Inexpensive Mini-Greenhouse

You can build this raised garden bed mini-greenhouse to extend your growing season with used railroad ties for the base and some scrap wood and sheet plastic for the cover.

| February/March 2012

Inexpensive Mini-Greenhouse

A raised garden bed with a greenhouse cover can help you extend your growing season. 


Thirty years ago, I bought MOTHER EARTH NEWS to help pass the time while I was a U.S. Navy sailor stationed on an aircraft carrier. I enjoyed reading the magazine from cover to cover — often three or more times per cruise — and I couldn’t wait for the next issue. The magazine has inspired me to do many projects.

Recently, I wanted to try growing in a small raised garden bed. I had railroad ties lying around, and I used the ties to build a three-tier, 4-by-8-foot raised garden bed. I drove rebar into the ties (after pre-drilling smaller holes in them) to tie them together. I lined the garden bed with heavy plastic to limit potential contamination to the soil from the railroad ties, and I poked holes in the plastic for proper drainage. Next, I filled the bed with a combination of cow manure and topsoil.

I also made a mini-greenhouse cover for the bed so the crops could get an earlier start. Some of the cover materials I had on hand and some I bought. The cost for the greenhouse cover was $95. Last, I wound a soaker hose around the plants for irrigation.

Robert Ford
Montrose, Pennsylvania

10/17/2014 8:28:55 PM

I sure would like the plans for this project. I have one thing I would do different. I would drill a hole in the wood for the hose to go through. Plastic has a tendency to get bigger with wear. It also would not allow the wind to frost the plants. Love the design.

1/28/2014 4:11:20 PM

Hey Buddy, can you post a materials and tools list and a step by step of how you constructed this? I want to build one right away.

1/19/2014 3:41:55 PM

you might note he used used ties, not saying there is no health risk at all but much less at the age of the ties. he DID also say he lined the inside of the ties with a barrier so as not to contact the soil... I would suggest if there is a component that you don't like about his design then change it when you make need to be negative to someone with a great idea... great economical design.

robert stoneman
1/18/2014 10:33:35 AM

the pictures don't show the whole thing. It looks like the plants are inside the railroad ties. Who would use a toxic product to grow food with. the MSDS says-Very hazardous in case of skin contact (corrosive, irritant), of ingestion. Hazardous in case of skin contact (sensitizer, permeator), of eye contact (irritant), of inhalation. The amount of tissue damage depends on length of contact. Eye contact can result in corneal damage or blindness. Skin contact can produce inflammation and blistering. Inhalation of dust will produce irritation to gastro-intestinal or respiratory tract, characterized by burning, sneezing and coughing. Severe over-exposure can produce lung damage, choking, unconsciousness or death.

frank marabate
4/4/2013 12:15:22 AM

The greenhouse top is great. Any chance you post the dimensions you used? Maybe a material list?

4/3/2013 5:22:52 PM

Great picture! Thank you for your service! God bless you!

4/3/2013 5:18:34 PM

I used to use railroad ties, but I found out that they have coal-tar creosote that can leach into the ground and actually cause health concerns, especially near fruit trees, etc. Perhaps cinder blocks instead?

teresa rushing
2/6/2013 10:31:47 PM

Hi! I was just wondering what how to make the top cover? Is that plastic on the sides?

adele brown
4/22/2012 8:05:47 PM

I use cedar to build my raised beds not too expensive and doesn't need to be treated with anything. It's a great wood for long life garden plots...

terry wolf
4/21/2012 7:41:47 PM

Great idea, generally... what is the material you used on the upper end?

nicole kuschel
4/21/2012 6:09:37 PM

sonnie swenston-forbes
3/23/2012 9:25:01 PM

Hi Robert. I too wouldn't use RR ties. The idea of a plastic barrier between the wood and the ground is a good idea though because of termites. Also, cow manure is both harsh and very high in salts; therefore it should be thoroughly composted before using it as fertilizer. Horse manure is better. If there's an equestrian center near you they'll most likely give you as much as you want for the price of hauling it off. There's plenty of info on this is you Google it. This isn't meant to discourage you in any way -- just to be helpful.

michele bommarito
3/5/2012 4:26:17 PM

looking forward to building this ~~~wonderful idea ,but we will not use the rr ties,we have some garden ties~~cant wait for the growing season to kick off here in upstate ny

rolf wirkki
3/2/2012 11:55:18 PM

Great idea! I may have to try the mini greenhouse part.

christine hansen
3/2/2012 6:43:55 PM

I would not use RR ties in a veggie garden. They contain creosote that can leach into the garden, especially if they are cut or chipped. Untreated landscape timbers could be used instead.

hip nosha
3/2/2012 5:00:24 PM

What are your thoughts on using those type of railroad ties for raised beds. ive heard that they are soaked in things and perhaps theres a chance of it leeching into the soil? Any thoughts?

victoria reid
3/2/2012 5:00:10 PM

I love your idea, I might fence my city property and grow flowers in those ones.. I live close to railway tracks and there is an over abundance of ties just left by the side of the tracks to rot.

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