Monday, April 11, 2011

Courtney and Dean's Garden: Winner of First Garden Boxes of 2011

Courtney and Dean live in Denver, and are enthusiastic about their new garden.  They've been up to our house many times, and love our garden.  I believe this may have something to do with their enthusiasm.

I talked with Courtney on the phone to describe the materials and construction methods for putting this together.  The basic materials are 2x12s, 4x4s, and metal angles.  You also need weed fabric, clear plastic, and a staple gun.

Since she had seen our garden before, I thought that it would be fairly simple to give her the concepts, and then answer questions about any details. For the most part, it worked.

On the way home from skiing on April 2, 2011, I stopped by to see their progress, and to my surprise, they already had the box done.  They had shopped for the materials at Home Depot in the morning, and assembled the planter in the afternoon.

They followed my instructions fairly well, but it's pretty obvious I need to do more than verbally describe things to get all the details right.  While it seems perfectly obvious to me what I am talking about, I've already made a few boxes, so I think my description gives the listener all the information they need to know.

Back in reality, it takes more than that really get a point across.  In the coming days, I will be posting videos of the progress in our own garden, so that you can see step by step instructions.

Let's first talk about what they got right.  The box looks great.  They did a great job cutting the wood, and using metal angles to connect the 2x12s with the 4x4s.  They set the face of the 2x12 back perfectly, so it is not quite centered, but set back from the face of the 4x4 about 1/2" to 3/4", which gives the box a pleasing look.

This is a little tougher than simple designs that would have you just nail or screw the 2x12s together.  It's also more difficult than ones that have metal corners that hold each board in place.  While those are easier, here are some of the benefits:

1.  The 2x12 will warp over time.  Sorry folks, there isn't much way around this.  You are applying water to the inside the wood, and sun to the exterior.  It's gonna warp.

Better to have the curves become part of the design, but not the structure.  Having the wood ends covered by 4x4s allows the curvage to occur between the posts, and not to rip apart the boxes from the corners in.  While I only have 2.5 seasons on this design, it's held up very well so far.

2.  The boxes will be stronger, and you have the ability to go 2 or 3 boards high without any additional structural elements.  You just cut a longer 4x4, and stack the 2x12s on top of one another.  It's very simple to go vertical with this design, and you could arguably go 4 or more boards high - but you would eventually need to recognize irrigation and drainage issues.

3.  It just looks better.

4.  Where are you going to place the glass of wine while you are gardening?

So, the next question is what size angles to use, and how far down the wood to place them.  On this front, Courtney and Dean did an excellent job as well.  The angles need to be lower than the top edge, because over time, the soil compacts, and the angles would be exposed.

I recommend about 6-8" from the top when locating the top angle.  I also recommend 2 angles per board-end, which amounts to 4 angles per corner.

This is a good time to point out that all metal angles are not equal.  Particularly in price.

You can find things that look perfectly adequate but are priced at over $2 each, but what I have used is an A34 angle from Home Depot.  I've found them also on Amazon if you can't find them locally, but the price we paid at Home Depot was $0.43, while on Amazon, at the time of this writing, they are $0.95 each.

So, think this out.  A 1-level box will have 16 angles, with 4 in each corner.  Including Sales Tax, you are talking about a cost of $8 per planter, just in angles.  If you pay the Amazon price for this item, your cost doubles to $16 per planter.

I can't say for certain if I have found the cheapest angles anywhere, but it pays to shop around, as you can see.

So what could they have done better?

Well, we had discussed that around the planter, there was landscaping that didn't have much value to them, and was already a bit weedy.  I recommended that they put weed fabric down over the whole area, and then put the planter on top.  Courtney assumed that you only needed weed fabric under the box.  They still have to decide whether they want mulch or rock around the perimeter, but this is easily adjusted later.

They also put the plastic with a gazillion staples right up to the top edge of the box.  Once the soil compresses over the season, this is going to make all those staples visible, and over time the plastic will get ripped and torn.  I believe the long term fix will be to re-staple down lower, and using a razor knife to cut out the top few inches.  I would recommend only putting the plastic as high as the top angle.

These are relatively minor and easy to correct.  The biggest issue I actually take the blame for.  I remembered on the morning of their construction that I failed to mention staining the wood.  While this might seem obvious, it wasn't to them.  I called and left Courtney a voicemail, but she didn't get it before they built the box.  It's going to make their box more vulnerable to warping and rotting over time, but the plastic I must say is the primary barrier.  Since removal of the plastic, with so many staples wasn't really an option, we are crossing our fingers on this one.  We will revisit this in 2012 and 2013 to see how it went for them.

Something else that I didn't anticipate was that after they added soil the top board on the long side bowed out, and due to a split in the wood that they didn't think would matter, it protruded a bit.  As we can see in the final finished photo of this box, the bowing is visible, but not really that bad from a distance.

All in all, I say there will be great veggies grown in this garden, and that's all that really counts!

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