sink the fencing about 6″-12″ into the ground to ward off animals that–in our experience–try to burrow beneath the fence, or dig their way through. 6″-12″ certainly might not be enough deterrent for the strong-willed, I mean, what’s to say that anything isn’t going to dig deeper to get where he wants to go? We’re testing it out to see how it rolls, and we can adapt if necessary.

To make things even more complicated for the burrowing guys, I curled the end of the fencing underground when there was any excess. Shove it all in the hole!

Pushing wire fencing underground to prevent animals from burying under.

I also purchased a secondary length of plastic fence/netting that would defend the lower 18″ of the garden fence from intruders, and sunk the lower edge of that underground too; after all, the metal fence with 4″x6″ openings is still wide enough for a lot of animals to squeeze through, but a fence with 1″x1″ square openings is a bit tougher for common yard folk.

I backfilled in around the buried fencing with soil, tamped it to be level with the grass in the yard, and we turned our attention to planting, and finishing a custom garden gate.

Quickly, the list of what we’re growing this year includes:

  • Basil
  • Cilantro
  • Sugar snap peas
  • String beans
  • Spinach
  • Garlic (planted last fall, worked our construction around them)
  • Tomatoes (6 varieties, grown from seed by my parents)
  • Cucumbers
  • Eggplants
  • Sunflowers (the only florals)
  • Leeks
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries (though at last check, the birds ate the few berries on the plant)
  • and Potatoes in two containers located on our back patio (The deer have *not* eaten them!):

Growing potatoes in 60-gallon containers on our patio

Pete’s the brains behind the garden gate, and kept the construction simple and strong. A little bit of research told us how to brace the rectangular frame so that it resisted sagging (note: it’s the opposite of what we thought), and we pimped it out with self-closing hinges and a latch that’s easy even for the kids to access from inside and out. We avoided hinging the door on the corner post, thinking it might be more susceptible to weakening over time, and we’re really happy how it turned out. We built up a ramp using some spare pavers so that the door closes to sit almost right atop them, leaving a mere space not even tall enough for a bunny to squeeze beneath. It’s a good fit, man.

DIY garden fence constructed with self-closing hinges and designed for kids to access.

At this point, I had made a second batch of vinegar/steel wool stain and allowed the vinegar to dissolve the steel wool for about 3 weeks. We used it both for the door, cross-pieces, and the trim that was added to the front of the posts to sandwich the metal fence and make it look more finished. The newer batch of steel wool wasn’t as concentrated as the stuff I had in the basement from two years ago, but I can attest that the concentration continues to age and darken wood for months after application, and I’m pretty confident that by next year, all of the boards will be more similar in color.

We added two horizontal fence pieces between each post – 1×4 at the top, and 1×6 across the middle – and then pieced in 1×4 trim pieces vertically along the fronts of the 4×4 posts. It looks pretty nicely finished, and was a simplified approach that still lets in a lot of sunlight. Used screws for everything, so that any component of this fence can be easily adjusted if/as necessary. Natural lighting in our garden has been steadily improving, and when we cut down one of the big trees in the middle of the yard this spring, we opened the garden up to good afternoon sunlight whereas before it was a partial-sun kind of space.

Close up on the detail of our wooden garden fence.

The fencing was pinned with staples to the backside of the horizontal pieces for added reinforcement, and we added plastic caps to the top of the posts to help prevent rain from soaking in. These are the plastic post caps we got from Amazon (aff link) and we totally thought they’d squeeze onto the post snug like a swimming cap, but they measure a little too big and overhang the 3.5″x3.5″ post in every direction… so buy a different kind. It’s a super frustrating finishing touch to this project. We had to add pin nails around the edge to keep them in place, and in all fairness to them that’s how the manufacturer intended, but it wasn’t how we thought it would work. Our alt plan? Custom copper caps that would patina like champs. Maybe in the future!

Post caps that don't fit.

Here’s one more before + after for comparison; so nice to finally have this special garden in our own yard!

Before: Simple 4′ metal fence.

Before: A garden with a simple 4' fence.

After: Customized wooden fence with gate. Note that the tree in the upper right was taken down! It looks far away but actually used to cast a big afternoon shadow on the garden in previous years.

After: Custom wooden garden fence.