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Right now my only greens (chard) are growing in a pot but in a post showing them off, I mentioned I was going to make an upgrade. After reading an article that said there are some vegetables that can grow in 3-6 hours of shade–namely those that we eat the leaves, stems or buds of (leafy greens, lettuces, broccoli, etc.)– I decided to get my act together and finally build a raised garden bed that would go in our side yard. Our side yard has pretty much been ignored for the last two and a half years and left to grow weeds with its compact clay soil. Time for that to change!

In my most recent Sunset Magazine (a magazine about “living in the West”) there was a great plan for “the perfect raised garden bed.” Two reasons this caught my attention: 1) They claimed for the whole thing, including dirt, it would be about $172. 2) They included the instructions for putting in poles that would hold bird netting, something I realized would keep out the pesky squirrels. I was sold.

While Sunset said this whole project would be $172, I ended up spending just over $200 mainly because I wasn’t able to get the price on soil they said was possible despite looking into a couple different options (including bulk). I probably also got nicer wood than needed because that’s what Home Depot had. For a 4’x8′ box, I still think that’s not terrible.

This isn’t a complicated project at all as long as you know how to use a drill, you will probably need someone to help you manhandle the box at one point. Let’s get started!

Step 1: Enlist your sister to help you (or another buddy!). This box gets built upside down and must be flipped. Ultimately, one of us could have flipped it on our own but we didn’t build it right by where it was going to be placed and had to be carried– a two-woman job.

Step 2: Have all your cutting done by your local hardware store. Oh sure, you could do this yourself, but you will save time and maybe even money having the pros do it for you. The plan’s shopping list has the following:One 6-foot-long 4-by-4, Six 8-foot-long 2-by-6s. Our store didn’t have a 6-foot 4×4 so we had to go with an 8-foot long piece and my sister pointed out that three 16-foot 2x6s were cheaper than the already shorter lengths. We just had the lumber guy cut everything down for us in the store so there was no cutting we had to do once we got home. You end up with four 1.5′ 4x4s, four 4′ 2x6s, and four 8′ 2x6s. Make sure you buy untreated wood! We laid everything out before assembling.

Step 3: Drill pilot holes and then screw boards together. I was in charge of using a drill bit to drill pilot holes and then my sister followed by drilling in the screws (exterior wood screws).

Remember that you are assembling upside down so the posts that extend will go into the dirt when you flip the box over.

Step 4: Dig four holes where the posts will go (bonus points if you get your helper to do this while you take pictures). You can see on the right we leaned the box up against the house then just had to lean it over to the ground.

As I mentioned, I wasn’t able to get soil for Sunset’s suggested price of $25 in bulk (for 32 cubic square feet which is equal to 1 and 1/5 cubic yards). Instead, I bought 16 cubic square feet of organic soil amendment (which gets mixed with your regular soil), 3 cubic feet of some cheapo soil amendment, 2 cubic square feet of garden soil and a bag of chicken manure. We ended up skipping the purple bag of compost for now. If I did it again I would probably pay a little more to just get 100% good soil that doesn’t need to be mixed into the native soil even if it cost a little more.

Step 5: Lay box on dirt and attach pipes. We skipped the mesh lining on the bottom of the box because we don’t have gophers/moles in our area. We also couldn’t fine the tube straps (they were sold out) and ended up buying plastic tube strapping that you cut to size. In this case I think it will work perfectly.

Step 6: Add dirt.

Oh what’s that? You don’t see the pipes here yet? Yeah, we may have missed that step and gone backwards. Definitely add the tubes before the dirt.

You can kind of see the clay soil being mixed in with the good stuff here. Again, this mixing step took a while so I would probably have bought the good stuff instead even if it would cost more.

Step 7: Add plants and tubes for netting or shade cover as needed. I should note here that I made a mistake when I was reading my list. I thought the hoops were supposed to be made from ONE 10-foot 1/2-inch PVC pipe cut in half. For a four-foot wide box. Oops. It was supposed to be TWO 10-foot pipes, one per hoop and no cutting needed. It ended up working out in the end because I put pole beans in and the poles along with the unfolded tomato cage we used hold up the bird netting perfectly.

Above you can also see a small hook used for the netting (and a rock to hold it down). My netting is more to prevent squirrels from getting in than birds and they’re sneaky. We added hooks around the entire box and rocks where there was still some slack so those buggers wouldn’t find their way in to bury their nuts, mess up my seeds, etc.

This location only gets a few hours of sun a day but it will be perfect for those pole beans, broccoli, brussels sprouts, beets, lettuce, kale, and hopefully some herbs. You can see my rain barrel on the right, close enough for easy watering. The lime tree on the left is the one I complain about not producing limes, and yes, I know it may be due to limited sun. So far the seeds we planted a week ago in the garden bed are already sprouting!

In the end, I think the Sunset “Perfect Raised Garden Bed” was a good choice and super easy to build. While it didn’t end up as cheap as I had hoped, I’m very happy with the result and believe that my shady vegetables should do fine here.

Do you have a raised garden bed? Have you had any success with growing leafy vegetables not in full sun?

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