Frugal and Jerry-Rigged But Functional Raised Planter Beds

My father-in-law is famous for his jerry-rigging. He can pretty much figure out how to make or do anything but it may not be the prettiest.

I had bought a few seedlings at the farmer’s market the other day and thought I would just plant them in containers since we’re living with my in-laws for a few months. I told my father-in-law I needed his help to build a trellis for the pole beans I bought.

He then suggested we just make a garden area in the backyard. I suggested looking things up online and figuring it out but he said “Listen, I’ll show you how my grandmother taught me.” At first I wanted to combat him and insist I do research online but then I realized our older generations probably knew things we didn’t know. So, I gave up that “control freak” in me and allowed myself to go with the flow.

An hour or so later we were at a landscaping place to buy clean topsoil that was only $25 for a yard. Do I know for sure this soil is clean? Not 100%, to be honest with you but I put my trust in the guy and realized if I were to have bought bagged top of the line organic potting soil, it would cost me over $150 to cover the space I needed. The budget does not allow for that so I figured I would feed my plants with the best organic fertilizer and possibly get some organic compost to lay over the top of the bed before I put my seedlings in.



At first he didn’t want to make a raised garden bed but I insisted. He’s sort of old school, if you know what I mean. He said, “You think farmers use raised garden beds?” I pretended like I couldn’t hear him. 🙂

The wood we used was the old lumber from my in-laws dock. The wood was probably pressure treated when it was installed over 40 years ago but I wasn’t too concerned since it has been weathered by the lake and it was so long ago.



We measured out the spot we were going to use for the garden space and began to “cut out” the grass so the boards would fit in the space. By cutting out the grass, we basically removed the grass with a shovel and a little bit of dirt so the boards would lay nicely.



We used a level to make sure the board was somewhat straight and then my FIL made stakes out of old 2 x 4’s with his hand-saw. He cut a pointy edge on one side of the 2×4 so we could drive the stake into the ground as part of the support.



We used recycled nails to attach the end of one side of the bed to the stake. We repeated the method until we had a completely squared off space.



Next came the fun part… removing the grass!! I didn’t get any photos of this because as you can imagine, I was busy and dirty!

While my FIL cut out 1 x 1 squares of grass, I had to (per his directions) shake out as much of the dirt from the patches of grass as I could and then throw them to one side of the garden bed. Gotta save as much dirt from the square patches as possible….. It felt like the piles of grass squares were adding up faster than I could shake off the dirt.

He goes “Well, it doesn’t get much more organic than that… you’re a real organic farmer now!” as I’m on my hands and knees in the dirt. Funny.



I got pieces of dirt in my eye more than I could keep track of  and I felt like I was racing against time because the weather looked like it was going to dump copious amounts of rain on us at any time. Towards the end, my finger tips became tender from picking up 8-10 lb grass squares and hitting it against the rim of the garden bed to get off the excess dirt.

We did it though. We got out all the grass pieces without the weather bothering us.

After clearing out the grass, my FIL backed the trailer up and we began shoveling out the top soil and heaving it to the furthest side of the garden bed. “You’re working too hard. Find the amount of dirt you can shovel for days, and just keep to that rhythm. That’s how the laborers do it,” he said. I have no wishes of being a laborer….

About 30 minutes later, we got all the dirt out of the trailer and into the garden bed. Then I raked the bed to get all the dirt as even as I could.



We’ll need one more yard of top soil to raise the height a little more and then we’ll be ready to plant.

It was hard work but it was relaxing therapy at the same time. There’s just something about getting all dirty, breathing in the fragrance of fresh, rich soil and working towards the end result of having delicious, home-grown veggies.



Oh, and our total price for this project was $27.50 which basically was the cost of soil plus tax. We reused old lumber and nails to make the design for the garden bed.

I am no professional by any means. It’s not pretty and it’s a little jerry-rigged but it’s fully functional… and that’s all that matters, right?



Stay tuned for the second part of this phase — the planting!


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  1. Hey Loriel,

    I came across your blog when looking for something completely different (things to weight down my trash can from blowing away). Anyways, I am actually in the process of doing a raised garden bed myself so I read through this and found in completely inspiring (as well as entertaining). I was actually looking to see if you had the second phase to this, as I wanted to see the progression. As a new father myself, my wife and I have been feeding our son, Lincoln all natural/organic foods while also slowly transitioning to all natural/organic foods! I’m sure your garden is doing awesome by now, since this blog was written in 2013. Either way, keep up the awesome work and hope to hear from you soon.


    1. Hi Gary!

      That’s so exciting that you are about to embark on some raised beds which will nourish your family for many years! I don’t have photos right now because unfortunately, my husband and I moved out of our inlaws (where the raised bed is) so the garden kinda went, kaput. When I go there again, I’ll send you a photo of it. If I were to recommend one thing, I’d recommend making it one more panel high (if your budget allows) and make sure you mulch (rocks or something cheap) around so you don’t have weeds coming up the sides. Other than that, it really served it’s purpose. My husband and I will be making planter beds here soon for our home so I will post something about that later (stay tuned!). Oh, and speaking of transitioning to all-natural foods, I have an AWESOME video series happening right now all about switching over to real food. You can check it out here –>

      Good luck with your bed! Send a photo of it on my Facebook page when you’re done with it. I’d love to see it!

  2. Great job!
    Next bed you make, cut out the grass and flip upside down, cover the whole area with newspapers or cardboard, then add your top soil.

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